Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not a good sales technique

Not a good sales technique. Mt 16:21-28 Aug. 31, 2008

The stranger walked up to our house with a medium sized bag strapped around his shoulder, sweat dripping from his brow, and a spring in his step. I stepped outside to greet him before he could reach the door and was met by an enthusiastic handshake, and for the next 15 minutes I was introduced to Advantage cleaner. Non toxic (which he demonstrated by ingesting some of the product) and can be used on windows, tires, floors, clothes to remove stains (except for silk), shoes, ceilings…this stuff was good… In the course of our conversation, I complemented Jason on his selling ability as I suggested that it was hard work, he said yes, it’s hard work but (with a wink), “if the greatest salesman in the world couldn’t convince everybody, what should I expect?”
Ah ha, not only a seller of cleaning products, but an evangelist. Way to go! What a salesman, Jason was; I was convinced.

But this morning’s passage was on my mind as we were having this conversation so I challenged Jason’s suggestion that Jesus was the greatest salesman in the world. Here’s Jesus sales pitch: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. If you want to save your life you will lose it. Lose your life for my sake and you will find it.

The sales pitch is self-denial; the product offered is the cross. Just how appealing is this? Jason wanted to go back to selling his cleaning product. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Are you kidding me? In our world of me first, and we’re number one, how does one deny self. It’s all about me and what I want. Right?! In a world about rewarding oneself because I deserve it, There is no room for a big ugly cross that would suggest sacrifice and even death.

My tendencies to are to look out for number one, and fear death. Back me up here Sander but, aren’t these natural tendencies anyway? We do what’s best for ourselves, and attempt to preserve our own lives at all costs by nature; right?
Self denial and acceptance of the cross. Some sales pitch.

Peter wasn’t so convinced either. All of us who try to be Christ’s disciples should be very thankful for Peter, cause he kind of shows us what not to do on so many occasions. Just before this scene we’re talking about this morning, was the scene Gabriel and Dulce preached on last week. Jesus and the gang are on the road, traveling, and I imagine they camped a fair amount. I kind of picture them this evening around the campfire just after dinner, as light fades and darkness sets in. “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is? Jesus asks, and disciples response, John the Baptist, maybe Elijah, others Jeremiah, or some kind prophet. Okay, that’s fine. You disciples have been with me for some time now, you’ve seen me do some pretty far out stuff: Walk on water, feed thousands of people, cure sick, preach some awesome sermons; you’re still hanging around.
Who do you say that I am?
No one says anything, the fire pops a few times, finally Peter stands up, looks around at the others and then looks at Jesus and says, “I believe you’re the Messiah, the son of the living God.”
Jesus then proceeds to bestow upon Peter a blessing; keys to the kingdom of heaven, and upon the Rock, my church will be built. Looks like Peter has hit a home run. The disciples are pumped that finally they know they are hanging out with the Messiah, the one who would bring about real change to Washington, I mean Jerusalem. Jesus would overturn the powers that be by leading a revolution—and their will be reform and the people will be able to live better and free from foreign occupation. Yes, we’re with you Jesus. Let’s go take care of business! But something changes, the mood of cheering and shouting is dampened when they see that Jesus isn’t smiling or laughing. He’s just staring at the fire; a distant look on his face. The disciples gather themselves and sit back down, it’s quiet except for the crickets and the fire.
Yes, Jesus tells them, “I will go to Jerusalem.”
But there I will be met by the powers, there I will suffer, There I will be killed, and then be raised from the dead. What kind of movement is this? What is Jesus talking about going to the capitol city to meet suffering and death?
That’d be like Obama or McCain saying they need to be elected so that they could then be killed by those that would be threatened by the type of change they are proposing. Were that the case, we really would need to pay attention to the running mate.

So, naturally, Peter who has just been blessed, boldly stands up again..and this time he pulls Jesus aside, away from the light and the rest of the disciples and says, now wait a minute. You just said we were going to begin this revolution, right?
You admitted that you were the Messiah…What kind of savior suffers and dies?
“God forbid it; I’ll never let that happen!” Get behind me, Satan! You’re mind is set on human things, not the things of God. Looks like things have kind of changed between Jesus and Peter. Relationships can be difficult. Peter went from being blessed to now being Satan; or adversary if we want to soften it.
Peter the rock has now become a stumbling block. It was divine revelation that gave peter the right answer about Jesus identity…now he has his mind set on human things.

It seems like Peter had the right answer, but gets things a little confused in practice. We can’t really blame fault him; I think a lot of times we can have the right answers. Know what to say about Jesus, give a good Sunday school answer:
Who was Jesus? Jesus is the savior. But does that make any difference in our life? I found it quite interesting that Jesus is speaking to disciples, and he says to them, if any of you want to become my followers. Like being a disciple may be some kind of middle road. Like going to class and appreciating the lessons of a teacher, but when it comes to putting those lessons into practice,
you can take it or leave it. Maybe many of us would claim to be Jesus’ disciples.
We read the bible, learn God’s teachings. We come to church and worship in community. We may have good Sunday school answers; but how willing are we to follow Jesus? I can claim to be a disciple of Jesus all day long, but do I really live it out? Is my mind on the human things or divine things?

