Friday, September 11, 2009

Mark 8:27-38: how much does that cost?

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Sept 11, 2009

We live in a capitalist society. We know about buying and selling. Contrary to what MasterCard says: Priceless.  Everything has its price. Right? 

Back just before the second world War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote what has become a classic book on Christian ethics and discipleship.  He called his book: The cost of Discipleship.  Maybe some of you have heard this term used in reference to being a disciple of Jesus?

So what do you think about this idea?  Are you a disciple of Jesus?  If so, how much did it cost?  Did you get your discipleship at the discount store? Or, maybe you got the marked up verson at Nieman Marcus or Tiffany’s. Maybe discipleship cost you a few extra hours of sleep this morning so you could make it to church. 
Maybe it cost you a few dollars when you came across a homeless person with his hand out.  Is that what discipleship costs? Starting today and over the next several weeks, we are going to be looking at passages from Mark’s gospel that hit on this idea—the cost of discipleship, what it costs to be a follower of Jesus. 

Jesus says this about discipleship in our passage from Mark: "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?
Life = death.  Death = life.  A strange formula Jesus has.

I mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He stood up against the Nazi regime and the travesties being committed in Europe during that era, which would eventually cost him his life.  For him, this passage defined what Christian life was all about.  And Bonhoeffer summarized it like this: When Christ calls you and me, Christ bids us to come and die.

That is how much it costs. So where does that leave us?
Well, where did it leave Jesus disciples back then?

This scene: just outside of Caesarea Philippi, a village 25 miles north of Jesus’ hometown of Galilee, Jesus and his disciples are walking.  He asks, what are people saying about him?  The disciples have been with Jesus for some time, have seen him cure the sick and lame, cast out demons, feed thousands of people, even restore life to a young girl. What did people say? That Jesus is a prophet, a holy man of God.[1]

Okay, cool.  Well, who do you think that I am?
And Peter’s ready, You, Jesus, Are the Messiah! Said like a man who uses Dial®!
By saying this Peter has said: You are the long awaited Messiah, anointed by God to save all of Israel. Peter nails it.

But there is no high five. Instead, Jesus sternly tells them not to say anything. The disciples are just glaring at Peter. “what? What did I say?”
Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, and be killed…”  As Peter’s jaw drops, he probably didn’t even hear the last thing Jesus promised, “and be raised on the third day.”  Instead, he’s got to save face; he puts his arm around Jesus’ shoulder, takes him aside, “Look, we have just established that you are the Savior.  So, what is all this suffering, rejection, dying nonsense?  That ain’t how it’s supposed to be.”

It seems, Peter wants and needs a strong God.  It’s no different for you and me. 
When life bears down on us: relationships fall apart, financial pressures mount. When voices of despair about the world, and our own future are the only voices we can hear.  When disappointment is everywhere: inept lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the garden didn’t produce this year; my “friend,” turned out to be a back stabber. This is when we need God to be a powerful vindictive God, who avenges our hurts, rights our wrongs, and puts us UP, back where we think we should belong.

Jesus accuses Peter of having his mind set on earthly things…on a Powerful Messiah, instead of on divine things…a suffering, rejected, and killed Messiah. 
Save your life, and you’ll lose it. Lose your life for my sake, and for the sake of the good news, and you’ll save it. Strange.  But somehow, true.  It’s easy to see how this is true.  Think of the great saints who’ve lost their lives, and not just in a literal sense: Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mother Teresa, Ghandi,[2] St. Francis. Oscar Romero.

I would like to follow Jesus in a radical way …I’m just not sure that I can.  But, I sure admire people who do.  A few summers ago, I met a friend of my uncle’s named Paul Farmer.  Our time together was brief, but long enough for me to be intrigued by his life and work.  Medical Doctor—specialist in infectious disease— who spends about four months out of the year working in Boston at a hospital and teaching classes at Harvard, and then the rest of the year in Haiti. 
He helped establish a hospital unit in Cange.  They say Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and that Cange is the poorest region of that poorest country.

