Jesus said, “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” Mark 8:35. This is part of the gospel text for the second Sunday in Lent, Year B. Often we read Jesus’ call to take up the cross and die as the call of the individual Christian. Certainly it is the call of every disciple. But it is also the call of every group of disciples: every congregation, every judicatory, every denomination. If our worship and program schedules look successful–and no doubt some good is coming about–if things look okay, we presume they are okay, and thus we don’t have to worry about dying. Christ bids the church to come and die. If we want to put people in touch with the living Christ, then we must be willing to die to self as a church.
In the sermon that follows I put it about as starkly as I ever have with my flock. I had been at Morton Church for nineteen years when I preached this sermon.
Those who die with Christ will rise with Christ. Lord, what in me needs to die?
Dying Into Life
A Sermon on Mark 8:27-38 and Philippians 2:1-13
Jesus delivered one shock after the other that day. Peter and the other disciples could not believe what they were hearing! Nobody, and I mean nobody, thought that the words “Messiah” and “suffering” go together. Everybody thought that the Messiah was going to inflict suffering on the oppressors, not experience it himself. Nobody, and I mean nobody, thought that the words “Messiah” and “death” go together. The Messiah couldn’t die! The Messiah was going to kill all his—and our—enemies.
Peter and all the rest had really gotten their hopes up that, after so many would-be Messiahs had come and gone through the years—and yes, there were many—in Jesus, here he was at long last. In Jesus they saw the power they thought it would take. They had seen Jesus heal people, and subdue demons, and feed thousands on just a little food. Jesus had to be the Messiah, and no, the words “Messiah” and “death” do not go together!
Nobody wants to hear the words “church” and “death” talked about in the same sentence, either. But sometimes we can’t avoid it. Recently we received the painful news that yet another small church nearby is closing. We know what this means! It means that children have left, many people have died, and that hopes and dreams have died. Our friends in that congregation are living through hurt and loss. And we can imagine them also experiencing a sense of failure, perhaps, maybe even shame because they can’t keep going.
How can God allow this to happen to good people? How can God allow a church to die? We sure don’t want that to happen to us! (more…)