The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.
( Mark 8:31-38)
Then he 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.”
The Second Sunday of Lent.
If you have little children, then you will know about self-centeredness. They think the sun shines only for them, don’t they?
A six-year old boy was asked, “Are you in Linda’s room at school?” He said, “No, I’m not – but she’s in my room.”
Most of us grow up to realise the world doesn’t revolve around us. Apparently Teddy Roosevelt was one who didn’t.
One of his children said about him, “ Father always wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”
We are all a little self-centred if we were to admit it. I took part in an event once, and did quite a lot of work behind the scenes. At the evening’s end, the MC came out and thanked everyone by name – and left me out.
I like to think that I am selfless. I like to think that anyone can call on me at any time – except my day off!!! – and I will be there, without thought of reward, or praise, or even thanks. But when that list of helpers was read off and my name was omitted, I felt pretty bad.
That was a lesson to me. It told me that I am not immune to the need for recognition.
We all want to be appreciated, don’t we?
But Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.”
A person wanting to follow Jesus must say ‘no’ to themselves and ‘yes’ to Christ.
Doing stuff for people for the joy of doing it!
Not for the thanks!
No-one could ever accuse Jesus of sugar-coating what it means to be a disciple, could they? These days, leaders check the polls to see what people are thinking, what people want them to do, before venturing anything.
But great leaders tell it like it is.
In the days of the Second World War, when Winston Churchill took over the leadership of Britain, he didn’t offer tax breaks, increased funding for health care. He offered ‘blood sweat and tears.’
That was it!
Garibaldi, the great Italian patriot, appealed for recruits to his cause this way: “ I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger and thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country in his heart, and not with his lips only, follow me. All our efforts against superior forces have been unavailing. I have nothing to offer you but hunger, and thirst, hardship and death; but I call on all who love their country to join with me.”
Jesus, similarly, never sought to attract followers by offering the easy way. He sought to challenge them, and to waken the sleeping chivalry in their souls, by the offer of the highest but the hardest way possible.
He didn’t come to make life easier for people, but to make them great!
And he never asked anyone to do or face anything he was not prepared to face himself.
There was a time when Jesus had perhaps a hundred followers. If you remember he sent out seventy-two at one time to tour the surrounding villages to bring them the Good News.
But eventually, he was left with the twelve, and a number of women who followed him.
And finally, when he hung on that cross, the women alone remained.
Virtually all his remaining followers would be tested, some unto death, as they brought the Gospel to those in darkness.
Those who had been fishermen found greatness, not by being great fishermen, but by bringing thousands of men and women to a knowledge of Jesus.
Instead of trying to save the life they had, they found new life serving him, and witnessing to others.
And they were glorified!
‘Whoever loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel, shall save it. What will you gain if you own the whole world, but destroy yourself?’
Here is a story of someone who owned all the world had to offer, and was very nearly destroyed; the story of the losing of a life and the finding of it.
A young woman named Marian, born in Hungary in 1913, was raised in a castle with her aristocratic family, surrounded by maids, tutors, governesses, butlers and chauffeurs. Her grandmother, who lived with them insisted that whenever they traveled they would take their own sheets. She didn’t feel it right, that when staying in a hotel, they should sleep on sheets that the ‘common’ people had used.
While at school in Vienna, Marian met a handsome young Viennese doctor. They fell in love, eloped, and married when she was only eighteen. The marriage lasted only a year, and she returned to Vienna to begin life as an actress.
While auditioning for a play, she met the brilliant young German director Otto Preminger. They fell in love and married. They went to America soon afterward and he began his career as a movie director.
Unfortunately, Hollywood is the pre-eminent place for self-centredness, as she wrote later. It was about people biting, devouring and consuming one another. Marian was caught up in the glamour, the lights and superficial excitement and was drawn into living a sordid life.
When Otto found out he divorced her.
Marian returned to Europe to live the life of a socialite in Paris.
Then in 1948 she read in the newspaper that Albert Schweitzer, the world-famous organist and humanitarian, was making one of his periodic visits to Europe, and was staying at Gunsbach. She phoned his secretary and made an appointment to see him the next day.
She found him in the village church, playing the organ. She listened for a while, then went forward and turned the pages of his music. He invited her to have dinner at his house.
By the end of the day she knew she had discovered what she had been looking for all her life. When Schweitzer returned to Africa, she went with him to work in his hospital in Lamberene.
That is where Marian lost her old life and found new life.
The girl who was born in a castle, and raised like a princess, who was accustomed to being waited on, with all the luxuries of a spoiled life, became a servant.
She changed bandages, bathed babies, fed lepers – and became free!
In her autobiography, All I Ever Wanted Was Everything , she said that she could not get the ‘everything’ that would satisfy, and give meaning, until she had learned to give everything.
When she died in 1979, the New York Times carried her obituary, which included this statement from her. “Albert Schweitzer said there are two classes of people in this World – the helpers, and the non-helpers – I am a helper.”
God gave us life to spend, not to keep. If we live carefully, always thinking only of our own needs – profit, ease, comfort, security – if our sole aim is to make life as long and as trouble-free as possible, then we are losing our life all the time.
But if we spend our life for others. If we forget health and time, and wealth and comfort in our desire to do something for Jesus, and for all those men and women and children for whom Jesus died, then we are gaining life all the time.
Where would we be without the efforts of the doctors and scientists and inventors who were prepared to risk all to serve mankind – sometimes experimenting on their own bodies?
Where would we be if explorers, pioneers, ground-breakers, had all decided to stay at home in front of the fire?
What would happen if every mother refused the risk of bearing a child?
What would happen if everyone spent all they had on themselves, with no regard for others?
What would this world be like if Jesus had not given his life for it?
We gain life by using it, not by saving and hoarding it.
I admit that is the way of weariness, and exhaustion – of giving to the utmost.
But it is surely better to burn out than to rust out.
For that is the way to real happiness.
And the way to God.