More Than Fixing, Lent 2 – February 25, 2018

Lent sermon Episcopal

[RCL] Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Blessed Saint Peter: author of Scripture, first Pope, chief Apostle, teacher and defender of the faith, pillar of the Early Church, purported benefactor of the Gospel of Mark, and martyr. It is little wonder that Saint Peter gets so much good press amongst Christians!

But there is one thing missing from this list. One thing, in fact, that is among the blessed Apostle’s greatest gifts: Peter had the unique ability to find precisely the wrong moment to say the wrong thing! Or, to put it another way, Peter was an expert at opening his mouth and inserting his foot!

Listen to it again:

“Then [Jesus] began to teach them 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 of this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him…”

Now at first, we might be tempted to think that Peter simply forgot himself a bit—that he got so caught up in the thought of Jesus’ death that he spoke out of turn. But if we were to back up just two verses before the beginning of today’s Gospel reading to verse 29, we would hear Peter answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” with certainty and affirmation: “You are the Messiah!”

And so, seemingly without giving it a second thought, Peter professes that Jesus is the Messiah one minute and scolds him like an irresponsible teenager the next. One might imagine that the other disciples watched this scene unfold anxiously, as children watching their brother or sister arguing with their parents at the dinner table.

But it’s what happens after all of this that is truly shocking.

Jesus says, “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.”

That’s the moment that Peter and the disciples realized that the God they wanted was not the God made known in Jesus Christ! The disciples wanted a God who would be a savvy political and military leader, leading the charge to put the Romans in their place once and for all. They wanted someone who would raise them up to a position of power and importance. And they wanted someone so radical that their enemies would cower and flee. They were convinced that the keys to a good life were strength and power.

Instead, they got a guy who taught about loving others, feeding the hungry, and foretold his own impending death at the hands of the very same powers he was supposed to overcome.

This was not what they had signed up for!

With this in mind, it’s a bit easier to understand why Peter was so upset; if we had been standing where he and the other disciples were standing, we might have been upset, too!

But then again, who among us hasn’t wanted a God who just swoops down at the first sign of trouble and sets things right?

We ask God for a good parking spot; we pray for winning lottery numbers; we long for the phone call with the news of a better job or the approval from the bank for the new car or the bigger house, because in one way or another, we believe that if we can just get a little bit ahead and become just a little more successful, or if we could amass just a little clout or influence, our lives would be much better.

The disciples weren’t the only ones who believed that the keys to a good life were strength and power. More often than not, we believe it too.

But this attitude about God also shows up in places that aren’t so self-serving. When tragedy strikes, we pray and pray and pray for a different outcome, and yet God seems far away from us. Those of us who have been at the bedside of a friend or family member who died much too soon often find ourselves staring into the cold, dark silence of death, feeling abandoned by God. Coming to grips with the end of a long relationship with a lover or a friend causes us to wonder about this God we worship.

“Why doesn’t God just fix all of this?” we wonder. If God loves us, why do we suffer so terribly?

But as Mark’s Gospel reminds us, if we are to confess Jesus as Messiah, we must do so by standing at the foot of the cross as he is crucified. The God we worship is about more than fixing our lives. The God we worship is about laying down his life for the sake of our own.

And the moment we allow this truth to penetrate deep into our souls is the same moment we realize that the suffering we see around us—in the hospital bed, in the prison, on the street, in the mirror—is none other than the crucified Christ laying down his life again and again in the midst of our suffering.

“If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said, “Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Taking up our cross means recognizing Christ crucified in the suffering world around us, and then recalling that true discipleship is paved by the way of our own cross.

But walking the way of the cross and proclaiming Christ crucified isn’t the end of the story. No, it’s just the beginning! The story continues on, through the resurrection of Easter, and even to this day, at this very moment!

But we cannot know the fullness of Christ’s resurrection unless we are willing to know Christ crucified. The Great Fifty Days of Easter find their meaning only after the solemn forty days of Lent. Easter morning finds its consummation only through Good Friday.

And so, as we continue our journey through this holy season of Lent, may we walk alongside one another, bearing our crosses and proclaiming the faith of Christ crucified—the faith of militant love. Of subversive grace. And of radical mercy. And may our hearts be filled with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection!

Amen.

