Scripture: Mark 8:31-36
There once was a small plane with five passengers in it. Halfway to their destination, the engines started sputtering and failing. The pilot came out from behind the curtain wearing a parachute pack on his back. He said, ‘Friends, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that we have an engine failure and we’re going down. The good news is there are several parachutes here along the wall. The bad news is that there are five of you and only four parachute packs. You’ll have to work that out among yourselves.’ Then the pilot said, ‘I know you have many choices in air travel and so I’d like to thank you for choosing our airline and I wish you a very pleasant evening wherever your final destination may be.’ That said he jumped out of the plane.
A woman leaped up. ‘I am one of the most prominent brain surgeons in the northeast. My patients depend on me.’ She grabbed a parachute pack and jumped out.
A man stood up and said, ‘I am a partner in a large law practice and the office would fall to pieces without me.’ He grabbed a parachute pack and jumped out.
Another man stood up and said, ‘I am purported to be the smartest man in the world. My IQ is so high I don’t even want to mention it because it would make you feel bad. Surely you understand that I must have a parachute.’ He grabbed a pack and jumped out.
There were only two people left on the plane, a middle age United Methodist minister and a teenage boy.
‘Son’, said the minister, ‘you take the last parachute. You’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you. I’ve had a good run and I’ll take the fall on this one. God bless you and safe landing.’
The teenager looked up at the older man and said, ‘Thanks pastor. That means a lot to me really. But there are still two parachutes left. The smartest man in the world just grabbed my backpack.’
Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8: 35)
Mark Twain once said, “Many people are bothered by those passages in Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.”
Today’s scripture reading is one of those gospel passages that is troubling if we take it seriously. And, so it was with some trepidation, when I saw what the gospel passage was for this week, that I went to Garden View Village for our weekly Bible study group. I needn’t have worried though, because as is usually the case we have the most interesting discussions when we have the most difficult scripture readings. Focussing on the second part of the gospel reading, these are a few of the things we noticed. Jesus talked with a crowd of people, including those who were already his disciples. Jesus let the crowd know that following him would not always be easy. Following Jesus would require putting the needs of the many before selfish pleasures. We noticed that Jesus did not say – Take up my cross but rather he told those assembled they would need to “take up their cross” and follow him. They would do this for the sake of the gospel – the good news of God’s great love for all people.
Jesus was not calling his disciples to mass suicide. He was not telling them they would all have to die physically in order to bring about God’s commonwealth. What he was saying was that to follow God’s Way meant there would be challenges which required leaving behind their old way of life. They would lose their old life – die to their old way of life – in order to live fully in the Way of Jesus; the way of the Gospel.
The Living the Questions DVD resource for the Lenten Gathering this past week gave me something to think about when John Shelby Spong mentioned that Jesus’ followers were called “the followers of the Way”. That was nothing new to me but what Spong said next caught my attention. He went on to explain that the idea of the Way originates in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 30:19-20 says,
“…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving God and holding fast to God; for that means life to you.”
The Way of Jesus, the way of the Gospel is life-giving, life sustaining. It means choosing fullness of life with God’s blessing. This Way of Jesus requires moving from a self-centred life to a God-centred life; from a personally focussed life to a community focussed life; from the isolating “me” to the inclusive “we”; from short-term gain to long-term fullness of life for all creation.
The Way of Jesus can be difficult. Living with integrity, embodying God’s love and seeking God’s justice in the world can be uncomfortable and sometimes risky. In South Africa, two years before institutionalized apartheid ended a small group of black people, who lived in Soweto, and a small group of white people, who lived in Johannesburg, formed a church in Soweto. They worshipped together as followers of the Way of Jesus. They defied apartheid and chose life together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is hard for us, in the safety of our time and place, to understand that by worshipping together they risked their personal safety but that is exactly what they did. They took Jesus’ call to “take up their cross and follow me” to heart not only in their beliefs but also in their actions. (Say to this Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, Orbis Books, 1996, pg. 97)
The young woman, Kayla Mueller, that I mentioned last week who was an aid worker who went to risky places in the world to serve others did not go with the intention of being abducted and killed. Kayla followed God’s call to love and serve others. She chose life – the way of love and compassion.
The United Church book of daily Lenten reflections for this year, entitled Longing for Home, contains a story by Carolyn Pogue that caught my eye when thinking about this week’s gospel reading. Carolyn says,
“After protesting child poverty on the frigid steps of the Alberta legislature with a hundred other United Church folks, three of us met with the government minister responsible for children. We asked if the government would provide hungry kids with a free lunch. He seemed bewildered by the question. ‘You mean all children?’ We suggested he could begin with the hungry ones.” (Longing for Home, The United Church of Canada, edited by Alydia Smith, pg.20)
During this Lenten season, we can heed Jesus’ call to love and serve others in simple and yet important ways. Lutheran minister, Janet Hunt, suggests a few simple ways to consider such as:
- listening rather than speaking first
- a meal prepared and shared
- snow shovelled for a neighbour
- cookies baked and delivered to someone whose day it will brighten
- a hospital visit or caring phone call
- a repetitive conversation with someone with dementia
In the words of the song, In Loving Partnership (VU 603, v.2, Strathdee) “We are the hands and feet of Christ serving by grace each other’s need. We dare to risk and sacrifice with truthful word and faithful deed.” And so we pray, God of the journey, we are called to follow Jesus, to carry our cross, our faith, our purpose, our vision of your commonwealth with us every day and in every circumstance. Christ calls us to love as he loves, live as he lives, serve as he serves, with devotion and commitment to you, O God of life and love.