I picked up a book written about his work: Mountains beyond Mountains, and I want to read a description of a day in the life for Farmer, back when this book was written.  (p.25)

Losing life for the Jesus’s sake.  Among some of the world’s most destitute.  Life lived like this inspires me. But, I worry.  Am I supposed to do something like this?
This is the struggle that we have, us ordinary folk.  We want to follow, right? Well…depends.  What will it entail? Maybe we need a lawyer to draw up a contract J .

Here are a few things I think we can focus on, and we’ll explore more as the series of sermons continues.  Jesus says, deny self: I think that can mean living a life of hospitality.  When we are hospitable, we are open to receiving others into our lives….  Maybe there’s a neighbor down the street who you’ve noticed is lonely. Maybe there is a hungry person who asks you for some help.  Maybe there is someone who comes to this church for the first time, just to see if we are good people to hang out with.  Relationships that are genuine and not pursued out of self-interest (what am I gonna get out of spending time with this person). 
Setting your mind on heavenly things, and not on human things –being open to whomever God may put in your path—and by doing so, we gain life as we have shared our own—we may even be welcoming Christ himself.

When Jesus says, Take up your cross: I think that can mean going the extra mile with someone or for someone.  Who is that person who seems like they always need something? Or that person who always seems to be taking from you and never really giving anything in return?

I love the “true” story Watchman Nee tells: Two brothers who were farmers and also Christians planted rice fields. The fields were in the middle of a hill.  Every day the brothers pumped the water into the fields with their feet.  But every day they found that the farmer whose field was below them always used subtle ways to let the water out of their fields into his field below.  For [a week] they endured this without saying a word, but inside there was not joy.  Later, they went to have fellowship with a brother who was a servant of the Lord. He told them, “It is not enough for you to endure. You should go and also water the field of him who stole your water. Then pump the water for your own fields.” The two brothers went back to their fields and did as he had spoken. It was strange—the more they did this, the more they felt [joy]. The result was that the one who stole the water was touched. Not only did he no longer come to steal their water, but he came to apologize to them.[3] 

Thinking on divine things, and not on human things, these brothers were able to consider a path toward reconciliation, and not bitterness and dispute; and they gained life.

Jesus says, lose your life, for me and for the sake of the good news, and you will save it.  I think that this can mean having an attitude of humility.  When we humble ourselves before God and before others, we lose our lives, because humility is the opposite of pride. And it is out of pride that we show arrogance, puff ourselves up, and worse, judge others.  Leading a life of humility leaves no room for arrogance, inflated egos, or judgment.

I saw this humility in a powerful way earlier this week. I got together with friends at Bob and Jan Chesnut’s house the day before Bob began his radiation treatment for cancer.  We gathered in a circle, at the request of Bob, shared some of our deepest hurt and pain, and how we got through it, as a way of empathizing with the Chesnuts, and sharing strength with them.  Battles with Cancer, loss of loved ones, disappointment with life.  Thinking of divine things, and not human things, humility was in that place, giving strength to one in need.

When Peter went shopping for a Messiah, he thought that Jesus had all the right qualities and characteristics.  There was only one problem, instead of being a powerful warrior/ king, Jesus said, “I go the way of the cross.” Peter had the right answer, but there at the foot of the cross, he denied even knowing Jesus. He didn’t know him. “By our human [thinking] strength is everything, might makes right, and the one who dies with the most toys wins.
But God [takes a different approach], and measures strength not in terms of might but of love, not by victory but vulnerability, not in possessions but in sacrifice, not by glory but by the cross. [4]
And by serving that God. By calling that God Lord, we may take on the same attitude: hospitality, going the extra mile, humility.  And yes, with this may come suffering, rejection, even be killed, if not in the flesh, dying to my human nature, but, as Trasie reminded me when we went over the sermon, in doing this there is resurrection. In living life this way, there is joy, freedom; salvation of our soul. Count the cost.  

I look forward to continuing to explore this theme next week. 

[1] Rev. Dr. David Lose, “The Heartbreaking Messiah”, as heard on:
[2] Gotta love the quote: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. You Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
[3] T.S Nee, The Content of the New Covenant, p 142-43 found at:
[4] Rev. Dr. David Lose, “The Heartbreaking Messiah”, as heard on:

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