Deny self is a transformation of the will. My will and desires become God’s will and desires for my life. What does success really look like? Making money and accumulation things? Power, prestige, concern for what others think about me?
Hanging out with only the people who think like me. Judging instead of forgiving? Fearing others who are different?

And what about the cross? Jesus’ way was the way of the cross; and this is the part that Peter did not want to hear because it means death. Peter has his followers in every generation, religious people who give the right answers (and genuinely so) but who find a crucified Christ offensive. “What is true for the Messiah, is also true for the Messiah’s followers. Jesus’ suffers on a cross out of love for the world. And we are invited to join him in this way; his way of the cross. Fear no longer what motivates our decisions; Where we are not so concerned about what happens to us, as we are about what happens to the least of these. Christians are people who are “crucified with Christ.” Christ died so that we might live. Now we are to die so that Christ might live in us.

Jesus extends an invitation to his disciples, those who are still kind of hangin on the fence, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” There it is. It’s like the warning before going on one of those rides at an amusement park: You imagine all the potential hazards and then the last words: “Enter at your own Risk”. You know that it’s going to be a wild ride, but there are some major risks, but what a thrilling ride it might be. Taking that step, and saying yes, I’ll follow.
Jesus calls all of us to be risk takers. Not, necessarily, like crazy David Ytuarte who a few weeks back did some tandem sky diving. But, at the same time, to have the mentality that is fearless. When we encounter a stranger, our first reaction is to open up and welcome her. When we run into someone who doesn’t speak the same language as us, to be receptive to communicating in a new way. When we see someone going through a hard time, instead of suggesting that they brought it upon themselves, we offer a helping hand.

While working in Mexico in ministry with college students, many in our group attended a bible study led by a wonderfully dynamic, and passionate priest, Padre C├ęsar. He had a lovely description of this particular passage. He called it, el episodio visagra del evangelio. It is on this lesson that every thing else in the gospels hinges. This is the hinge upon which all of Christianity discipleship hangs.

Even though these are challenging ideas, deny self, take up your cross and follow. I think that deep down they make sense. Deny self is like surrendering my own will to seek that of God. Taking up the cross means that we join Jesus on the way of the cross. We confront our own fear of death, and trust that the one who is leading us knows what he is doing, promises of resurrection. We have heard stories of Saints, like mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr, and we know that there is something true about their sacrificial love. We know people in our own lives who show us that this can be done. Last weekend Mark Adams who follows Christ at the border towns of Agua Prieta Mexico and Douglas, Arizona told a story of First Presbyterian Douglas. The membership was getting older,
the neighborhood was changing as older families moved out and newer families moved in. The church didn’t want to change. It wanted to try and preserve itself. The church feared death. But it really was dying, and those few who were left came to grips with the reality that their church was going to die.

So they invited an immigrant group of Christians to use the church. And gradually, the congregations began to participate with one another on a regular basis, and eventually, the congregations met and worshipped at the same time.
The self that was denied did die, and then resurrection: First Presbyterian Douglas became a new creation.

We take baby steps I think on this way. Learn to seek reconciliation rather than revenge. Love instead of ill will. patience and not pushiness.

At our session retreat last weekend, we covenanted to begin to take on various spiritual disciplines as we seek to lead the congregation according to God’s will revealed to us. Some committed to more time reading Scripture,
others to prayer and meditation. Several committed to praying on a regular basis for the people of this congregation. This may sound kind of like a no brainer, but at the same time, session member’s lives are as busy as everyone else’s and it can be easier to just go about our daily routines thinking about ourselves and our own problems instead of those of others. But by committing to praying for the people of this congregation, this is saying,
“as a follower of Christ and a leader in this church, I’m going to take some time out of my ever day routine, away from the things I have to do and the things I want to do, and give it to this community in prayer.” This may seem small, but I think that often time the ways of the kingdom of God begin small, like a mustard seed, only to slowly become transformational.

Honestly, I don’t think that Jesus was a very effective salesman. He told people to give up their lives, their comfort, their way of life, in order to have life. He told people to follow him to Calvary. To confront the powers and the status quo.
Peter still didn’t’ get it. He went to Jerusalem with Jesus, but instead of denying himself and taking up his cross, he denied Jesus. But the invitation still Stands:
Here is the offer, anyone who wants to become my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.

Oh and don’t forget to read the warning label in fine print.

Actually, I think Paul gives a pretty reasonable and tangible way for us to apply the way of the leader in our lives. Let us stand and affirm our faith using this passage adapted from Romans 12.
1. Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President, pp. 277-79
2. Thanks Craig Hanna for this image.

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