Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Finding Life
Mark 15:16-32[1]
What would it take for you to be able to say that you’ve finally found what you’re looking for in life? It seems to me that we have all kinds of different answers to that question. For some, it’s achieving success—whatever that success looks like. For some, it’s about having wealth—whatever that looks like. For some, it’s finding the right person to make you happy in life. For some, it’s having a certain physical appearance that we think means we’re attractive. For some, it’s recognition. But when you look around you and notice how happy or unhappy we tend to be as a people, it would seem that all the things we spend our lives trying to obtain in order to make ourselves feel fulfilled in life aren’t really all that effective. In fact, they are not effective at all. The happiness they bring us lasts only a short time, at most. In many cases, what we strive so hard for doesn’t give us any happiness at all![2]
So what are we doing wrong? Why is it that we’re putting so much energy and effort into finding what we’re looking for in life and it seems that we’re only spinning our wheels? Jesus took a completely different approach to finding fulfillment in life. Instead of trying to get something, he taught that we should give ourselves away. Instead of trying to hold onto all the things we cling to so desperately in order to feel happy with life, he taught us to let it all go. He said it this way: “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” (Mark 8:35). If you want to know what that means in practice, we can look at the way Jesus lived his life. He didn’t seek fame, or power, or recognition. Rather he sought out the wayward, the rejected, and the lost in order to help them find their way home to God. He didn’t seek his own “happiness” in life. Rather, he served those around him with compassion. And ultimately, his idea of saving the world meant that he gave up his life by dying on the cross.
In our gospel lesson for today, we find a particularly distasteful episode where those who were present at his death were ridiculing him for that choice. The soldiers mocked him by dressing him up like a king. The crowd made fun of him for claiming to be able to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. And the religious leaders scoffed at the idea that he could save anyone—hanging on that cross, in their minds he couldn’t even save himself! Even the bandits who were crucified with him taunted him.
And yet, it was the very act that they scorned that was in fact the deed that saved them all—and saved us all as well. It would seem that Jesus’ view of salvation was quite different from theirs. They believed that a “savior” would come as a military hero, leading them to throw off the yoke of their Roman oppressors. They believed that a “savior” would give them back the independence and freedom that they thought they deserved. They were looking for power and freedom to give them the life they wanted. And there Jesus was, dying on a cross. If he couldn’t even save himself from the Romans, how were they going to believe that he could save them?[3] In fact, it seems that the people of his day operated with many of the same mistaken notions about what it means to find fulfillment in life that we have.
But their notions of salvation had it all wrong. Jesus didn’t come to conquer nations, but to change hearts. Jesus didn’t come to set up the powerful, but to lift up the downtrodden with the mercy of God. He came to break the chains that keep us all locked up in the prisons of our own making.[4] And in order to do that, he gave up his life in the act of ultimate love. Jesus didn’t come to establish any religious or political order on earth. He came to make it clear to us that, despite all the religious condemnation that has been heaped on so many throughout the ages, God accepts us all.[5] And in order to do that, he gave his life in the act of ultimate compassion. Jesus didn’t come to give us confidence that we’re “going to heaven” when we die. He died and rose again to give us hope for living right here and right now. And in order to do that, he gave his life in the act of ultimate trust in God.[6]
We all run ourselves ragged trying to find the things that we think will give us the life that we’ve always wanted. Or we spend ourselves broke, or we work ourselves to death. But Jesus told us all those years ago that our efforts at “gaining” our lives are futile. The only way to find life is to give it away in love. And more than that, he not only told us, he showed us by giving his own life away for us all.[7] He obeyed the call to give his life for the sake of others, and in so doing, he made it possible for us to find life.[8] It is as we embrace his gift of love and trust that we find our own lives. It is as we follow his example and give ourselves away in love and compassion for others, trusting in God as he did, that we find life.

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/1/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 53-54.
[3] Cf. Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, 505.
[4] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 277: “There is no loneliness and no rejection which [God] has not taken to himself and assumed in the cross of Jesus.”
[5] Cf. Moltmann, Crucified God, 242: “Because God ‘does not spare’ his Son, all the godless are spared. Though they are godless, they are not godforsaken, precisely because God has abandoned his own Son and has delivered him up for them.” Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 174-75: “Anyone who has once perceived God’s presence and love in the God-forsakenness of the crucified Brother, sees God everywhere and in everything.”
[6] H. W. Attridge & A. Y Collins, Mark, 750.
[7] Cf. Joel B. Green, “The Death of Jesus and the Ways of God,” Interpretation 52 (Jan 1998):32.
[8] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.2:602, “Deliverance from death cannot be deliverance from before it but only deliverance from out of it.”

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