"Losing Ourselves" - Lent 2B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
February 25, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Mark 8:31-38
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: February 25, 2018 – Lent 2B

Mark 8:31-38

 

Losing Ourselves

 

              For a moment, think of all the things to which you attach the first-person possessive pronoun. My cell phone. My computer. My house. My land. My country. My spouse. My child. My church. My God. We know that all of these things aren’t “mine” in the same sense. A cell phone or a computer is a non-living object completely subject to how we use it, while a spouse or a child is another living being with a will of his or her own. We don’t always notice the fine grades of meaning in this pronoun, though. In Letter 21 of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, the demon Screwtape opines that humans “can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots’, the ‘my’ of ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by ‘my teddy bear’ not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation (for that is what (God) will teach them to mean if we are not careful) but ‘the bear I can pull to pieces if I like’. And at the other end of the scale, we have taught men to say ‘my God’ in a sense not really very different from ‘my boots’, meaning ‘the God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services and whom I exploit from the pulpit – the God I have done a corner in’.”[1]

 

              Of course, none of us can “do a corner in” on God. Back in my Bible camp days, we sang a truly awful song that seemed to encourage that idea.

If I had a little white box

to put my Jesus in,

I’d take him out and (kiss, kiss, kiss)

and put him right back in.

And if I had a little red box

to put my devil in,

I’d take him out and SMASH HIM FLAT

and put him right back in.

 

              But Jesus is no convenient pocket deity, whom I can take out and use like I would my cell phone. Jesus is not subject to my control or my whims. Rather, when we say, “my Savior” or “my Lord Jesus”, we are referring to the One who has an ultimate claim on us.

 

              Today’s Gospel reading occurs right after Peter makes his famous confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Chosen One (to use Star Wars terminology) of God. Unfortunately, Peter doesn’t quite know what that means. Immediately after Peter’s confession in Mark, Jesus orders him and the remaining disciples to remain silent about him and his true identity. Jesus’ identity as Messiah, you see, cannot be understood properly without the lens of his death and resurrection – events that have yet to occur. Jesus then, foretells these very events. Peter and the rest of the disciples wanted to Jesus to say that he would lead them and all of Israel to great victory, that they would expel the foreign oppressor of Rome from the land, and then Jesus would establish a messianic kingdom on earth. It’s not like they didn’t have any Biblical foundation for this – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel contain visions of a redeemed, returned people in a messianic kingdom under the rule of God’s Chosen One. But Jesus has a different script, one that is inspired far more by the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. Jesus knows that he won’t be a popular figure. He knows that the religious and political elites will reject him and his message. He knows that they will conspire to have him put to death. But he also knows that his death won’t be the end of the story. Rather, his death will be the means by which God will save God’s people.

 

              Peter wants nothing to do with that kind of Messiah, though. This is “his” Jesus we’re talking about, his leader, his friend! And if something should happen to Jesus? What would Peter do then? Doesn’t Jesus realize what kind of danger he’s putting the rest of them in?  To recall the disciples’ question in Mark 4:38, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Peter’s Messiah clearly has the script wrong. So Peter tries to correct Jesus by telling him how “his” Messiah ought to act.

 

              Jesus will have none of it. What Peter does in trying to correct Jesus is no less than a demonic temptation to abandon his call as Messiah. It is little different from the temptations that Jesus faced out in the desert, even if it is done unwittingly. Jesus is not Peter’s Messiah in the sense of ownership any more than he is yours or mine. No. Though Jesus came as one who serves, he will not be used by those he serves for any of their pet causes.

 

              It’s the other way around. Jesus wants us to follow him, in lives of full commitment and obedience. He wants us to deny ourselves, which means to let go of our own claims of ownership and dominion, not just over others, but over our very selves. He wants us to surrender all that is ours to him – it is all his in the first place – and follow. Such a claim would be satanic unless it came from the One who has a legitimate claim on our lives – but it does. Jesus is the One who has a claim on everything we have and everything we are – as we pray in the Lutheran Book of Worship offering prayer, “We offer to you what you have first given us, our selves, our time, and our possessions….”

 

              Now, we all know that because of sin, we’re going to fall extremely short of full and complete obedience. There are so many other things that vie for our commitment. But Jesus wants to be number one in our lives. Why? Because it is by losing ourselves that we find ourselves again. Jesus wants everything we are so that he can give it back to us again, renewed, transformed, redeemed. When Jesus suffers and dies “as a ransom for many”, as Mark 10:45 reads, God’s gift of abundant and eternal life is given to us. We receive it in baptism. We affirm it in confirmation. Throughout our lives, our feeble “yes” is amplified by the One whose “yes” to us shakes all of creation.

 

              This goes for communities of faith, too. Jesus doesn’t just want our individual selves, either. He wants us to let go of our notions of what church should be like and surrender that to him. Just as we are more ourselves when we give ourselves to Jesus, we are also more Zion Lutheran Church when we commit Zion more fully to the way of Jesus. I know it’s frightening – but when we let go of our expectations for church and simply follow Jesus, we will notice God’s work all the more.

 

              Surrender. Commitment. Obedience. All these things are only possible because of Jesus, who first surrendered to the will of his Father, who first committed completely and irrevocably to humanity. That is grace. God give us the courage to lose ourselves and follow. Please turn to page 67 in the front of the green hymnal and pray with me the prayer at the bottom of the page.

 

Merciful Father,

we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us—our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love. Receive them for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[2]

 

© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters, part of The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (HarperOne: New York, 2002), 247.

[2] Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 67