The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly is Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina. He is the editor of ModernMetanoia.org—a lectionary-based preaching resource authored exclusively by Millennial clergy, lay leaders, and teachers. Marshall is also an amateur runner, a voracious reader, and a budding chef, all while completing a doctorate at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Most important and life-giving of all, he’s Elizabeth’s husband.

Download the sermon for Lent 2 (B).

A covenant worth our lives, 2 Lent (B) – 2015

March 1, 2015

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

We human beings love our rules. The security that comes from knowing how things should be done comforts us in our chaotic world. God understands this about us, and so God comes to us in terms of covenant. In our lesson from Genesis, God provides a clear agreement that Abraham can refer to and rely on to know that God will come through on God’s promises. God willingly limits Godself out of love, knowing that making this clear and concrete covenant, promising to be our God forever and make our descendants fruitful, will bring us comfort and security.

Where we get into trouble is in thinking that our ideas about rules and regulations should govern God. Once we understand that God will always be faithful to us and care for us, we start to think we know better than God who God should be and how God should act. Consider Peter’s action in our gospel story today. At first, his boldness is shocking – how did he have the audacity to take Jesus aside and rebuke him? But when we examine our hearts, we might realize that we, too, have sometimes wanted to take Jesus aside and rebuke him.

Peter acts this way because he doesn’t like what Jesus is saying. How often have we felt that way ourselves? How often have we wanted to explain the realities of a harsh world to a Jesus who seems naïve and unrealistic in his expectations of us? What do you mean, sell everything we have and give it to the poor to follow you, Jesus? How can you expect us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”? It’s simply not realistic to “give to everyone who asks of you.”

The truth is that our human instinct is to remake Christ in our own image, rather than letting ourselves be transformed into Christ’s image. We want to dictate the terms of the covenant, but Jesus makes it clear that that impulse is from the darkness within us, and he will name it and call us out on it. Just a few short verses ago, Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Peter got it right! He knew the truth about Jesus and was not afraid to proclaim it. And yet barely a moment later, he has made such a mistake that Jesus is saying that Satan is acting through him.

What we can learn from this is the truth that even after – perhaps especially after – our mountaintop experiences of revelation, we still have so very much to learn. Even as we gain more and more knowledge of Jesus and enter deeper and deeper into relationship with him, the mystery of his full nature grows at the same pace. Just because we know him doesn’t mean we get to tell him what to do, a lesson that Peter learned in this moment and that we will learn over and over again.

This gospel lesson is full of truths that are hard to hear. Peter’s expectations are dashed by what Jesus says. He and the other disciples have witnessed Jesus’ power – it was very natural for them to assume that Jesus would bring about the fullness of God’s covenant promises by overthrowing Rome and restoring the throne of Israel. Now Jesus tells them that he knows he will be defeated, arrested and killed – and he fully intends to let it happen.

This is a bitter, painful discovery for Peter and the others. It feels like a betrayal. “Jesus, you have the power of almighty God at your disposal. Rather than rescuing us from oppression, you’re going to give in and give up and let the Romans win again?”

This “gospel” Good News is the worst news imaginable.

What Peter doesn’t understand in this moment is that rather than betraying God’s covenant with Israel, Jesus is simultaneously fulfilling it and rewriting it. The original covenant promise to Abraham in our lesson from Genesis was for many fruitful descendants, all of whom would be loved and protected by God. It was a covenant promising a future of life. Jesus is inviting us to a covenant of life also – but it is by following a very different path than we would expect. Jesus promises life to us if we have the courage to face death. Jesus promises that if we give our lives wholeheartedly to him and thereby to serving our neighbors, we will have rich and abundant life flowing through us, welling up to eternal life.

It is an enticing invitation – but a scary one. To know that Jesus is entering death willingly and expects us to do the same would give anyone pause. And while we know that one day we will all confront literal, physical death, there are many other deaths awaiting us. We will face the death of our pride, the death of our comfortable ideas about what God is calling us to do and be, perhaps the death of our financial security and the death of our ambition and slavery to success. The covenant to which we are invited has very high stakes, and the urge to take Jesus aside and rebuke him as Peter did starts to make more and more sense.

It seems impossible, doesn’t it? It seems as farfetched to imagine ourselves brave enough to follow Jesus into death, to lose our lives to save them, as he says, as it did for Abraham and Sarah to have children in their old age. This covenant to which we are invited, this covenant that takes this strange and frightening path of cross-carrying and death, is only possible under one condition. We cannot make it on hard work or determination or power or strength.

