The Second Sunday in Lent E. Bevan Stanley
February 28, 2021
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This is a hard saying. It flies in the face of many of our assumptions about being a healthy human being. We live in a culture that teaches us that we should strive to be “self-actualized.” We should follow our dreams. We should allow the unique person that we are to shine out. At the end of our lives, we should be able to sing with pride along Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.” Why should we deny ourselves? Is not that a sure way to neurosis and mental ill health? What can we make of this utterance from Jesus?
As always, it is important to consider the context and not take a single line all by itself. “Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.” Jesus is going to go to Jerusalem, and he anticipates that he will meet with serious resistance, and he predicts that it will lead to his death.
“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Peter whispers to Jesus, “Hey, you have to stay on message. You are going to lose your support if talk about losing.”
“But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” Jesus is pretty forceful with his closest disciple. He tells Peter that Peter is using the wrong criterion in making his assessment of the situation. Peter is seeing what the worlds sees, a dreamer who is destined to fall if does not start showing some common sense. Jesus says, “You weren’t listening, Peter. What did I just tell you would come after my death? I said that death is not the end of the story: I will return to life and prove that death is a small thing in the kingdom of God.”
Then Jesus turns to the crowds and says to them, “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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” Jesus is saying something like this: “You know this Kingdom of God I keep talking about? It does not work if everyone is looking out for number one. The kingdom of heaven happens when we care more about the other person than for ourselves. This is a revolution, but not a political one. I am calling you to work with me to turn the world upside down with love. The rich will be those who give the most away. The powerful will be those who serve. The healthy will be those who bind up others’ wounds. And the most alive will be those who regard their lives as less important than the love of God.”
Then comes a harsh sounding saying: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” In our language, perhaps it would sound like this: If you are embarrassed by the impracticality of this way of life, if you fear that people will laugh at your naivete, then I don’t know you.”
Then comes a conclusion which the medieval editors of the Bible who divided the text into chapters and verses set as the first verse of the next chapter: And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” This is hugely important because of the tense of the verb “has come.” It is in the perfect tense. That indicate a present reality that is the result of an action that has already been completed in the past. “Until they see that the Kingdom of God is already here with its power.” Jesus is not that some the Kingdom will come soon and some will get to see it. Rather, Jesus is saying some of you will have your eyes and hearts opened to see the Kingdom of God in operation in your life before you die.
When we put this all together, we have a message from Jesus that we all need to hear all the time. Jesus is always saying to us, “The Kingdom of God’s love, compassion, and mercy is coming into being right now among and in your lives. Turn your minds and hearts around to see it, and join in this revolution. I am taking this message to those in power. The most powerful will reject it because they have invested too much in gaining their wealth, power, and prestige. I will be perceived as a mortal danger. As a result, thy will try to kill me. But the God in me, in us, among us stronger than they. Love is stronger than death. In God’s kingdom love beats fear, and life beats death. Some of you have trouble believing this, I know. But some of you will see the truth of what I see before you die. Don’t be afraid to join my in this march on Jerusalem. You will each have to face your destiny as I have to face mine. If you try to hang onto your life, all the joy will run through your fingers. But if you give away your life in love and compassion, you will find life and joy returned to you many times over.”
So as we walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem in this season of Lent, we find ways to stop clinging to our lives and rather spending them extravagantly in love and compassion. We will find power in letting go. We will find our hearts and vision expanding. We will stop fearing what others may think of us, and even what they may do to us. The invitation of Lent is be reckless with our love. The mission is not to fix the world we have; it is to build a new one entirely. We will take up our tools of divine love and power and face the future with joy. Here is an anonymous piece from one of our more evangelical brothers or sisters:
I am a part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed”. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals!
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let go, or slow up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops.
And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. . . my colors will be clear.”
Come, let us take up our crosses and follow our Lord all the way through death to glory.
Anonymous, quoted in Hybels and Hybels, Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church, p. 194.