September 11, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Mark 8:34-37 (NRSV)
“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?”
Read all of Mark 8 here.
Taking up our cross, losing our life to save it—these are not fruitless endeavors. They are difficult endeavors, but they are not fruitless ones. If we take up our cross and follow Jesus, a whole new vista opens on us—one where we can be forgiven and empowered to preach the Gospel.
Yesterday, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we sat for a while with our memories and feelings around the day, and I noted that, if you were planning to use the lectionary readings for comfort this weekend, you are out of luck. This was true yesterday of Proverbs (and James). It is just as true today with the reading from Mark 8.
This chapter of Mark opens with the feeding of the four thousand (Mark 8:1-10) and goes on to feature a miracle where Jesus restores a blind man’s sight (Mark 8:22-26). But it also contains a lot of testy verbal fencing between Jesus and the Pharisees and even between Jesus and the disciples—about all the things they don’t see and all the ways people keep asking Jesus for more signs, more miracles. Even Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30) doesn’t stop the debates. Just a few verses later Jesus tells Peter to “get behind me, Satan” (Mark 8:33) when Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that Jesus’s ministry, and by extension the life of Jesus’s disciples, will include suffering.
It is in this context that Jesus makes the famous speech cited above regarding taking up our cross. People ask for a sign, for a demonstration, for things to be explained clearly, when in fact (Mark 8:12, 21) the problem isn’t what they see—it’s that they don’t like what they see. Following Jesus involves more than signs, miracles, wonders, and clear explanations. Following Jesus involves losing our life in order to save it.
These are hard and difficult words as we continue to process our national memories and our personal actions stemming from everything that happened twenty Septembers ago. As I contemplated them, I remembered the hymn we never sang to go with the sermon I never preached. It goes on:
See how he sends the pow’rs of evil reeling;
he brings us freedom, light and life and healing.
All men and women, who by guilt are driven,
now are forgiven.
Taking up our cross, losing our life to save it—these are not fruitless endeavors. They are difficult endeavors, but they are not fruitless ones. If we take up our cross and follow Jesus, a whole new vista opens on us—one where we can be forgiven and empowered to preach the Gospel. It’s actually those who are not willing to make that step who will ultimately lose out: they will “gain the whole world and forfeit their life” (Mark 8:36). Next to the face of Christ, any promises the world can offer us fade away. Emboldened by the Holy Spirit, even in the faith of death and despair, we can go forward. After every Saturday of death comes the Sunday of resurrection.
Come, celebrate; your banners high unfurling,
your songs and prayers against the darkness hurling.
To all the world go out and tell the story
of Jesus’ glory.
Indeed, there is much darkness in the world. Hurling our little songs and prayers against it seems so futile. But those who lose their life—and their pride, anger, greed, and desire for vengeance—will save it. Or more properly, He will save it. He will save you.
What do you need to be forgiven from?
What do you need to forgive others for?
How can you tell the story of Christ?
Today, listen to “Rise, Shine, You People.” (Lyrics are here as a PDF.) Allow Christ’s love to enter your heart and transform you as you listen.
Jesus, may we lay down all that is not of you and take up our cross in your service. Amen.
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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This is a very important message.
Someone once said to me “make sure you do Colossians 2 before you try to do Colossians 3.
Yes, even after we die a death like Christ’s Paul says to be submissive to grace. As we are under grace—even so we are then to be slaves of righteousness, to lay aside anything that hinders us from doing God’s will as it is presented to us in Scripture.
Not so easy to do as to write it out, is it?