Our lesson from Romans tells us what we need to enter into this covenant:

“It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed. … Hoping against hope, [Abraham] believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations.’ … He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead. … No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Faith is the only bridge through death on the cross to the new life of resurrection with Jesus. But it is not a fairytale faith that closes its eyes and hopes for the best, blindly wishing for a happy ending. It is a faith that takes stock of the very real cost of discipleship to which Jesus calls us, the price up to and including our very lives, and deems it a worthy gift to the Christ who withheld nothing from us.

Some of us, including many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, may pay that cost of discipleship with their literal, physical lives. But most of us will not go out in a blaze of martyred glory. Most of us will carry the cross one small step at a time, one spiritual discipline at a time, one act of generosity or sacrifice or love at a time.

However we carry the cross, the giving of our lives willingly to follow Jesus will manifest in one perhaps unexpected cost: the risk of being changed. When Abram and Sarai committed to God’s covenant with them, they were changed at such a fundamental level that they could no longer be known by their former names. The man and woman who were God’s covenant partners had to be known as Abraham and Sarah, names that echoed their former selves but were profoundly transformed, just like their lives and their souls.

This is the risk we take when we sign on to Jesus’ covenant of life, the journey with and through the cross and its transforming power, the road through death to resurrection. We will emerge on the other side with the building blocks of our souls familiar to us, but the temple of grace into which they have been built strange and new and glorious. We can finally let go of our urge to rebuke Jesus, to remake him to be like we think he should be, like ourselves, because we know through faith that he will remake us to be like him.

That’s a covenant promise worth our very lives.

 

— The Rev. Whitney Rice is priest-in-charge of the shared ministry of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Shelbyville, Ind., and St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Franklin, Ind., in the Diocese of Indianapolis. She blogs at www.roofcrashersandhemgrabbers.com.

Why must a person believe in God to be nice and do good things?, 2 Lent (B) – 2012

March 4, 2012

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Many people over the course of history have asked, “Why must a person believe in God to be nice and do good things?” Why, indeed? What separates our faith communities from other social activist groups like the Lions Club or Doctors Without Borders? The answer lies in our deepest motivation: following Jesus. With this understanding, we have a lens through which we filter everything.

Of course, we should all be nice, decent people, but to follow Jesus – that calls for something deeper, something more weighty. You can be a nice person without believing in God or following Jesus; but you can’t truly believe in God and follow Jesus without being a person of conversion: your heart must be where God’s heart is, as well as your hands and feet. This takes courage. It is often easier said than done.

At the time of crucifixion, some victims had to carry their own crossbeams to the hill where they were to be crucified. Imagine how terrible that road must have felt, as they walked themselves to their impending death, carrying one of the implements of their death on their backs? Then, once there, being humiliated by being seen in all your vulnerability as a human being – not able to care for your basic human functions while others watch; spending hours in unrelieved pain; having other people jeer and laugh at you and not see you as a person, but as an object of ridicule; all the while knowing that you are dying. When Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem, he knows that this is what it will come to. Jesus chooses this vulnerability. He chooses obedience and courage and tells the disciples that if they are to follow him, that they must choose this, too.

It’s a lonely choice. This is not what a person would typically want for his or her life. As Brother David Vryhof of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist says, “It’s no wonder that Jesus’ family was concerned about him. By his actions he was showing that principles which most people value above everything else – security, safety, and a good reputation in the eyes of others – meant nothing to him. How countercultural is that?”

To live within the integrity of God’s call to you instead of living within popularity can certainly be countercultural, and it can be lonely. Being a follower of Jesus means that we embrace this loneliness. As God came to be fully human in Jesus, so we too, understand what it means to be fully human through Jesus. This is where we find glimpses of grace.

But the idea of a vulnerable, suffering God is as unacceptable to us as it was to Peter in our gospel today. Peter saw the Messiah as something very different – an invincible war hero who would lead the Jewish people to freedom, and redeem them from their own vulnerability. Aren’t we all like Peter in our own way? Believing that Jesus is the Messiah – a Messiah who will save us from the cruel, harsh world that surrounds us? A tame Messiah that will come when we call and keep the bad things at bay? “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus demands of Peter. Get behind all of us so that we can have the clear and sobering view of the path of the cross.

