Mtr. Vivian Shelby – The Second Sunday in Lent, February 25, 2024

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, for Thee. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

So the picture we have today is, of course, a great crowd and Jesus and the disciples. But this first bit is really just between Jesus and the disciples. So I’m picturing kind of this huddle, separate from the crowd, of Jesus and his disciples. And he tells them his prediction of what is going to happen to him. Now in the Gospel of Mark, this is the first time he has said this. He’ll say it three times. This is the first time. That he will suffer. That he will die. And that he will rise again. Peter has a problem with this. Now, Peter pulls Jesus away from the huddle to rebuke him privately. Now, just two verses before this, verse 29, is when Peter said, “Jesus, you are the Messiah.”

Now, to the disciples, Jesus being the Messiah meant he was going to be their earthly king. He was going to hang out. He was going to be in charge. And all the wars would end and everyone would look up to the Jewish community. So no part of that vision was Jesus going to suffer and die. So I feel like Peter is kind of saying, “No, no, no, no, no. We’ve got your back. We’re not going to let anything bad happen to you. We’re your disciples. We’ve got it.”

Again, focusing on what they thought Jesus would be. Then Jesus does not rebuke him privately. Jesus turns back to the huddle and says, “Get behind me, Satan, you are focusing not on divine things, but on earthly things. So you don’t understand it, but this is what’s going to happen. And you need to not get in the way of God’s idea.” So then I see Jesus maybe thinks, “This is a teachable moment for the entire crowd. For me to tell them what it’s really going to take to be my disciples. In case there’s any question.”

So he turns to the crowd, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” So “deny yourself”, as I was telling the kiddos, means we are not the center of things. Individually, we are not the center of things. We’re supposed to put God at the center of things, deny our own wishes and focus on the wishes of God. “Take up your cross. The cross represents suffering for Jesus. So that means we too have to suffer. And then it still says, “follow me”.

So we have to put God’s wishes above our own. We have to acknowledge that in this life we will suffer. And even with the suffering, even through the suffering, we still have to focus on following Jesus. That’s a pretty big ask. But what’s the payoff? Well then he says it, “If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it. But if you lose your life, for my sake and the sake of the gospel, you will save it.” So the payoff is eternal life. Pretty big payoff. Deny yourself. Take up the cross. Follow me. Keep God first. And you have eternal life. But Jesus understands, God understands how this is difficult for us. So he uses language we understand. Commercial language. Profit, gain, and loss. So what will it profit people if all the work that you do is focused on you? And you gain the whole world. Everything that the world can offer. What good is that? If what you lose is your entire soul, your inner being, the core of who you are, if that is lost.

God loves us so much. He wants us to get the prize. He wants us to be able to make it through this life, even with the denying and the suffering. He wants us to be with him. So this time of Lent, this is a perfect time for this kind of thinking. What are we being asked to give up so that we can focus more on God? What are we being asked to give up so that we can focus more on God?

When I was called to the priesthood, well actually when I decided to listen. So I was called in 1993, but I didn’t really listen until 2011. God can work with that. I was working as an executive director for the Columbian Theater in Wamego, Kansas. Tiny town, very Christian town, 5,000 people. And I had to announce that I was leaving. And that I was leaving to go to seminary to become an Episcopal priest. And the head of the Chamber of Commerce set up a meeting and came into my office. And I thought, “Oh, you know, this is nice. She’s going to support me.” We knew each other. And she sat down and said to me, “What makes you think you’re so special?” And I was shocked. I was shocked. And I said, “Wow, you don’t get it. You don’t get it.” I had been in theater for 25 plus years, I loved what I did. And God in this process of call turned that around for me to where it wasn’t fulfilling anymore. All those benefits I got and the good feelings that I got kind of turned to ash.

And I finally said, “Okay, God, what do you want me to do?” And he said, “Go be a priest.” So I told her, “You don’t get it. I am so broken as a human being, just like everybody else is, that with what God has done in my life, the only way I can survive this life is if I go and work for God full time.” I can’t stand it. He’s telling me to do this, and I have to do it. I don’t have a choice. I’m not special. I’m actually quite needy.

God is doing something in your life. Right now, especially during Lent, pay attention. What is he asking you to do, to give up? Or how is he asking you to grow so that your life can focus more on God than on ourselves, which is our human tendency? If you pray about it and you listen, he will tell you.

One way to experience this through worship is Holy Week. Come on Maundy Thursday. Thursday night. Last supper. Where we celebrate the washing of feet. Jesus washing his disciples feet. Come let us wash your feet. Then you experience the stripping of the altar. Where everything goes away. And it’s dark. And then come on Good Friday. Where we talk about his suffering, his death. And then on Sunday, Easter. Where we get to celebrate his resurrection. Because believe it or not, that prediction he made, suffering, dying, and resurrection, is ours, if we give our life completely to God. On Easter Sunday, we can celebrate that our sacrifices, that our suffering, means in this life we are resurrected as disciples, and given tools and love and grace that are beyond belief.

And then when our physical body dies we are risen to eternal life with Christ. So this week, ask yourself, “What is God asking you to do or to change to be closer to him?” And then listen to him when he tells you. Amen.