Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 1, 2015

2015.03.01 “Following Jesus – Do We Have What It Takes – Sacrifice” – Mark 8: 31 – 38

Central United Methodist Church
Following Jesus – Do We Have What It Takes
Pastor David L. Haley
Mark 8: 31 – 38
March 1st, 2015


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 this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8: 31 – 38

Once there was a small plane with 5 passengers on board. Enroute to their destination, the engine sputtered and quit. The pilot came out of the cockpit wearing a parachute and said:

“Friends, I have some bad new and some good news. The bad news is we have an engine malfunction and we’re going down. The good news is there are several parachutes along the wall. The bad news is that there are 5 of you and only 4 parachutes. So you’ll have to work it out. I know you have many choices in air travel and I’d like to thank you for choosing our airline. Wherever your final destination, I wish you a pleasant evening! And with that, the pilot jumped out the door.

A woman leaped up. “I am one of the most prominent brain surgeons in the northeast. My patients depend on me.” She grabbed a parachute off the wall and jumped out.

A man stood up and said, “I am a partner in a large law practice and the office would fall to pieces without me.” He grabbed a parachute and jumped out.

Another man stood up and said, “I am the smartest man in the world. My IQ is so high I don’t even want to mention it; it would make you feel bad. But surely you understand; I MUST have a parachute.” He grabbed a pack and jumped out.

Now there were only two people left on the plane, a middle age United Methodist minister and a teenage boy.

“Son, said the minister, “you take the last parachute. You’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you. I’ve had a good run, and I’ll take the fall on this one. God bless you and happy landing.”

The teenager looked at the minister and said, “Thanks, pastor; that means a lot to me, really. But there are still two parachutes left, because the smartest man in the world just jumped out with my backpack!” (Alyce M. McKenzie, “Finders Weepers, Losers Keepers: Reflections on Mark 8,” Patheos, March 1, 2012.)

This story seems to me a good way to introduce what might be an otherwise somber subject – the second quality exemplified in the life of Jesus in this year’s Lenten series, which is “sacrifice.” Just as Jesus gave his life in sacrificial love for others, so he asks the same of us who follow him. As mature human beings and growing Christians, can we put our desires and self-interests second, to serve others in sacrificial love?

Sacrifice – of course – is not necessarily a message we want to hear. We’ve learned from experience (especially here in Illinois) that when newly elected officials start talking about sacrifice, it’s not usually them or their wealthy friends they’re talking about; it’s us; hang on to your billfold and benefits. The kind of sacrifice Jesus is talking about in the Gospels, however, is different: it’s not something people take from us against our will; it’s something we do voluntarily, even gladly, for love of God and others.

It’s this kind of sacrifice Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.  Up until now in Jesus’ ministry, things have gone well: he has taught people about the reign of God, and demonstrated the reign of God, by making sick people well and freeing those in bondage to evil. His disciples are encouraged; they are riding Jesus’ wave of popularity and success, and – best of all – they are going to share it. So it must have come as quite a shock when:

“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 this quite openly.”

Sacrifice is not popular now, and it was not popular then. Peter, always outspoken, took Jesus aside and admonished him:  “Master, at this point in the polls you have a 90% approval rating. 95% of those polled approve of your talk of love, forgiveness, and healing; but only 5% approve of this talk of suffering, sacrifice, and dying, including those of us who follow.”  “Surely you must re-consider!”

We can easily imagine Jesus turned and looked at Peter with a look we’d rather not imagine, and said, as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message: “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”

Jesus then stepped up on a chair and announced to all of those following him – both chosen disciples and hangers-on, and said:

“Yo, listen up: “If you want to become my followers, you must deny yourselves and take up your 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 to gain the whole world and lose your own life?”

According to Jesus, contrary to what we often hear, following Jesus won’t necessarily make our life easier or happier, but harder and more difficult: asking us to deny our interests and inclinations and do as Jesus did – which was to live and even die for others.  This is what he means by “taking up a cross.”  What we discover when we do so – to our shock and even surprise – is that when we do so, paradoxically we do not lose but find our lives.

Really, it should not be surprising to us to learn this, because, in life, we have opportunity to learn this lesson of sacrifice in many ways. We learn it as parents and as citizens, as well as through the customized crosses God gives us, and best of all, through the example of others.

Those of us who are parents learn sacrifice best through our children.  For our children, we will sacrifice our time, our money, let’s face it, we would literally give our lives for our children, if it came down to it.