When we are baptized, it is a joyous occasion of being received into the Christian community. But even as we receive the water of life, we are also handed a crossbeam of our own and pointed to the path of Jesus and told to hop to it. We look at that road and the figure of Jesus struggling in the distance and wonder if there has been some mistake. The road looks difficult, and at the end is death.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. All our lives end in death, as we are reminded in our Ash Wednesday service at the beginning of Lent. The difference for a Christian is the singular intention to live our lives following Jesus. We deny our notions of who we think we are in order to truly become who God created us to be. The more we know God, the longer we follow Jesus’ path, the more we become ourselves. There is true freedom in what Jesus asks of us – the freedom to draw near to God, to love and accept one another and ourselves without constraint. Jesus shows us how to do it. He keeps his eye on the prize: obedience to God’s will. And nothing deters him. We are asked to do the same in our own lives, but we have a guide. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, everything else falls away.

Where is Jesus asking you to follow him in your life right now? Perhaps it’s time to take that step of faithfulness, of vulnerability, of being loved by God, of living and sharing the Good News; to take that step of becoming the human that God has created you to be. What are you waiting for?

 

— The Rev. Danáe Ashley is priest-in-charge of St. Edward the Confessor Episcopal Church in Wayzata, Minnesota, and co-coordinator of the 2012 Beautiful Authority Conference to be held in June.

God has made a choice, one that is unchangeable, 2 Lent (B) – 2009

March 8, 2009

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Father Abraham had many children.
Many children had Father Abraham.
I am one of them, and so are you.
So let’s just praise the Lord!

Perhaps many of us will think of this old-fashioned summer camp song when we hear these lessons about the promise made to Abraham in his old age. God had made these promises to Abraham before, mostly concerning the land of Canaan as his family’s inheritance. But here God declares the promise again in a slightly different manner: “You will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” And this time, Sarah is specifically included as well. She is to be the ancestral mother of nations and kings. As the stars in the clear night sky, so shall their descendants be.

We read these words today removed from their context by thousands of years and oceans of water. So much has changed in the world since the days of Abraham that is nearly impossible to describe the difference. However, the promise of God stands firm. The amazing truth is that today we are members of the great progeny of Abraham. Through the waters of baptism, God has adopted us into the covenant as children of Abraham. Though it looks different now than it did in the ancient land of Canaan, we share the faith of Abraham. We are part of the great spiritual heritage of Abraham that is now embodied by more than half of the earth’s human population. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all trace our faith back to the experience of a wandering Aramean.

But since our context is so vastly different, what does Abraham’s experience of the covenant mean for us who are living into this covenant in our day and time? How does Abraham offer a lens through which we can understand our relationship with the living God, known as El Shaddai to Abraham and Sarah?

When we are incorporated into the Body of Christ through the waters of baptism, we become adopted into the family of God. Abraham becomes our foster-father. In the old Celtic traditions, the bonds of fosterage have typically been considered equally as strong as those of natural birth, often even stronger. Historically, there are different kinds of foster parent relationships in Celtic lands. Some are considered temporary, like a kind of extended apprenticeship provided for a child to learn a specific trade. Others are permanent, and the acceptance of the foster child changes her ancestral heritage forever. She is now considered part of the new clan with all of the rights and responsibilities entailed therein.

The bonds of fosterage have been strong primarily because they involve the choice of free will. A commitment is made by the foster parents to embrace the child of another. In families of birth, we are not able to make choices of free will regarding our relationships. No one can choose his or her natural parents nor can parents choose their natural children. (Not yet at least, though this may be changing.)There is a wonderful grace in this, of course, as learning to live in healthy relationships with those placed around us offers great opportunities to grow in Christ-likeness.

But when an intentional choice is made to bring in a child from outside the clan, a commitment is made, and it is something like a covenant. Choosing to live with someone carries a different connotation than an unintentional cohabitation.

For us, our life in Christ begins with a simple act of free will. God has made a choice to bring us into the family of Abraham. God chose. We have been adopted and our relationships are now fundamentally changed forever. The first chapter of John tells us that we love because God first loved us.

The introduction to the liturgy of Holy Baptism in The Book of Common Prayer states this fact with outstanding clarity: “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” This staggering truth itself is enough to cause us to fall face-down in awe and worship before One who chooses to invest so heavily in us.

