O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Losing to Win
Losing to Win
Based on Mark 9:30-37
Preached on September 20, 2015
Click on the Play button
to listen to the Sermon.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was an apparent change in plans. A new direction for the mission. Jesus was coming down off the mountain where He showed His divine glory to three of HIs disciples - Peter, James, and John. And now for the first time He starts talking about something completely different: His death and resurrection. This was the plan: He was going to be delivered into the hands of men who would kill him. And when He is killed, after three days, He would rise.
What do you think of the plan? Hunh, Peter, James, and John? Now that you've seen my glory and heard my Father's voice, what do you think? I go the way of death and resurrection, and then, you will too. Sound like a plan?
Well, no, it didn't sound like a plan. It sounded crazy nuts. They didn't understand and they were afraid to ask. But who would have understood such things? Who does it that way? Crucifixion, resurrection. Not our way. No way. We go with winners, not with losers. We go with successes, not failures. We go with number 1, not with the also-rans. That's how the world works. That's how we work. Winners like to hang with winners. It's why Christianity doesn't play well with winners until they discover they aren't winners on their own. Let's face it - who wants to wake up on Sunday morning to come to church to confess you're a poor, miserable wretch of a sinner in need of forgiveness? The world would have you believe you're a winner entitled to your success, entitled to even more. Who wants to line up and declare with St. Paul that he is the "chief of sinners"? Not me.
That is the old Adam in us, my friends. The sinful self. The loser who won't admit it, who pretends to be a winner, who tries to go it on his own, being a god, shaking his fist at God, doing it his way, kicking and screaming against death and resurrection which is ultimately the only way to eternal life.
It must have been a long walk back to Galilee. Like one of those tense car trips where no one is talking but everyone has something to say. I picture Jesus walking pretty much by Himself, with the others trailing or leading the way. And what were these disciples discussing? They were arguing with each other about which one of them was the greatest! Who was the top dog? Was it Peter or John? Maybe James the underdog. Jesus is talking about the cross, and His disciples are preoccupied with glory. Jesus is looking to lose His life to save the world, and His disciples are angling for positions of power in His kingdom.
And we are surprised with how things are in the church today? I appreciate the honesty of Mark, who delivers the whole eyewitness truth of Peter to us. Through the words of Mark, Peter admits that at this crucial moment in Jesus' work, the disciples, including Peter, completely missed the point and were thinking of their own greatness. That old Adam always wants to be the winner, not the chief of sinners - just the chief. It's in all of us, the drive to power, to control, to be the lead dog, to get everyone else to do it our way. And we're not talking about ambition. Ambition is simply setting goals and striving to attain them. This is something different. This is climbing to the top on the backs of your brothers. This is being so preoccupied with winning it all - that you lose it all in the vortex of death.
Jesus has an entirely different plan. Not power but weakness. Not glory but a cross. Not the greatness of winning but the greatness of losing, losing one's life in order to gain it, losing it all in order to gain it all, putting His own life down as the ransom for our Sin and Death. Christ made a loser - to make losers win.
James talks about this in his epistle this morning. James' hearers are apparently quite well off, successful business men, the movers and shaker of his day. He reminds them that friendship with the world puts you at odds with God and that the stance before God should be one of repentant humility, "for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." And so the posture of faith before God is not one of pride, arrogance, and boastfulness over all that you've accomplished and why God should be so tickled that you deign to come into His presence. Rather, the stance of faith is humble, repentant, grateful for God's mercy. "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." Humble yourselves; it's a lot easier than being humbled by God. Far better to humble yourself, with the expectation that God will lift you up. He will exalt you in due time, in His own way, by your dying and rising.
Jesus gathers the Twelve together in a huddle and says, "If you want to be great in my kingdom, you have to be a loser. If you want to come in first, you have to come in last and be the servant of all, because that's where I am. I, the Lord of all, have become the Servant of all, and am about to become the biggest loser in the religious world by getting myself crucified at the hands of Religion and Politics. But don't worry about it. Losing is winning in my kingdom, and I will rise on the third day more victorious in death than any of you guys can be in life. You want to live the victorious life? Then drop dead with me."
Ever the good teacher, he brings in an object lesson. A little child. Now understand this: In Jesus' day and age children were not the little winners as they are today. Childhood wasn't glamorized and idolized back then as some pure and noble and innocent state of being. Children were considered little losers, a drain on the family assets that couldn't be raised quickly enough and married off if you were a girl or put to work if you were a boy. There was no luxury of prolonged childhood, adolescence, living at home into your 30's. No time to find yourself, or chase your dreams. It was an expressway to adulthood as quickly as possible.
That's what Jesus uses as a pattern for kingdom faith - a little child, a child small enough to be picked up and held in Jesus' arms. He says, "Boys, if you want to understand greatness in the way of the cross, then you must become like this kid I'm holding here. I must carry you, the whole way and you must trust me to carry you. "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me."
Jesus is calling Himself the Child. The Child of God the Father. The Child held in the arms of His Father, and being baptized into Him, into His death and resurrection, you are that child too. He is the One who came not to be first but last, the Lord of all who came not to be served by us but to serve and to lay down His life to save the world. And you dear one, baptized into Him and believing in Him have become last with Him, joining the ranks of those who have lost their lives in order to gain them, living this life not to be served by others, but to serve others as Christ Jesus has served you.
You understand this passage only in the cross of Jesus. And I don't mean a symbolically empty cross, but a cross with dead Jesus on it. There is greatness in the kingdom of God, my friends. There is power perfected in weakness. There is glory such as the world has never seen. There is victory - right there in the midst of death. And that is you, baptized and believing. That is you. That's your life as it appears in this world. Dead, crucified, lost. You're a loser in this world if you believe this stuff. But to lose your life in Jesus, the grand Loser, is to win your life forever. Death AND Resurrection.
Faith doesn't ask who is the greatest. It looks at the cross of Jesus. And through the cross of Jesus, faith looks out into this hurting world and sees Jesus precisely where the world would not look: in the least, the lost, the little, the child.
Jesus has a different plan for you. He calls you to mission and service. Here in His house. Here within the community of His school. May you lose your life in Jesus who has won it all for you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr