God tells Abraham and Sarah a crazy story – that they will have a child while their peers are settling into retirement. Jesus tells his disciples that his goal is not to achieve total power in Jerusalem, but to suffer execution at the hands of tyrants. Crazy. Jesus invites his disciples into a crazy life, a life that is found in losing the life the world values.
2nd Sunday in Lent (Year B) – March 1, 2015 – Genesis 17:1-7,15-16; Mark 8:31-38
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“Crazy Life” – Pastor Evan Davis
When I worked at Sears in high school, on Sunday afternoons an older gentleman would come into the mens’ department and tell me about this fish he caught. “It was thiiiissss big (shows me). Fought me like crazy.” I’m like, really? A fish story? People still do that? It was a whopper, you might say. Quite a story.
The whopper the newly-named Abraham hears from God comes in the last verse we heard a moment ago: “I will bless her (Sarah), and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Now the first part about being an ancestor of a multitude of nations would have been hard to believe…the man was over 100 years old and he didn’t have a child by his wife. But this was too much. Sarah, ninety years old, bearing a child? We need to hear the next verse, which tells us, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself (as if God couldn’t hear!), ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” Then in chapter 18, Sarah overhears the news herself, as some divine visitors tell it to Abraham once again, and we’re told “Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’” This is all too much to believe..this is crazy…Abraham and Sarah can only laugh out loud.
Then in Mark we have the crazy logic of the cross, the Way of Jesus, the true heart of God that no one expected. The disciples have spent the first half of the gospel of Mark marveling at Jesus’ great deeds of power – healing the sick, casting out the demons, feeding the crowds. But now this same Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going to Jerusalem where he will undergo great suffering at the hands of the religious professionals, be killed, and after three days rise again. He said it all quite openly, Mark emphasizes. Abraham and Sarah laughed about the kid thing, but Peter’s in no laughing mood. He gets mad. He has too much at stake. He’s dropped everything and risked his reputation and his life to follow this guy. He rebukes Jesus. Can you imagine what he said? Don’t you know how many people you could help? You’re giving up? What will happen to us? He’s hoping Jesus is just about ready to go to the high priests and to Pilate and throw them out of their palaces, but Jesus says his goal is to face execution. Peter isn’t ready for this crazy life, this crazy cross. He doesn’t understand yet that Jesus is not after power at all. That all his deeds of healing, cleansing, and feeding are about love, not power.1 Crazy love.
Our God can give a child to people in their nineties. God can create a holy nation out of a rather strange family. God can give the world true love and life through suffering, execution, and cross. Christ taught the disciples, and now teaches us, that saving your life comes from losing it. Or in other words, that the life God intends for us, a life of giving ourselves away for the sake of others, comes when we lose the life the world values, a life of taking more and more and more for ourselves.
David Lose made an allusion this week to the Oscar-winning movie, “The Theory of Everything,” which is about Stephen Hawking, the man with ALS who created a unified theory of physics, a really helpful theory that explains…well, everything, from the perspective of physics. But Lose points out the gospel’s “theory of everything,” which is that when we stop focusing only on our wants and needs and look to the needs of others, “we find more than we’d ever imagined – more life, more joy, more happiness, more acceptance.”2 It’s the theory of everything, the secret of the cross, which is that God’s true, abundant life of relationships and community and mutual love comes from losing the life of independence, consumption, and of the pursuit of wealth at all costs. For what will it profit us to gain the whole world and forfeit our life, our true life, the life God so desperately wants for us?
Lose reminds us that we forget this truth all the time, when again and again this world tricks us into believing that the keys to life are the right paycheck, the right house, the right car, the right kitchen appliances and makeup and clothes and phone and whatever. We know once we think about it that, of course, Jesus is right. That we do feel more whole and healthy and alive and happy when we are spending our time, money, and energy serving others in a web of relationships. You know, our God is in the business of proving the conventional wisdom wrong. God gives children to people who are old enough to be on the Smucker’s Jar with Willard Scott. God’s Messiah is a man who pours himself out in love rather than keeping an ounce of power or authority for himself. God finds life in death and love in sin, and we need to be reminded of that. We need to remind each other of this crazy love, this crazy gospel, this crazy cross-shaped life.
When I was an intern, a vicar, in Lancaster, every Thursday night over 100 people would pack into our social hall to eat dinner. It was this beautiful, chaotic night every week where you’d meet the most wonderful people – grandmothers doing their best to take care of little boys and girls because their parents were junkies, single men who’d been clean for a while, just trying to stay clear of people who could bring them back down. And then you’d meet the people who made you want to pound your head into a wall. The girls who would gang up on the weakest one among them, the one pastor who treated all the guests like criminals or second-class citizens. It was absolutely exhausting, an hour of intense connection in the middle of a mass of humanity. There were weeks when I could imagine a hundred ways I’d rather spend my Thursday night. But I’m not sure I’ve been anywhere that seems more like the kingdom of God – at least, as I imagine it – than that meal. All these people, none of us deserving, being fed by God, being knit together into the mystical Body of Christ.
There are few things in life that have made me happier, in the deepest sense of the word, than welcoming people into that meal. I use the word “happy” as the Greeks used it, meaning “the life well lived.” I think it’s the same thing Jesus is talking about when he speaks of “abundant life.” It’s how I feel when we worship together. It doesn’t mean we don’t need time and things for ourselves, or that we don’t need a break. Of course we do. But when I’m spending so much time focusing on stuff, money, and maintaining it all, all I feel is stress. And as Brett and I continue to try to simplify our lives and spend more time on others, I feel more and more at peace, more and more happy, more and more alive.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For 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.” Crazy talk. But it might just be the secret to the crazy life God so deeply desires us to know. Amen.