Of course, it was this same God who made the original choice thousands of years ago to enter into covenant with Abraham, who could have refused this gracious offer. But Abraham consented to this covenant offer, and for good reason. It would be hard to walk away from such an opportunity. But this covenant also demanded daily choices from Abraham. “Walk before me, and be blameless.”

What God began with Abraham and Sarah was brought to fruition in our Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing changed in the original covenant, but everything has been fulfilled.

In our reading today from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins to prepare his friends for his impending death. This, of course, is not at all what they had in mind. They wanted to follow a winner, be part of a victorious movement that would restore the honor and dignity of their people.

Death at the hands of the chief priests in Jerusalem did not seem to fit this plan. Oh, he spoke also of rising again in three days, but of course they had no idea what this meant. But this death was no tragic ending to his life. In fact, it was the master stroke, the coup d’état that changed the entire landscape of life on this earth. Our Lord chose the cross of his own free will.

In our life here on earth, we can never separate our faith from our works, for how we see the world around us has a direct effect upon how we act. Abraham’s trust in God allowed him to act in faithfulness, to walk before God, and to be blameless.

It is the same with us, particularly during this our Lenten journey. Our actions and our beliefs are closely intertwined. It may be that the next time we stand in church to confess the Nicene Creed, we need to seriously ask ourselves the question: Do I honestly believe this?

Or perhaps our sense of faith is strong, and the problem is that our actions are incongruous with our faith. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: Why do I act the way I do? If I honestly trust in the living God who “calls into existence the things that do not exist,” why then do I fret with worry and anxiety? If I believe that God has chosen me and will never leave me nor forsake me, why then am I jealous of the success of another?

Whatever we lack, we can be sure of “the unchangeable truth” of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, as our Collect for today says. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In Christ, our covenant responsibility before God is accompanied by an even greater promise than that received by Abraham: the promise of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God that with our responsibility to walk in holiness comes a never-ending supply of divine grace to transform our lives.

So let us not grow weak in faith when we consider our own frailty and our difficulty in upholding our end of the covenant. During this Lenten season, we must confess our failings, for this covenant relationship with the living God requires complete honesty and transparency. But with the eyes of faith, we know that the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit is ready to fill us, if we choose to walk in this path and open ourselves to God’s love.

God has made a choice, one that is unchangeable. For that we give thanks. Today it is our turn to choose. As it was also in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.

 

— The Rev. Nathan Ferrell lives in Moorestown, New Jersey, in an old Victorian house with his artist-wife, Erin, three children, two dogs, a cat, and a fish. Nate and Erin run a contracting business together, and Nate serves as vicar for two local parishes.

What he’s talking about is discipleship, 2 Lent (B) – 2006

March 12, 2006

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

In Yann Martel’s wonderful novel Life of Pi, 12-year-old Pi decides to explore a number of different religions in his native India. He has a rather remarkable reflection on a conversation he had with a Roman Catholic priest, Father Martin, about the crucifixion. Pi thinks to himself:

“That a god should put up with adversity, I could understand. The gods of Hinduism face their fair share of thieves, bullies, kidnappers and usurpers …. . But humiliation? Death? I couldn’t imagine Lord Krishna consenting to be stripped naked, whipped, mocked, dragged through the streets and, to top it off, crucified – and at the hands of mere humans, to boot. I’d never heard of a Hindu god dying. Brahman Revealed did not go for death. Devils and monsters did, as did mortals, by the thousands and millions – that’s what they were there for. Matter, too, fell away. But divinity should not be blighted by death. It’s wrong. The world soul cannot die, even in one contained part of it. It was wrong of this Christian God to let His avatar (His Son) die. That is tantamount to letting a part of Himself die. For if the Son is to die, it cannot be fake. If God on the Cross is God shamming a human tragedy, it turns the Passion of Christ into the Farce of Christ. The death of the Son must be real. Father Martin assured me that it was. But once a dead God, always a dead God, even resurrected. The Son must have the taste of death forever in His mouth. The Trinity must be tainted by it; there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God the Father. The horror must be real. Why would God wish that upon Himself? Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect? Love. That was Father Martin’s answer.”

