Lent 5: Lose Your Life to Find it
We are in fifth week of our Lenten Sermon series. Next week is Palm Sunday and then we enter Holy Week. Please check your March flyer for our special Holy Week services.
This year during Lent, we are talking about deepening our roots in Jesus. During Lent, we often participate in a fast in order to deepen our roots in Jesus. Fasting is sacrifice and blessing. We can remove something from our lives in order to add something that will deepen our relationship with God. Or we can add something to our lives that deepens our relationship with God, and then sacrifice something else to make space for it. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us: He willingly laid down his life so that we could have new life through Him. A fast is supposed to deepen our relationship with God and to help us to follow Jesus more closely. Jesus talks about what it means to follow Him in the Gospel of John this morning. Jesus says in verse 25, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world keep it for eternal life.” Those are harsh words. I’d like to unpack them a bit in the wider context of this passage, and then look at some examples of this kind of discipleship.
In this passage, Jesus is talking about the kind of death that he will die. In verse 32, Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” And then in verse 33 it says, “He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” In those days, sometimes being crucified was referred to as being “lifted up.” For example, in Craig Keener’s commentary on John, he notes that “Alexander [the Great] promised that whoever had killed Darius would be rewarded by being ‘lifted up’; when the murderers came forward, he fulfilled his words literally by crucifying them” (pg. 881; Callisthenes Alex 2.21.7-11). According to John, when Jesus refers to himself as being lifted up, he means that he is going to be crucified.
There is a huge amount of contradiction when it comes to the cross. That’s what Jesus is trying to communicate when he says in verse 25, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Crucifixion was a symbol of great shame in Jesus’ day. It was the most shameful, and embarrassing, worst kind of death a person could die. And yet, in this passage, when Jesus is talking about the death he is going to die (by crucifixion) he is also talking about being glorified. In verse 23 Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And then in verse 28 Jesus says, “‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” Jesus’ death on the cross is something that glorifies and is something that causes deep shame and trauma. There is a huge amount of contradiction when it comes to the cross.
Let’s look again at verse 25, “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The word translated hate is miséw. It is used in the shame vs. honor context. It means, in the context of shame, disregard, disfavor, to be disinclined to. This would be how people back then thought of the cross. It was shameful, they would just disregard it, “No, I’m not doing that; I hate that.” In verse 25, Jesus is challenging our assumptions about what is good in life and what is bad in life. He is willing to sacrifice everything and go to the cross. It seems like the cross should be a source of shame. It should be something that he rejects, and doesn’t do, because it is so awful. He even says in verse 27, “Now my soul is troubled.” He doesn’t want to die on the cross. However, he realizes that rejecting the cross would be worse than enduring the cross even though the cross is terrible. Choosing his life in this world and rejecting the cross would be shameful. He must reject, disregard, hate his life in this world, in order to sacrifice and go to the cross, so that he can be resurrected and glorified.
This is really important for our Christian life because it verse 26 Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” If we are serving Jesus we must follow Him. Where does He go? He goes to the cross. He makes the ultimate sacrifice, and through it, ushers in the ultimate blessing. What Jesus means when he says in verse 25 that if we love our life we will lose it, but if we hate our life we will find it, is that following Jesus means we will have to give up things. We will have to go to the cross, so to speak. And when we do that, we will find our true life in Christ. This is the paradox of the Christian life, the paradox of faith. Following Jesus includes death AND resurrection, loss AND renewal, chaos AND healing. (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward. Pg. 54). But we can’t get to resurrection, renewal, and healing without first following Jesus through death, loss, and chaos.
This can seem scary, but Jesus makes clear in verse 26 that going to the cross, so-to-speak, unites us with Christ and deepens our relationship with God. In verse 26, Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” Whenever we have to go to the cross in our own lives, whether we choose to make a sacrifice or whether tragedy strikes that is not of our own choosing, whenever we go to the cross, Jesus goes with us. And Jesus’ purpose with us is to lead us to resurrection, renewal, and healing. God does not leave us alone in the dark places of our lives. Jesus Himself went to the cross. We know that he can handle tragedy and transform it and redeem it. Jesus can handle whatever it is we suffer through. Jesus walks with us through it and leads us out. When we lose our life, Jesus leads us on a path so that we can find new life in Christ.
What does this look like in the lives of real people? There are many ways that we can go to the cross, but three ways come to my mind today. First, is through repentance. Second is through being afflicted with something or experiencing a tragedy outside of our own control. And third is through following a radical calling.
First, we can go to the cross through repentance. Repentance is turning away from sin and turning towards God. In Psalm 51 that we read this morning, David is confessing his sins. In verse 2, we see his repentance, when he asks God to wash him thoroughly from his iniquities and to cleanse him from his sins. Then in verse 10 he asks for new life: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” David is leaving his former life of sin behind, he is sacrificing it, and finding his new life in God, a blessing. God desires repentance from us. Sometimes we start following something other than Jesus, or the choices that we make in life take us away from God. When this happens, we must disregard our life or hate our life in order to find our life in Christ. We must repent and turn from our sins in order to follow Jesus.
