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.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
“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,” When Jesus says this it is important to remember that he doesn’t mean we literally have to hang upon a cross as he did. Only a very few of us are truly called to be martyrs. Rather, we are being asked to die to that which holds us back from God’s larger purpose.
I have counseled many a person struggling with one kind of addiction or another – alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, you name it. What I discovered in every instance was that these good souls were only able to get beyond their addiction if they were willing to die to a certain understanding of themselves, if they were able to crucify a false identity. Recovery came when they were willing to let go of an identity that said – I am in control, I can handle this, I do not have a problem, I can quit anytime I like. In its place they had to come to a new understanding of themselves where they were humbled in the face of their own weakness, where they knew they could not do it by themselves, where they asked for help from friends, family and their higher power. They found recovery when they were willing to let go of the illusion that they were in control. In each case, if they were able to let the false understanding of themselves die, then they could rise to a new and better life where there was health and wholeness. In essence, they had to die in order to rise; they had to lose their life in order to save it.
During this Lenten season ask yourself – what view of myself and my life am I being called to change, grow beyond, or die to? What do I need to let go of, to crucify, in order to turn myself towards God’s larger purpose for my life? For those of us who struggle with insecurity, perhaps it is time to loosen our grip on that self-image that says – you don’t measure up, you aren’t good enough. In its place God would have us know that we are God’s beloved children. Perhaps you harbor anger or resentment for a person or people in your life. Anger and resentment poison our souls and warp our personalities. God would have us let go of these things and instead focus on the work of forgiveness, on the grace of understanding. Perhaps you struggle with grief, life literally crucified a piece of you when you lost a person you love. It may be hard to see now, but God has a vision for your future that is bigger than your pain, wider than the reality of this loss. Things will never be the same, but you can trust that there will be new life again.
When all is said and done, I don’t think faith is really about belief. I think faith means trusting in the loving purposes of God even when we can’t see them, even when we don’t understand them. Faith means trusting that if we place our lives in God’s hands then God can and will do more with us then we could ever ask or imagine. Amen.
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.