Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent – February 28, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have a confession to make. After all, it is Lent, right? ‘Tis the season for confessions! My confession is that I don’t like to ask for help. I like to do things on my own. There are people in this congregation who know this about me. It is kind of a running joke with some of you. Part of this is because I don’t like to inconvenience others. I don’t like to impose upon them. I don’t want to be the cause of any burdens for them.
This sounds noble, perhaps, but it is really rooted in self-centeredness. It is rooted in my pride. It is rooted in my need for control. If I don’t ask for or accept help, I can do things precisely how I want them done. If I don’t ask for or accept help, I’m not dependent on anyone else. I’m not indebted to them.
This isn’t something I am proud of. I am working on getting better at it. It is important, especially as a pastor, to “equip the saints of the work of ministry,” which often means handing tasks over to others. It means asking for and accepting help. It means giving up control.
Again, I’m not proud of this and I am continually working on it, but I also think this problem is pretty common. I think a lot of people avoid asking for or accepting help from others, thinking that they are being noble because they don’t want to be a burden, but underneath this façade is a need for control, for autonomy.
I love Peter for the way he shows me my sinful humanity again and again. He certainly shows it to me today. When Jesus began to teach them that as their Messiah he would undergo great suffering and be rejected and be killed, Peter objected. He pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “No, Lord, this must not happen to you,” he said.
On the surface this seems merely like Peter didn’t want his teacher and Lord to go through something so terrible, like he was simply being protective of Jesus. But Peter’s objection runs deeper than this. Jesus rebuked Peter right back and said that he was setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. Peter objected to the help Jesus was offering as a Messiah who would suffer and be rejected and killed. He didn’t want that kind of help. It sounds noble, but it was really just a way for Peter to maintain control, to not be indebted to anyone else. His utterly human mindset prevented him – at least for the moment – from receiving this divine help Jesus was bringing.
Jesus goes on to tell Peter and everyone else within earshot that not only would Jesus give himself up in this way, through suffering and being rejected and killed, but that any who want to become his followers would need to do the same. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said, “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 lives for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
This doesn’t mean that Christian discipleship always results in literal martyrdom, though it has resulted in that for some Christians. The Greek word translated here as “life” can also be translated as “self” or even “soul,” and so “losing your life” for Jesus’ sake can also mean giving up your self-centeredness and your stubborn pride. Following Jesus, at least in part, means giving up control of your life. It means giving up control so that you can receive the help he is offering. It means giving up your supposed self-sufficiency so that he can bear your burden. It means swallowing that self-centered pride and being willing to be indebted to him. It means losing yourself in order to be found in him
On the day my wife and I were married, I gave her a special gift. It was a silver crucifix necklace. A crucifix is different from a cross. A crucifix is a cross with the suffering body of Jesus still on it. I gave my bride this necklace with the suffering Christ on it on our wedding day and said, “This is what it is going to be like to be married to me.” It was a bit of a joke, but there was – and is – a lot of truth behind what I said as well. Marriage involves sacrifice. For a marriage to be successful, it involves each spouse “losing their lives” for the sake of the other. It means dying to yourself again and again. It means giving up control as you give and receive help from each other. This is a discipline, to be sure. It isn’t always easy. It takes work. But this is the essence of what it means to love.
There is a fantastic new song out by one of my favorite artists, Jon Foreman. The chorus goes: “You lose yourself, when you love someone. Yeah, you lose yourself, when you love someone. You lose yourself, yeah you come undone. When you love someone, when you love someone.”
That’s how this works. And as it goes for marriage, so it goes for Christian discipleship. To love Jesus is to lose ourselves. To follow Jesus is to lose ourselves. To deny ourselves and carry our cross is to come undone, it is to give up control and die to ourselves.
It is no accident that the scriptures repeatedly hold up marriage as a reflection of the love God has for his people in the Old Testament, and the love Christ has for his church in the New Testament. Marriage is a pale and imperfect reflection, to be sure, but God’s Word lifts it up as a reflection nonetheless. In the way spouses lose themselves for the sake of the other out of love, we see a reflection of what Christ has done for us. Out of his great love for Peter, and for you, and for me, Jesus gave himself up. He lost himself. He came undone. He suffered and was rejected and killed, and then God raised him from the dead on the third day.
Like Peter, we have a hard time accepting help – especially when it means someone else will suffer for us. I know I do. But our Lord Jesus calls us to set our mind not on human things, but on divine things. He calls us to receive the help he has come to bring us as our savior and our Lord. He calls us to be dependent on him. He calls us to let him bear our burden. He calls us to deny ourselves, to carry our crosses, to lose ourselves in order that we may be found in him.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church