25 February 2024

This week the readings remind us of the toughest part of responding to the call of Jesus. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Jesus calls a person to follow him, he calls that person to come and die.” The paradox of the Gospel that is highlighted this week, though, is that it is in dying that we find life.

May we, through our worship, receive the courage and the conviction to take up our crosses this week.

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16: God promises Abram and Sarai that they will be parents of many nations, that they will be blessed with many descendants and that kings will come from them. Therefore God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah – Princess.

Psalm 22:23-31: God is praised and celebrated because God cares and provides for the oppressed, and all nations will come to worship God, both poor and prosperous, healthy and those close to death.

Romans 4:13-25: Abraham did not receive God’s promise through obeying the law, but through faith, and this faith was considered to be his righteousness – his approval by God. In the same way, when we place our faith in Christ, who died and was raised, it is considered our righteousness – our approval by God.

Mark 8:31-38: Jesus predicts his death, but Peter objects. Jesus, then reprimands Peter, and tells all his followers that they must take up their crosses and follow him, not trying to save their lives, but willingly giving them up for the sake of the Gospel.

The Lectionary this week challenges what we understand by the word “faith”. What becomes clear here is that faith is not about some intellectual assent to certain propositions. Rather, faith is about the losing of our lives for the sake of the Gospel, which includes both the purpose to which we devote our lives, and the practices by which we seek to live out that purpose. In Abraham’s case, God renews the promise which called Abraham from his homeland. In response Abraham had tried to use very human methods to fulfil God’s promise, with undesirable results. Now God emphasises that not just the purpose, but the ways that purpose is fulfilled, must be directed by God’s agenda. In the Psalm, God’s rulership of the earth is celebrated, along with the justice and grace that this brings to the earth. In the midst of this song of celebration, the psalmist recommits to fulfilling vows to God. In the letter to the Romans, Paul reflects on Abraham’s faith and how it was this, and not obedience to law, that was his righteousness. Here faith is once again viewed as the giving of life to follow God’s purposes, as opposed to simply agreeing to some legalistic propositions. Finally, the Gospel drives the theme home in a very challenging way. Peter, who had just expressed faith in Jesus, is reprimanded because his faith has not yet embraced the implications of what he believes. So, Jesus challenges him, and the other disciples, to allow their faith to become the driving cause for their lives – to lose their lives for the sake of Jesus and the message of God’s Reign that Jesus embodied. Here faith moves from an intellectual activity to a radical, transforming, all-consuming way of being. The challenge of this, and of the Lenten journey, of course, is whether we are ready and willing to embrace this faith, or simply remain with a safer, intellectual pseudo-faith.

Global Application:
One of the great challenges of our time is the question of what we will give our lives to. The great ideological visions of economic systems, political positions, and pride in country, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation all ask for our energy and devotion. Conversely, the pull of individualism, making the self the primary focus of our energy and purpose, may draw us away from these great visions, but replaces them with something equally inadequate. Where the Gospel differs from all of these calls for our allegiance, is in its selflessness and inclusivity. Where all of these human quests drive us toward greater focus on our group, our position, our needs or our voice, the Gospel calls us to lay what is ours aside for the sake of others. This is not to say that these human calls do have a place in our work of following Christ and seeking God’s justice for all. It is important that those who are marginalised and suffering are heard, and this usually requires that oppressed groups make strong commitments to themselves and oppose their oppressors. However, as history has shown us repeatedly, when our ideologies and groups become an end in themselves, they inevitably become oppressors of their own, and they inevitably prove inadequate to sustain true justice and life. The true prophets of justice have always called their followers to sacrifice, to love of enemy, to service, and to the selfless quest for justice for all, not just for some. Abraham and Sarah were blessed, to be a blessing to the entire world, and Paul calls followers of Jesus to similar faith – a giving of themselves for the sake of the Gospel, rather than adherence to “the law” as an ideology or mark of an “in-group”. The Gospel proclaims clearly that Jesus called his followers to sacrifice and selflessness in service of God’s Reign, which more than any ideology, seeks to bring true Jubilee-justice into the world. It’s a tough call, but when our faith – or our service of society – becomes about our own needs and aspirations only, or when our quest for justice becomes a quest also to marginalise or exclude any other person or group, we have not understood God’s Reign or the justice it offers. But, when we are willing to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel, we will discover that we have not only brought justice, grace and peace to others, but we have found it for ourselves as well. The question then becomes whether we are willing to give our lives for the sake of the Gospel, to take up our cross, and lose our lives for others and for God’s Reign, as Jesus did. Only when the world is filled with those who will answer this call will we see significant answers to the crises we face.

Local Application:
In every human contact, be it the intimacy of sexuality, or the shared life of community, the question of self-preservation versus self-giving must be answered. There are many voices in our world that advise in favour of the former, preaching a message of self-fulfilment, self-development, and self-care often at the expense of others. While there is great benefit in the message of appropriate self-awareness and care, when this becomes our central focus, we inevitably sacrifice our relationships on the altar of our own dreams, desires and needs. The ironic result is broken people, broken families, broken communities and broken societies. Yet, paradoxically, it is in giving ourselves, sacrificing our own longings and desires, losing ourselves in service of others, that life is truly found. This is the message that Jesus lived and preached and called his disciples to embrace. God’s Reign is not a kingdom that seeks to establish itself through the conquest of other kingdoms. Nor do the followers of God’s Reign receive promotion over those who do not follow Jesus. Rather God’s Reign invites us into a different kind of life, one that filters through every other structure and system in societies and communities and that calls us to adopt the stance of servanthood and sacrifice. And it is here, in seeking to love and serve more than to be loved and served, that our most intimate relationships flourish and we find the safety and comfort we need. It is here, in seeking to bring justice and peace to others that we create communities of safety, equality and opportunity for all, including ourselves. It is here, in seeking to create a world of care for one another and taking responsibility for our common well-being, that we find the kind of planet we long for. In truth, the self-giving call of God’s Reign that Jesus embodied, is the most practical, common-sense way of living we could ask for. But, this does not stop it being a difficult and counter-intuitive choice to make.

Faith That Carries The Cross
No Dying Today
The God Who Serves
Counting The Cost

Hymn Suggestions:
Take My Life And Let It Be
Come Let Us Use The Grace Divine
All I Am I Lay It Down
O The Wonderful Cross (Link to YouTube video)
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice

Video Suggestions:
Mark 8
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