For What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?
matt 16:26 (to read the whole passage follow this link)
It seemed pretty obvious to me from the outset that these word's of Jesus were meant to challenge and inspire an apathetic faith and urge the disciples to greater depths of service and sacrifice.
But it was an uncomfortable message to try to craft for two reasons:
1. Every church has a core, some say 20%, who do all the work. Will a sermon urging more sacrifice, more service, really inspire devotion or will it instead just sound ungrateful for their efforts and inspire a feeling of 'never being good enough.' So the challenge; do not soften the challenging edges of Jesus' words, but do so in such a way that also offers grace to those who do devote great amounts of time and energy to the ministry of the church.
2. The first discomfort leads the second; that the faith Jesus intends to inspire would be perceived as effort, will, work. To me, this is the balance that is so difficult to strike when it come to teaching, not to mention living the faith. On the one hand we can become so focused on doing the right thing(s) that we forget that gift of grace which is given and not earned. this leads to Christian service which is simply self-serving. On the other hand we can become so enamored of faith as belief that we observe very few practices of the faith.
Jesus was not teaching that we had to earn grace, but that to follow him is to go where he goes and to do what he does (as best we can) So how to strike the balance.
while watching a television show about helping hoarders clean their homes, one of the home owners said, 'I thought you were coming to help me, not take away the things I love.' That seemed to me, to somehow bring this passage into focus. Christ isn't simply saying, 'do more.' Christ is saying, choose carefully what it is that commands your time, attention, passion, finance. If these are focused on things that ultimately will not deepen your relationship with God and with humanity, best to lay it down and replace it with something that will deepen one's faith and connection to those whom Jesus devoted a life to.
Something else that entered my mind as I was working on this sermon was a quote from Kenda Creasy Dean's book Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church. 'If the church is going to make sense to adolescents, then our ministry must be predicated on passion-the passion of Christ, the passion of youth, and the passionate faith that is made possible when these two things come together.' (22).
This is what Jesus is trying to inspire, a passionate faith, in the face of a passive faith.
These words of Jesus challenge a church that is so focused on self-help and self-esteem that it has lost its true mission, which is to see God's purpose done in the world
These words of Jesus challenge a discipleship that is assumes it already knows the right answers to the doctrinal questions, but is not put into action in any intentional way
These words of jesus challenge the church that as satisfied with 'be good' and
be nice' to accept the challenge of the cross.
These words of Jesus challenge a discipleship that treats the church as ok when it is convenient, but not all that important, not something to sacrifice for, with a warning of the consequences of an apathetic faith, the loss of life.
How has this affected me?
What do I need to lay down? despite my story, I watch too much tv. So the formation of this sermon has challenged me to lay down TV and technology time. Let some of it go.
What will I pick up as a cross? To start I am going to take some of the time spent in front of TV and Computer memorizing and meditating on the beatitudes. There are other things I will do. game night with the family, reading, when the winter is gone, a walk in the woods. Ultimately it will lead to a family practice of service in the community, like cleaning trash from the side of the road and inviting others to join us.
Picking up the cross does mean service to others, but for me picking up the cross begins with time for devotion and prayer, which will strengthen me for works of service.