Pi sounds a little bit like Peter here. We might wonder what Jesus would have said to Pi if Pi had been having this conversation with Jesus in today’s Gospel instead of with Father Martin. We might wonder if Jesus would have responded the same way to Pi as he did to Peter, because actually neither Pi nor Peter can quite believe that suffering, rejection, and death could possibly be a part of Jesus’ life story. Mark doesn’t tell us what Peter actually said – only that Peter “took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.” But Jesus’ response is startling. “Get behind me, Satan. For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” That’s a little rough, don’t you think?  We might actually feel for Peter. It can’t have been easy to hear your leader say he was going to suffer and die. “Surely not!” Peter might say. “What kind of god would suffer and die for humans?” we hear Pi say. Love was Father Martin’s answer.

What Peter’s response was after Jesus rebuked him, Mark doesn’t tell us. But we do know that Peter had already acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah in the beginning of this very same chapter. Jesus had asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and then he asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter gave the absolutely correct answer: “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Now, just a few verses later, Jesus tells his followers again, and more openly, that he will suffer and die, but for the first time he explains why.

Here Jesus uses the image of the cross. Of course, the people in Jesus’ time would understand the reference to the “cross” that was used by the Romans for executions. We often refer to the “cross” as something we personally carry in life – sickness, for instance, or a difficulty of some kind, or a personal problem. While these understandings are valid enough, this isn’t what Jesus is talking about here.

What he’s talking about is discipleship. Jesus lays out the cost of discipleship here. This “cross” Jesus talks about is what sets apart those who want to be his followers from that part of the world that focuses only on vainglory, selfishness, oppression, and greed.

Jesus reminds us that “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.” If we’re serious, really serious about being Jesus’ disciples, then we will lose our lives. Jesus doesn’t seem to be saying here that those who want to save their life might lose it, might have to give up something rather–crucial. He’s saying lose it! He’s saying that if we’re serious, life will be different. We won’t fit into the world in the same way.

But isn’t that odd? We look around and see people we consider to be very good people, very godly people, looking very normal. They work and play and pray and move about in society quite normally. They seem to fit. For the most part, we do the same. We work and play and pray and move about in society quite normally. We seem to fit. There certainly are still those who physically lose, or are in danger of losing, their lives for the sake of the gospel: people like Oscar Romero, missionaries in the Middle East, people who work with the poor in Latin America or Africa or even the United States. Many of us, however, can’t imagine that ever happening to us. Are we in danger of having the son of man be ashamed of us when he comes in the glory of his Father with the Holy Spirit? Does Jesus have nothing to say to us in this part of Mark’s Gospel?

Of course he does. This image of losing our lives isn’t only physical. When Scripture speaks about “the world” in this way, it means the world’s way of operating – the system, not the planet. It’s not speaking of the created stuff of the world, that wonderful gift of earthly beauty, but the way we deal with it and with each other – kosmos meaning “orderly arrangement” or “system.” Jesus challenges us to consider where that kosmos came from. God didn’t set up our political or economic or social systems; we did. God didn’t tell us to look at other people as markets or competitors or enemies; we did that ourselves. What Jesus challenges us to do is to lose that way of thinking – die to it – and take on God’s order, God’s way, God’s kingdom. This is what the kingdom of God means: the operating system of heaven, not of this world. Then the planet becomes our trust from God, other people become our brothers and sisters, and our goal becomes fostering God’s way of operating rather than this world’s, rather than business as usual.

Jesus was crucified because the religious and political and social establishments – Jewish and Roman alike – found him to be a threat. Jesus’ disciples can’t expect anything different, can they, if they are real disciples and not just disciples in name only? Few of us, I hope, will get hung on crosses to die. But many of us may find ourselves looked at strangely sometimes, or shut out of “the best” company, or made to feel disrespected and unwelcome, simply because our values are not the ones “everybody” – the world – accepts. Our business as disciples of Jesus is to follow him, not what “everybody” does, or even “the best” or “the leaders.”

Peter eventually understood discipleship and as we know, paid the ultimate cost of that discipleship. Most of us, I hope, will at least come to understand a disciple’s connection to Jesus as the young boy Pi did. He said, “I couldn’t get Jesus out of my head. Still can’t. I spent three solid days thinking about Him. The more He bothered me, the less I could forget Him. And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him.”

If we are his disciples, our goal is not to get ahead but to get closer to God, not to be successful but to be faithful, not to gain this world’s approval but God’s. This eucharistic celebration of ours today claims that we are thankful for the opportunity to do just that.

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee, and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.