I think – for example – of the 1997 film, “Life Is Beautiful” (La Vita e Bella) directed and acted by Roberto Benigni. Benigni portrays Guido, a father in wartime Italy, who has a wife and son he loves dearly. Eventually, they are taken to a Nazi concentration camp. To survive the horror Guido tells his son that it is a game, that if they win they will win the prize of a tank. Throughout the movie, rain, gray skies, and night are used as symbols of gloom, depression, or evil.  But always, even when surrounded by evil of the worst kind, Guido transforms it with a smile of transcendent hope. Ultimately, as he attempts to secure the safety of his wife and son, in the greatest act of love, he sacrifices his own life.

Another way we have learned sacrifice is when our country calls, especially in time of war. Tom Brokaw, in his book, The Greatest Generation, describes the sacrifices the WWII generation – our parents or grandparents – made on our behalf, as if we didn’t know it. Careers and educations had to be interrupted, diverted, or abandoned. My father, for example, who had the possibility of playing minor league baseball, instead found himself on a train heading north, where he would serve as an Army Air Corps crew chief in the Aleutian Islands. Even those who stayed behind became Rosie the Riveters, in the absence of men, keeping the factories and production going. For all, there was rationing: of gasoline, sugar, and shoes; now, it almost seems unimaginable.

For the last 14 years – since 9/11 – through two wars, we have seen incredible sacrifice not by the many, but by the few: those who left parents and spouses and children behind to serve in the military, to fight against those who would seek to harm the innocent, as they did on 9/11. Too many went away and never returned, others will pay a price the rest of their lives, from disfiguring wounds of mind and body.

As parents and citizens – we should not make the mistake of thinking that all examples of sacrificial living required literally giving our lives; sometimes living sacrificially means not dying for people but living for them.  There are plenty of people who serve us sacrificially – some of whom are paid to do it and some who are not – public servants such as firefighters and police and care-givers and even snow plow drivers, to name a few. I get very upset at this trend of late to villainize all public servants, because of the abuses of the few, don’t you?

Perhaps most clearly, we learn the lesson of sacrificial love through the customized crosses we encounter in life, or as we are observe those loving sacrifices made by others. A spouse who faithfully and lovingly takes care of their partner disabled physically or mentally; parents who persistently love and take care of their children no matter what, even when it requires “tough love;” neighbors across the street or down the block who look out for one another. Aren’t all of these examples of what it means to live as Jesus lived, in sacrificial love for one another? No wonder almost every Christian congregation has in its sanctuary Jesus’ cross as the focal point, as a visible reminder not only of his saving work and sacrificial love, but also that his saving work and sacrificial love is what we are called to as well, in our lives day by day.

Let me say it one last time: following Jesus means laying down and taking up our lives through sacrificial love, leading to the surprising and saving discovery that in giving our lives away, we find them.

In every generation, there have been those who have exemplified this. Most recently, it would be hard to find a more inspiring or tragic example than 26 year old Kayla Mueller of Prescott, AZ, the human rights activist and humanitarian aid worker recently killed while being held captive by ISIS terrorists. Who says the Millennial Generation is self-absorbed and selfish?Kayla Mueller

If you go to the Wikipedia article about Kayla and read the list of causes she served in her short life, I don’t know how she did it. She had worked in India with Tibetan refugees, in Israel and the Palestinian Territories with Palestinians and African refugees, and was working with Syrian refugees when taken hostage by ISIS.

Upon the recent news of her death – despite an unsuccessful mission to rescue her and other hostages – President Obama said that Mueller “was an outstanding young woman and a great spirit — and I think that spirit will live on. The more people learn about her, the more they appreciate what she stood for — and how it stands in contrast with the barbaric organization that held her captive.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, Arizona Senator John McCain choked up as he spoke of Mueller and her family. “Kayla devoted her young life to helping people in need around the world … and bringing light to some of the most darkest and desperate places on earth,” he said. “She will never be forgotten.”

In a February 12th article in the National Catholic Reporter, entitled “Kayla Mueller’s Encounter with a Suffering God,” (National Catholic Reporter, February 12, 2015) Jamie Manson said she believes that Kayla not only did more, but grasped a deeper understanding of God than most people do in their lifetimes.

This became clear in the statement released by Kayla’s family soon after the world learned about her death. Their brief statement begins with a quote from a letter that Kayla wrote to her father on his birthday in 2011:

“I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you.”

“I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my    hands as tools to relieve suffering.”

In the final letter she wrote to her family from captivity, when she did not know she would face death, she wrote:

“I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our     creator b/c literally there was no else … + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.”

May God grant Kayla peace, and to her family, consolation, that even in her short life, she had a lifetime’s worth of wisdom and love to share with others.

“Take up your cross and follow me,” said Jesus. “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 find it.”  Amen.


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