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From Pastor Kenny's Desk

February 25, 2018

“Then he and the disciples set out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way, Jesus asked the disciples this question: ‘Who do people say that I am?’


They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptizer; others, Elijah; still others, one of the prophets.’ ‘And you,’ he went on to ask, ‘who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah!’ But Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.


Then Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and religious scholars, be put to death, and rise again three days later. Jesus said these things quite openly.


Peter then took him aside and began to take issue with him. At this, Jesus turned around and, eyeing the disciples, reprimanded Peter: ‘Get out of my sight, you Satan! You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s!’


Jesus summoned the crowd and the disciples and said, ‘If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps. If you would save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it. What would you gain if you were to win the whole world but lose yourself in the process? What can you offer in exchange for your soul? Whoever in this faithless and corrupt generation is ashamed of me and my words will find, in turn, that the Promised One and the holy angels will be ashamed of that person, when all stand before our God in glory.’” Mark 8:27-38                


As I studied and thought about this passage from Mark’s story I kept hearing the song “Glory” from Ava DuVernay’s film Selma. What strikes me as interesting is remembering how the song writers John Legend and Common described the march to Selma in the terms of glory.


Think about that for a moment. That march, along with the larger struggle for civil rights, was filled with confrontation, suffering and sacrifice. And yet they sing of glory. Why? Precisely because we find glory … and for that matter power, strength and security … only in those moments when we surrender our claims to power, strength, security and glory in order to serve others.

We all know this because each and every time we make ourselves vulnerable to the needs of those around us, each time we give ourselves in love to another, each time we get out of our own way and seek not what we want but what the world needs … we come alive, we are uplifted, we experience the glory of God made manifest. That’s what Jesus means when he invites his disciples … then and now … to take up their cross and follow him because only those who are willing to lose their life out of love will save it.


Here I should be clear. I’m not taking about … and I’m confident Jesus isn’t talking about … a kind of doormat theology where we are to ignore our genuine human needs altogether or see ourselves as not deserving of love, dignity, and respect. There is no justification here for enduring abusive relationships or tolerating injustice. Rather, I’m talking about giving of ourselves in love … which is of course quite different than having others take from us. Truth is living in love almost always includes sacrifice, denying ourselves and our immediate gratification so as to meet another’s needs.


Again, we know this is true. We do it perhaps most naturally as partners, spouses, friends, neighbors and more in the hope and intention of providing for others.  And each time we do so … each time, that is, we call into question a momentary want of our own in order to satisfy a genuine need of someone else, we experience a kind of glory. We know this. But I think it’s hard to believe, or at least it can be hard to hold onto.


So much in our culture is designed to make us think that the only thing that matters … and the only thing that will bring us peace, security, and happiness … is looking out for ourselves by gratifying our immediate desires … whatever they may be. This is particularly true in the world of advertising, where so much time, energy, creativity and money is poured into ads that seek to make us feel inadequate in order to induce us to buy something that promises to make us feel better about ourselves.


But here’s the thing: those commercials are a lie.


Not that there aren’t lots of great things out there to buy and enjoy. But not one of them will actually make us feel complete, or more human, or more adequate, or more accepted or loved. They just won’t. Over and over again in both my personal and professional life I’ve learned the  only thing that does that is connection to others and the community those connections bring.

And connecting to others in-order to fashion and nurture community requires sacrifice. There’s just no getting around it. The marvelous thing is that when we stop worrying about gratifying our wants and instead look to the needs around us, and others begin to do the same, we find more than we’d ever imagined … more life, more joy, more happiness, more acceptance … because we find a whole community looking out for us instead of only ourselves, just as we are looking out for the community of persons around us.


This, I think, is the Gospel’s theory of everything … that the more we give, the more we receive; the more we seek to be a friend, the more friends we discover; and the more we love, the more we are loved.


We know this, but we forget. More, we are induced to not believe it. So, Jesus comes and doesn’t just say these words, he also lives them, giving himself out of love for ALL people and creating a reservoir of life, love, and glory that far surpasses anything our culture and our world can offer.


This is not what his disciples expect. They, too, are children of the world and although they weren’t bombarded with 5000 advertising images each day as we are, they still imagined that the secret to life was strength and power rather than vulnerability and love. They interpreted Jesus’ miraculous acts as demonstrations of power rather than manifestations of love. And when Jesus describes the greatest act of love … giving his life for them and for ALL people … they can only object.


But Jesus will not be deterred. He will continue on the path of sacrificial love … and continue to love his disciples even when they misunderstand him or choose not to follow that path … until the very end. And at the end, God takes what looks like weakness and demonstrates strength and transforms what looks like disgrace and revealing God’s surprising (even unsettling) but ultimately life-giving glory. We know this … but it’s hard to hold on to.


When have you experienced the strange kind of glory that comes from sacrificial love? Perhaps it was stopping to help someone in need, perhaps it was making a donation to a charitable cause, perhaps it was standing up for someone being picked on at school or at work, perhaps it was delaying some gratification in order to tend to another person’s need, perhaps it was listening to someone, perhaps it was sharing a smile or hug, perhaps it was…. well, you get the idea. We do these things all the time and each time we do them we experience the life Jesus talks about.


So perhaps the best cure to the amnesia our culture seeks to induce is to invite us to remember and share these moments of unexpected glory. Because as we do, we’re drawn into God’s theory of everything and discover again the truth Jesus shares: If you would save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it.


Together, let us all say and live “Glory.” Click here to listen to the song.

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