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How to Save Your Life

Thomas J Parlette

“How to save your life”

Mark 8: 27-38

9/13/15

 

Once upon a time on a Sunday morning, a pastor stood in the pulpit and announced that Jesus Christ himself was coming to church the next Sunday. Well, of course many people turned up to see him, as you might expect. There he was, in the flesh. Everyone expected him to preach, but when he was introduced, he just smiled and said “Hello”.

After the service, many people offered him a place to stay for the night, especially the pastor – but Jesus politely refused. He said he would spend the night in the church. Everyone thought, “Well, how fitting – of course Jesus would want to spend the night at church.” So the doors were locked and the alarms were set, and Jesus spent the night in the church.

The next morning, Jesus had slipped away early – but of course no alarms went off and the doors were still locked – Jesus is good that way. But when the church was opened, the people were shocked to discover that their church had been vandalized!

Scribbled everywhere on the walls was the single word – “Beware”. It was everywhere – on the windows, on the doors, on the pillars, the pulpit, the lectern, the communion table, the baptismal font, the organ pipes and on every pew – Beware. Everywhere you looked, in different colors and sizes and shapes was that word – Beware, Beware, Beware.

It was shocking. It was irritating. It was confusing and yet fascinating… and a little terrifying. Beware? Beware of what? It didn’t say – it just said Beware.

Their first impulse was clean it up – wash it away, wipe out any trace of this defilement, this sacrilege.

But then they thought about it for a moment. Jesus himself had written these words. Maybe they shouldn’t be too hasty. The people of that church let that word “Beware” sink in for a few weeks. “Beware” began to seep into their subconscious. When the scriptures were read, people began to beware. When the sacraments were celebrated, people began to beware. When they entered into prayer before God, people began to beware. And soon they found that they began to Be Aware of what God called them to do.

They were more aware of the power of their own words – the power to help and the power to hurt.

They were more aware of God’s spirit working amongst them – in word and in music.

They were more aware of those outside their own churches doors – and more aware of their power to bring about healing and wholeness.

They came to understanding of what Jesus may have meant by writing “Beware” on the walls of their church. Beware – the path of discipleship is not easy. It calls us to be aware of things beyond our own self-interest.

Nowadays, if you drive by that church, you’ll see that shocking word over the entrance to their front door. And if you drive by at night, you will see it blazing above the church in brightly colored lights – “Beware.”(1)

That’s good advice as we approach this Gospel story for today. Beware of this passage. Beware of it’s demands. Beware of what it calls us to do. Beware of how this passage calls us to live. If we want to save our lives – we must lose them. And if we lose our lives – we will save them.

Things have been going pretty well for Jesus and his disciples as they roam about the region of Galilee. Jesus has been healing people, feeding people and teaching people about the reign of God. Their momentum was building, they had a nice buzz, a nice energy going. The crowds were growing and more and more people were following Jesus and his group, tagging along from village to village to see what might happen next.

The disciples were starting to believe – God does give bread that satisfies. God does restore the wounded to community. God does teach us how to love each other in this war torn world. So when Jesus asks – “Who do people say that I am… Who do you say I am…” Peter is happy to step forward and say, “You are the Messiah.”

But then Jesus swears them to secrecy, and proceeds to write “Beware” all over the disciples expectations. Beware, because the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected and ultimately die. Peter is not too happy about this, but Jesus puts him in his place and again issues a warning to beware.

Beware of following me – there is a cost. If you want to be my followers, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it – but those who lose their lives, will save them.

These are some of the hardest words that Jesus ever uttered. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. To save your life – you must lose it. The faithful have given much thought to these words over the history of Christianity. John Calvin once said these verses were the sum of the Christian life.(2) You want to be a Christian – deny yourself, take up your cross and follow. You want to save your life – be prepared to lose it.

Over the years, some common misconceptions have grown up around Jesus words here. Some have projected a God that requires suffering in order to be faithful. Others have gone the other way and developed the notion of Jesus suffering so we don’t have to. Still others have held on to the idea of a militaristic faith surrounding the cross – like Constantine marching into battle with the sign of the cross before us – believing that the sign of the cross will protect us from our enemies.(3) And then there is the common usage of the phrase, “my cross to bear” – referring to any difficult situation that someone might face.

But none of these ideas is what Jesus is talking about here. As John Howard Yoder puts it:

“The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, not a crushing debt or a nagging in-law. The cross was the political, logically-to-be-expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling society.”(4)

The cross Jesus talks about taking up is larger than any personal concern or challenge we might face. As theologian Jurgen Moltmann says:

“To take the theology of the cross further at the present day means to go beyond a concern for personal salvation, and inquire about the liberation of humanity and our new relationship to the reality of the demonic crisis in our society.”(5)

Jesus is not really talking about literally giving up your life. Jesus calls us to look beyond ourselves. Denying ourself, dying to self is not about self-destruction or self-induced suffering. It is instead a redirection of our ego. It is a redirection of our energy toward fulfilling a purpose far greater than self-preservation. Taking up the cross to follow Jesus begins a journey outward from self-interest – to engage with the world, an engagement that transforms the world and the self.(6)

But as Jesus says – Beware. Or perhaps better yet – Be Aware. Be aware that this path is not easy. It is scary to deny ourselves. We are much more about self-preservation, self-fulfillment than we are about self-denial.

We’re afraid of losing what we have.

We’re afraid of being taken advantage of.

We’re afraid of getting hurt.

We’re afraid of risk.

We’re afraid of trying new things, putting ourselves in new situations.

It’s much easier to play it safe.

But Beware – Jesus path might not be easy, but it does come with great reward. Those who lose their lives, will save them.

Throughout his time on earth, Jesus lived unafraid, as though he was already saved. He was unafraid to live as God intended. He was unafraid to look beyond self-interest, self-promotion, self-preservation and self-fulfillment. He was unafraid to live life beyond himself – so he could live for others.

That’s what God wants. God doesn’t want us to be afraid either.

Not afraid to love all people all the time.

Not afraid to call for peace when others clamor for war.

Not afraid to give away more of what we have instead of trying to protect out future. Not afraid to reorient our lives around the things God has shown that satisfy – shared bread, shared community, shared burdens. Not afraid to give every moment of our lives as an offering to God.

So as we come into a new program year today – let us Beware. Beware that God calls us to a challenging road. A road of self-denial and sacrifice.

But let us also Be Aware that this is the path that leads to life.

So come – this year let us look beyond ourselves. Let us take up the way of the cross and follow Jesus.

For that my friends is how to save your life.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Adaptation of a story by Anthony DeMello, “The Prayer of the Frog”, Volume 1.

2.    Matthew Emery, Lectionary Homiletics, September 13th, 2015, p.59.

3.    Luke Bouman, Ibid… p.53.

4.    Matthew Emery, Ibid… p.59.

5.    Luke Bouman, Ibid… p.54.

6.    Laurence DeWolfe, Ibid… p.55.