Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B
March 1, 2015
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. Mark 8:34b-35
Yes, yes of course this is good news. But it is not the kind of good news that most people seem to be seeking–at least not initially. It’s not the kind of good news and instruction that’s going to stand out in the self-help section of your local bookstore. You won’t find it trending on Facebook. You won’t read about it on magazine covers in grocery store checkout lanes. It has nothing to do with losing weight, finding a mate, filling your plate, or more hair on your pate. And it sure isn’t about self-actualization, get-rich quick schemes, or career advancement. But it is good news. It’s about life abundant.
And frankly, fellow followers of Jesus, I don’t think we should be shocked to find it surprisingly difficult to share this life-changing, mind-blowing, radical way of living and being. It’s not what most of us have been equipped to do. We do a pretty good job of “doing” church, even as what it means to “be” church in this world invites our contemplation and reassessment. We have lovely buildings, good worship, myriad programs and curricula and committees, even though most of us aren’t packing folks in like the good old days. This is how we do things, right? Well, yes, but perhaps the obvious is right under our noses this week.
This dilemma is nothing new, and perhaps that can give us hope (or at least assure us that we’re not alone in our shortcomings and failures). Even Jesus’ first and closest followers had some pretty strong ideas about how things ought to be and how the Messiah should behave, and they were more focused on the glory road and the halls of worldly and religious power than on losing it all. Sound familiar?
The good news Jesus is sharing in this week’s gospel sure doesn’t sit well with Peter, and it probably doesn’t really sit very well with most of us if we’re honest about it. This is good news that doesn’t sound very good. It’s flat out tough and designed for the downwardly mobile. Forget the ideal career trajectory or keeping up with the Joneses. The follower of Jesus is called to put his or her own self-interests aside and focus on the cross of Christ. This notion runs completely counter to the way the world works; hence Jesus’ harsh response to Peter and to the rest of the gathered crowd, and indirectly to us today.
The way of the world will never ultimately satisfy because there will never be enough: power, money, fame, stuff, social media followers, whatever. All that we have belongs to God because we belong to God. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it,” says the psalmist (24:1).
The way of the cross is not about self-flagellation, destructive behaviors, or irresponsible actions. It’s not even about pie-in-the-sky eschatology or the threat of being left behind. (Oh, no!) Following Jesus and denying self is about something much more demanding. It’s about being “all in.” It’s about a 100 percent commitment to use your gifts, skills, talents, and resources to share the gospel and live into God’s reign right now. Following Jesus is about publicly proclaiming with your life’s witness that Jesus matters–more than anything else–and in him is the source and wellspring of abundant life. Life with Jesus at the center is full of the things that money, power and prestige never provide. With Jesus comes real love, limitless hope, deep relationship, radical generosity, and true power in the upside-down, inside-out vision of God’s ultimate design for this world.
All-in discipleship is a choice to yoked to Christ in, with, and among a body of fellow believers that is imperfect, sinful, redeemed, dying and rising daily to new life, and wholly committed to being the hands and feet and heart of our Lord right now in a particular place. It’s the beloved community that together loses individuality to take up this new way of being more than we could ever hope to be alone.
So yes, this is truly good news. But it’s news that requires a full, all-in commitment. It’s life-changing, mind-blowing, trajectory-altering stuff that we get to bear to the world in the name of Jesus. What are we waiting for? Let’s stop doing church and be church, stewarding God’s mystery, grace, and good news like it’s the last thing we’ll ever do.
What if this was your last week on earth? Would you want to live it entirely for yourself and your own pleasure? Would you be about trying to cross out as many things as possible from your “bucket list”? Or would you be spending every possible moment trying to do all the good you could to as many people as you could in the name of Jesus? Would you be loving your family and your friends and your neighbors lavishly? Would you be spending your moments in random acts of kindness and mercy?
What if you, as worship leader, craft a sending for the worshiping community that charges them to go and love like there is no tomorrow, to give like more radically and generously of their time talent, and treasure than they’ve ever done before, and to spend each minute prodigally in sowing kingdom seeds of hope, love, peace, and mercy? Invite the congregation to pray for one another as Christ’s body leaving the building and walking into mission. Promise a time of sharing during next week’s worship where people can recount God’s sightings and good news glimpses.
Nike came up with a great slogan in “Just Do It!” Maybe we as Christians ought to take a hint from Nike when it comes to faith. Too often we worry about being right or about who has the corner on the theological correctness market. What would happen if we, like Abraham and Sarah, took God’s words and promises to heart and simply got on with the business of loving God and neighbor without worrying excessively about the details. Can we trust God’s promises? Sarah did, and she bore a son in her old age. It shouldn’t have happened logically, but with God all things are possible. Abraham believed God’s word that he would be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. And it happened. Who are we to limit God? What might God be telling you? What things are possible through faith? What’s stopping you from making a difference? Faith . . . just live it.
Remind children of the story of Abraham and Sarah from today’s Old Testament lesson. Keep it simple and short. Ask them if it sounds normal for someone 99 years old to become the father of many nations, or for a great grandmother to have a baby. Of course not! But with God it was possible. Abraham and Sarah trusted God’s word, and that was good enough. Read Romans 4:20 to the children: “No distrust made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Tell the children that we don’t have to have all the answers or know all the details. Even though we have wonderful knowledge through science, we still have a lot that we don’t know, but we have faith and we give thanks to God, and worship and praise help to strengthen our faith. So when we don’t have the answers or have doubt, we can say “Thank you, God! I trust you. I love you. I praise you.” And we can rest assured that this is enough. And that is having faith. Finish with a simple prayer of thanksgiving.
(Photos: Doug 1021, Charles Clegg, Tom Lesser, Creative Commons)