Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
March 4, 2012
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Last week PBS ran a documentary about the Amish, that Christian sect mostly in Pennsylvania characterized by their horse-drawn buggies, plain, old fashioned clothes, and their practice of nonviolent living. Part of that documentary told the story of the time a few years ago when a man shot and killed several young Amish girls at their school. Several of the Amish, including the parents of some of the children who were killed, went to the funeral of the killer. They didnít go to protest. They went to forgive. One of those parents said of that experience that he felt such a sense of relief because he had given up all need to judge the man who shot those children and could leave judgment entirely up to God. I honestly donít think I could have done what he did or said what he said; but there is, I think, a powerful lesson for us in what that Amish man said. He had gained a great blessing by losing something. He gained the blessing of peace in his soul by losing his need to judge another, even another who had done great evil.
Our Gospel reading this morning reminded me of that story. In that reading, Peter confesses for first time that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus follows up that confession by giving the first of three predictions in Mark of his suffering, death, and resurrection. Then he says: ďIf 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. ď It is a difficult teaching. It says that following Jesus can get you killed, and it says that somehow in following Jesus we gain our lives by losing them. Which doesnít make any sense. How can you gain something by losing it? If youíve lost it youíve just lost it not gained it, havenít you? Well, when youíre talking about your life Jesus says no. You lose your life precisely in order to gain it. How are we to understand such a seemingly contradictory teaching?
In his new book The Underground Church, UCC pastor and author Robin Meyers suggests one good way of understanding it, if only very briefly. Speaking specifically of preaching he says that the point is ďto create in everyone present the feeling that the more one trusts the basic question of the gospel (we lose our lives in order to find them), the more obligated we feel to let go of the sickness that is self-sufficiency.Ē p. 223 For Meyers the notion that we lose our lives in order to find them is the fundamental teaching of the gospel, and what specifically we lose in order to find our lives is the notion that we are sufficient of and unto ourselves, that we donít need others, that we donít need God.
Perhaps losing self-sufficiency doesnít seem to be the same thing as losing your life, but letís take a closer look at that notion. Isnít self-sufficiency pretty much what our culture tells us life is all about? We value independence. We value self reliance. We prize the rugged individualist, the one who makes it on his own, the one who doesnít need help from anyone else. Iíve know lots of people who gladly help others when others need help but who are loathe to ask for help themselves. They see needing help as a sign of weakness, or as something to be ashamed of. It may be OK for others to need help but not me, they think, at least subconsciously. We certainly donít need God, or so our secular culture tells us. We can explain everything through science and human reason. Our humanist values stand alone, self-evident, as our Declaration of Independence has it. Iíll do all my judging myself, we say. I sure donít need to wait for God to do it.
The Amish man who forgave the man who killed the children knew better. He found peace, he found wholeness, in other words he found his life, by losing his self-sufficiency. He found his life by turning over to God the things that truly are Godís but that we so easily claim for ourselves. He gave up relying only on himself and turned in trust to God, trusting that God could handle what he could not. He gave up judging others, and in that giving up he found his life.
Jesus knew better than we do too. Those who want to save their life will lose it, but those lose their life will find it. So often we donít get it, but I think that maybe many of you have had experiences that speak of the truth of that teaching of Jesus. How many of you have found great satisfaction, perhaps the greatest satisfaction youíve ever felt, in helping others? When youíve cared for a sick child, a sick spouse, or a sick friend. When youíve volunteered at the food bank or helped a neighbor build a fence. When youíve spoken up for peace and for justice for people youíll never know. When youíve given to help disaster relief on the far side of the globe, for a place youíve never been and for people youíll never meet. When you do those things for others, do you feel resentment? Does it feel like a burden? Iíll bet you donít. Iíll bet it doesnít. Thatís because when we act out of ourselves for others, when we act not from selfish motives but from love, we truly find our lives. In the giving we find. In the losing we gain. We find, we gain our very selves, we find, we gain, our very lives.
That is the truth that Jesus is trying to teach us this morning. When we give up relying only on ourselves, when we give up caring only for ourselves, when we give up acting only for ourselves we find our true selves. Maybe St. Francis said it best. In a famous prayer that is at least attributed to him he said:
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
It is in giving up care for ourselves that we find ourselves. It is in giving that we receive. It is in dying to our selfish selves that we are born into life, eternal life here and now, abundant, full, whole, authentic life. Itís not an easy lesson, but it is a divine truth. In this season of Lent, as we strive to be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, may we learn it well. Amen.