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Sermon for Lent 2 Year B 2015

Reverend Canon Charles Royden


If any man will follow

In Partnership News the Bishop is speaking about the elections and there is a link there to the statement by the Bishops about who to vote for. There are a lot of big questions which are around at the moment in the run up to the elections.

  • How will we pay for the health service at a time when we are all getting older and we have so many more complex needs and we can keep people alive for ages
  • How will we get down the debt which is bigger now than it was when all of these cuts were implemented

Of course no political parties will answer the difficult questions ahead of the election. That is because we are a democracy and so you need to tell people what they want to hear so that they will vote for you. Then when you are elected you break the bad news and make excuses for why you were not up front beforehand. The usual one for a new party coming in is that they found things were much worse when they got hold of the books.

This is sad but it is a fact of what we voters are like. We want people who will promise lots of good things but none of the pain. The leader we want tells us that we will have free healthcare, reductions in tax, reductions in tuition fees and at the same time they will keep us all safe with spending on defence and etc.

In our reading today we can see that Jesus is not a politician. He speaks with honesty and clarity. There is no ambiguity, so that nobody will ever be able to say to him what have you got us into ? In the passage today Jesus doesn’t only tell the disciples that he is asking of them the ultimate price, he uses a visual aid. He tells his disciples that they must take up their cross if they want to follow him.

Imagine that you are following the Messiah, the Christ, the one expected to free the Jewish people from the years of oppression under Assyrians and Babylonians and Persians and Romans. Imagine that you are following this great leader and they tell you that instead of being a powerful and influential member of their team, you will follow them to death on a cross, a fate reserved for the worst criminals.

No wonder that Peter, who really understood who Jesus was, found it impossible to comprehend or accept. The more you understood who Jesus was the more unacceptable it was that God’s Messiah could be treated in this way - it was an insult to God ! Yet Jesus was uncomfortable with this understanding of what a Messiah was. He moved away from the word Messiah and said that he was ‘Son of Man’ a term not invested with the same meanings of power and kingship. What Peter meant by Messiah and what Jesus meant were two completely different things !

Jesus wants his followers to be fully appreciative of what his ministry entailed. Nobody would be able at a later date to claim that they never knew what he was getting them into.
Remember that at the time in which this Gospel was written, Christians were literally bearing crosses and losing their lives. However these words of Jesus speaks very directly to their situation, and hold out the promise of resurrection.When this Gospel was first written, Christians were literally in danger of losing their lives for their faith. They were tempted to deny Christ to save their lives. That is still true for many Christians today. Persecution of Christians is going on across the world and we need to support and pray for Christian brothers and sisters to alleviate their suffering in any way possible.

Jesus gives a threefold standard for discipleship. We are to

  1. Deny ourselves
  2. Take up our cross and
  3. Follow Jesus.

There have been those who have seen in these words a denial of our self worth. Jesus does not call us to deny that we are valuable to God, we are God’s children, created in God's image. Neither does he call us to deny ourselves pleasure, indeed the ascetic can be the most ego-centered person of all. In many cultures there is a low value placed on human life, as Christians we have a very high value of human life, Jesus died for us, that is how valuable we are to God. Self denial is not about living an ascetic life in which we do not eat chocolate or wear coarse shirts, or whatever. Rather it is about setting aside our interests to discover God's interests. It is a daily act of committal to try and live differently.

Jesus said that the secret of happiness is self denial. What Jesus is saying is that If you want to achieve all that God has in store for you then you have to forget your own idea of where happiness lies. True life is achieved only by forgetting our own self interests.

In life we are told to look after number 1. Jesus is saying that the truth is exactly the opposite of this. As Christians we have to put aside selfishnesss, self importance and self centredness. These things might pretend to bring us along the road to happiness but they are destructive and Jesus tried to liberate us from the things which destroy us
Peter wanted to change the direction of Jesus life. He didn't understand that taking up the path of the cross is empowering and liberating. He looked at things from a human view, not from God's perspective.

The teachings of Jesus were about the task of illuminating his disciples to the idea that we have to think of others first and ourselves second. This is not making ourselves like doormats where we see others as being more deserving of love, dignity, and respect. As Christians we do not endure abusive relationships, we do not or tolerate injustice.
This is rather a willingness to give of ourselves in love to others – which is of course quite different than having others take from us.

We know this to be true, we do it perhaps most naturally as parents, sacrificing all kinds of things in the hope of providing for our children. But we also do it as children, friends, partners, neighbours and more. And each time we do so – each time, that is, we call into question a momentary “want” of our own in order to satisfy a genuine need of someone else, we experience the joy of doing what Jesus asks of us

So much in our culture is designed to make us think that the only thing that matters – and the only thing that will bring us peace, security, and happiness – is looking out for ourselves by gratifying our immediate desires, whatever they may be. This is particularly true in the world of advertising, where so much time, energy, creativity and money is poured into adds that seek to make us feel inadequate in order to induce us to buy something that promises to make us feel better about ourselves. But here’s the thing: those commercials are a lie. Not that there aren’t lots of great things out there to buy and enjoy. But not one of them will actually make us feel complete, or more human, or more adequate, or more accepted or loved. They just won’t.

This is the Gospel’s theory of everything – that the more we give, the more we receive. It’s not what his disciples expect. and when Jesus describes the greatest act of love – giving his life for them and the world – they can only object. But Jesus will not be deterred. He will continue on the path of sacrificial love – and continue to love his disciples even when they misunderstand him or choose not to follow that path – until the very end. And at the end, God takes what looks like weakness and demonstrates strength and transforms what looks like disgrace and reveals God’s surprising, even unsettling, but ultimately life-giving glory.

We know this but we need to be reminded day after day about sacrificial love

  • Stopping to help someone in need
  • Donating to a charitable cause
  • Standing up for someone being picked on at school or in work
  • Delaying having something so that you could help another person’s need
  • Perhaps it is listening to someone in need
  • Perhaps it was sharing a smile or hug

As we do, we’re drawn into the truth Jesus shares. Those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their lives for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it. Amen

 

 

Scriptures

Mark 10 The Rich and the Kingdom of God
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Luke 10:25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”