(Here is a very rough draft of my sermon for the week...Enjoy!)
Into Who’s Life?
Here we are in the second Sunday of Lent. The ashes on our forehead are thoroughly scrubbed off and we enter the time of the season when it can be the hardest to continue the spiritual discipline that we agreed upon a week and a half ago. But the journey is still just beginning. There are still five more weeks until we celebrate the resurrection. That seems like forever.
Christianity Today took a poll on Twitter to find out what the most popular thing people gave up this Lent. Here are the top Twitter itself, Chocolate, swearing, alcohol and soda. What is interesting is what these say about us. Substances are by far the most common thing, like chocolate, alcohol and soda. I am guessing that these items are given up because they have some sort of hold on people’s lives. They want to make themselves healthier and take part in a Lenten Discipline so they kill two birds with one stone. Swearing and not being on Twitter constantly are ways one can improve their lives, but what does it have to do with connecting with God?
I am a mentor for a Local Pastor here in town and he was telling me that his confirmands were discussing what they should give up for Lent. They talked about how their Lenten Discipline could connect them with God and those in need in the community. What they came up with I thought was brilliant and I had never connected these things before. One said that twice a week he will sleep on the floor with a sleeping bag to connect with those who will be sleeping outside. Another talked about giving up her coat in order to feel what it was like to not have one which is more common in our area than we want to know. These really have nothing to do with attempting to make our lives better but instead deny ourselves something to broaden our horizon. There are no two birds involved here. I love the idea and probably will be doing one of these next year.
The scripture today starts off by Jesus telling the disciples for the first time that he will have to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders. The disciples are put aback by this idea but it is something that they have to hear. Jesus tells them three times about this, once here in chapter 8 and then again in chapter 9 and 10. It is important for them to understand but it demonstrates his purpose in this world. If the disciples didn’t hear Jesus predict his own death and resurrection, it might have looked a little suspicious when it happened. But since he did predict it, we can now claim it as God’s act of salvation fulfilled. It happened like God designed because God said it would be so.
But the idea of self sacrifice, the idea of self-denial doesn’t make sense to us and nor did it to Peter. Peter pulls Jesus aside to rebuke him. He pulls him into the corner not to make a fuss and to attempt to deal with this idea quietly but Jesus pulls Peter back out into full view of the disciples and tells him, “get behind me Satan.” Then Jesus goes on to preach to them about self-denial, about taking up our own crosses and following Jesus. Self-denial, putting ourselves last and God and others first is one of the central messages of Jesus. Yet it sounds so strange to us in our narcissistic culture. The fact people will tell the world what they gave up for Lent on Twitter and there is enough of them to do a top 100 list, should be evidence enough to see how self-centered we are as a culture these days.
The idea of self-denial is not for us to play the victim. It is not crying out to the world in order to show them the cross you have chosen to bear. Self-denial is the task of looking at the world around you and realizing God is calling you to put him first, others second, and yourself last. This should be the focal point of our lives too and it is what Jesus calls us to do in this passage today. We do have examples to look up too. There have been people in our history who have done this because they felt God pulling them to make a difference in this world.
Harriet Tubman, aka the Black Moses, led hundreds of African-Americans out of slavery and through the Underground Railway to freedom in the north during the Civil War. There was a huge reward offered for her capture but she still took 19 trips back into the part of the country that would have killed her if they caught her. She followed Christ’s example to set at liberty those who were oppressed. Once she was asked about where she got her fearlessness and strength from and she replied. "It wasn't me, it was the Lord. I always told him, I trust you. I don't know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me. And he always did." She put herself in danger, looked beyond herself and reached out to help the least and the lost in her time.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in the states as a professional theologian during World War II. He could have stayed here as Hitler lay to waste the country he loved. But instead he chose to go back to Germany and face him head on. He wrote a great theological book called The Cost of Discipleship and in it he talks about the difference between Costly Grace and Cheap Grace. True Christians have to go the way of Costly Grace because that is exactly what it cost Jesus. It wasn’t easy being beaten, flogged, crucified and dying. Yet Jesus did it for us. Bonhoeffer stood up to one of the most evil men in history and it cost him his life but for Bonhoeffer it was worth it. We think dying a martyr’s death is tragic but in his eyes to endure the cross is not a tragedy it is actually the fruit of following our Crucified God.
I had the great privilege of having Peter Storey as one of my professors at Duke. I heard his class was great and when I took I realized why. There in front of me was not just a man who was smart, there were plenty of brilliant people at Duke. But this was a person who lived out the faith unlike no one I have ever met. Rev. Storey was the Bishop of the Methodist Church in South Africa during the breakdown of Apartheid. That was the social system that was in place to hold up huge racial injustices all over South Africa. People were dying, wars were being waged, and change was happening. Standing next to Bishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican Church was Bishop Storey. He told us stories of his office being bombed, peaceful protest marches that went wrong, and fearing for his safety and the safety of his family. But all of it was worth it because God’s people and God’s love was too big to put himself in front of.
Russell D. Moore in an article I read this week it had this quote, "For too long, we've called unbelievers to 'invite Jesus into your life.' Jesus doesn't want to be in your life. Your life's a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life." That is where Peter got into trouble. He decided he knew better than Jesus. He looked at Jesus and thought he knew what God wanted more than God did. Dying a death on the cross would serve no purpose in Peter’s eyes. Even while he watched it happening Peter doubted the reason. Yet soon he learned he was wrong and became a force that could not be stopped in the world. What changed is that Peter decided not to put God in his life but to put his life in Gods.
That is a huge difference but it is at the heart of self-denial. We all have ideas about our lives and we all have hopes. We have desires and we have dreams but God doesn’t call us to follow OUR dreams. That is Disney, not Jesus Christ. Jesus demands that we put God first. We are to follow God’s dreams, desires, ideas and hopes for this world and our lives. This means to be true followers we need to shrug off the idea we know what is best for us and start listening for what God is demanding of us.
Our world needs to be changed. There are huge, GIGANTIC issues that we need to tackle as humanity. Hungry, poverty, violence, slavery, and injustice are all things that need to be fixed and that is just here in Thomasville. If you want to be active participants in the Kingdom of God then we need to be doing what we can to fight these issues. I know what you might be thinking but I am only me. What can I do to change the world? Well, I dare you to ask God that question. I dare you to ask God that question sincerely in your heart. But let me warn you, he will answer and you better be ready to follow when he does.
Peter Storey said, “We have to get away from the idea that what you believe is your faith. Your faith only matters when you live it out.” That is self-denial. That is following Jesus. That is taking up your cross and following him. It is putting what you believe and know to be true in your heart into action in your life and not having any fear over the consequences. That is not asking God to be in your life, that is putting your life into God’s.
And all God’s people said…Amen.