What kinds of things might cause us to walk away from God? Many things. For example, any kind of injustice forces us away from God. God is a God of justice and righteousness. When we follow a path of injustice, we are not following Jesus. The prophets outline several examples of injustice that anger God. One kind of injustice has to do with greed. In Amos, God is angry with Israel because they bought poor people, sold things that should have been free, and used weighted scales in the marketplace. In Hosea, God says that a merchant who uses false balances loves to oppress. Weighted scales and false balances are things that make it seem like you are paying a fair price but really you are paying more than you should. The merchants get richer and the people get poorer when the merchants use weighted scales. These greedy and oppressive practices angered God deeply. But, to repent from these habits, merchants would have to hate their life. In order to repent and sell their goods for a fair price they would have to give up their wealth and greed. They would have to lose their life in order to find a life of righteousness in God. That repentance is a kind of going to the cross.
The second way to go to the cross is to be afflicted with something or to experience a tragedy outside of your control. Recently in my own life, as you know, I had shingles. Yes, I had pain, but that wasn’t the biggest problem. My worst symptom was fatigue. I had profound fatigue. I literally could not get up off of the couch to do much of anything. It affected my ability to think and remember things. I could not make decisions or plans. My personality was completely flat. I could barely formulate a thought, and when I expressed myself I was almost monotone. I was so affected by fatigue that I was too tired to worry or stress about anything. It was frightening at the time to be so exhausted and I wondered if I would ever get better.
Thanks be to God, I did get better. I am getting better and better every week. Sometimes I still feel pain in my side, like a thorn in my flesh I suppose, where I had the blisters. Sometimes I feel very fuzzy-headed and have a hard time thinking on my feet. But I am so grateful to be in good health again. That experience was like going to the cross for me. It was something that just happened to me. I was afflicted with it; it was outside of my control. But, God was with me during the shingles, and brought me out to a new life. Remember I said that while I was suffering from fatigue I was too tired to worry or stress? Before I had shingles I used to worry about many things. I used to stress about many things. I used to be afraid of many things. But, coming through that place of exhaustion, free from stress and worry, changed me. God changed me. Now I am not a slave to fear, but alive to God. I can do so many things now without worry or fear of what others will think of me. I have never experienced that in my life before. I literally lost my old life of worry during shingles, and God enabled me to find new life, following Jesus with confidence and without fear. I hate and disregard my old way of life, my old worries, and have found new life in God.
The third way to go to the cross is to follow a radical calling from God. Because St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday I thought we would talk about two people who did this who also had a connection with Ireland: Mother Teresa and St. Patrick. Mother Teresa was originally from Albania, but she trained as a nun in Ireland. She learned English in Ireland and then moved to India where she was a school teacher at the Sisters of Loretto school. She was a teacher for twenty years. Then on September 10, 1946, she received a radical call from God. In her own words, “[God] wanted me to be poor with the poor and to love Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” In response to this calling, she had to go to the cross. She left her convent and her job teaching middle-class students. She started Missionaries of Charity and lived as the poorest of the poor, caring for the most destitute. According to Robert Ellsberg, “with time Mother Teresa would establish centers of service around the globe for the sick, the homeless, the unwanted. But she was particularly identified with her home for the dying in Calcutta. There, destitute and dying men and women, gathered off the streets of the city, were welcomed to receive loving care and respect until they died. Those who had lived like ‘animals in the gutter’ were enabled...to ‘die like angels’ - knowing that they were truly valued and loved as precious children of God.” Mother Teresa received a radical calling. She had to disregard, turn away from her old life in order to find her new life in Christ. She sacrificed her life as a teacher to receive the blessing of serving God through her radical calling in Missionaries of Charity. (All info on Mother Teresa taken from Robert Ellsberg, All Saints, pg. 392-4.)
And finally, how could I not talk about St. Patrick today? St. Patrick was captured by the Irish as a teenager and forced into slavery. This experience was something outside of his control. Yet God was with him and while he was a slave he would pass the time by reciting the Christian prayers he learned as a child. When he finally escaped, he returned home and eventually became a priest and then a bishop. But God had a radical calling for Patrick. God wanted him to forgive his Irish captors and return to Ireland to share the Gospel with the Irish people. Patrick had to sacrifice the anger and bitterness in his own heart toward the Irish in order to add the blessing of forgiveness and love for them. Then he had to sacrifice his life in Britain in order to follow God’s radical call to become a missionary to the Irish. Just like St. Francis Xavier, St. Patrick baptized tens of thousands of new believers, and ordained hundreds of priests. He built up the church with local leaders and priests, empowering the Irish people to worship God according to their own culture. St. Patrick went to the cross twice, first as a slave against his will, and second as a missionary following a radical calling. Both experiences brought him to an extraordinary new life in Christ. (All info on St. Patrick taken from Robert Ellsberg, All Saints, pg. 121-3.)
Jesus, our God and king, went to the cross. He sacrificed himself so that we might have new life in Christ both in this life and in the next. We are Christ followers. As Jesus said, where he is, there his servants will be also. As we follow Jesus in our daily lives, sometimes we find ourselves going to the cross. Going to the cross is an important part of the Christian life. We must first go to the cross, in order to experience the new life in Christ that God has planned for us. As we continue on our Lenten journey, let us follow Jesus wherever He may lead. Amen.