The Second Sunday of Lent
Readings: Genesis 17. 1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22. 23 – 31; Romans 4. 13-25; Mark 8. 31-38 (view all)
Until our daughter Evie was born, I hadn’t realised just how much thinking there is to do to be a good parent. I knew (at least to some extent!) that it would take time and effort, but I didn’t realise how much Amy and I would need to discuss and think through.
What values did we want Evie to grow up with? How would we handle discipline when we needed to? How would we organise our family life together? And perhaps, most importantly, a question at the very heart of our human identity: What kind of person would we like her to grow up to become?
In today’s gospel reading we find the famous invitation, and challenge, from Jesus:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.Mark 8.34b
I wonder, this morning: what does it mean in today’s world for us to ‘take up our cross’? And how should we live as Christians, in light of Jesus’ words?
Well, the first striking thing, is that Jesus calls, not for ‘believers’, but for ‘followers’.
Often Christianity is described as a set of beliefs, and throughout history the Church has put a huge amount of effort into believing the right things but, rather than believers, in Mark’s gospel Jesus is interested in followers.
Jesus is looking for people who will walk in his footsteps, and faithfully follow his example, even to the point of surrendering their lives with him.
In the same way, in our Old Testament reading, God’s covenant with Abraham — one which will bring everlasting blessing to his descendants — is the result of Abraham and Sarah’s faithful obedience to God. It is Abraham’s unwavering perseverance, all the time, in Paul’s words ‘hoping against hope’ that he tells the Roman Christians, is ‘reckoned to [Abraham] as righteousness.’
In response to God’s faithfulness, Abraham chooses to remain faithful no matter what.
We live in a world that places much more value in success, over and above faithfulness.
In our culture, we are in danger of falling prey instead to ‘the way of consumerism’, trying to amass wealth and spending power for ourselves, and yet constantly left unsatisfied, needing more. Or perhaps ’the way of celebrity’, trying to build popularity and influence again for ourselves, in the hope it will bring us happiness and fulfilment.
But the Way of the Cross is very different, a way which values faithfulness, sacrifice and obedience for the sake of the gospel. As Jesus puts it:
What will it profit [you] to gain the whole world and forfeit [your] life?Mark 8.36
The great Christian author, C.S. Lewis puts it beautifully like this:
Give up yourself and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it… Submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep nothing back… Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.175.
So, I wonder, as we gather this morning: Will we pay attention to Jesus’ message that the route to new life, to finding our true selves, is through sacrifice and faithful obedience?
Will we choose to live distinctive lives, placing God and others before our own desires for wealth and recognition? How would this affect the way we are at work? The way we bring up our families?
Will we, as Christ’s Church, accept his invitation to walk the way of the cross, giving ourselves for the good of his Kingdom?
There’s a beautiful story which comes from the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa, about a young boy aged about 6 or 7 and his father. Because of draught and a poor harvest, their family is running out of food and the situation becomes desperate.
But then the young boy finds a bag of grain hidden away in the back of their hut, and he can’t contain his excitement. He runs to tell his Father about his discovery, but his Father’s initial joy turns to sadness as he realises what has happened.
‘Son,’ he says, ‘That bag you found is our seed-grain for next year’s harvest. If we eat it, then it will relieve our hunger now, but next year there would be no harvest and we would surely starve.’
And so it is, some time later, that the boy has to watch, with tears in his eyes and an empty stomach, as his dad seemingly throws the grain away, spreading it across the dry soil. By leaving his boy hungry today, he is ensuring his tomorrow.
In the same way, Jesus calls us to follow him, living in the way of the cross, offering ourselves to him today, in order to see the new, abundant, eternal life of his kingdom to come.
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth,
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
grant that all who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
may reject those things that are contrary to their baptism,
and follow in the way of Jesus Christ our Lord;
who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.