The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 17A (8/31/2008)

Are You a Loser?

Lessons:      Jeremiah 15:15-21      Psalm 26:1-8      Romans 12:9-21      Saint Matthew 16:21-28      Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:           Exodus 3:1-15           Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Prayer of the Day:      O God, we thank you for your Son, who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

16.21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." 23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

St. Matthew 16:21-28, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

In my High School years, I was so desperate not to be a loser. I was tall, skinny, awkward... painfully aware that others were far more handsome, far more athletic, far more gregarious, far more popular than I was. I longed to be admired by others -- at the very least, I would have been happy just to fit in. And as is far too often the case, in those days I made some unfortunately poor decisions, hoping to impress others. (It never worked, of course, but that didn't prevent me from trying...)

Things are so different these days. Oh, I still am not as athletic as I wish I was. And when I'm truly honest with myself, I am aware of still being a bit too hopeful that you'll be impressed with me. But these days I'm at least willing to consider the possibility that God is calling me to be a loser.  Jesus says, in this week's Gospel lesson, "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (St. Mathew 16:25)  He teaches us that God wants us to be willing to lose our life, to lose our security, to lose our wealth, to lose our reputation... if that is what it takes to be faithful to the One who loves us enough to die for us. These are all blessings that we associate with those who are the "fortunate ones" in our world. But the reality is: if these are at the heart of our yearning (as was the case for so many of us back in our High School days), that's really no life at all. The greatest fortune we'll ever receive is not related to our financial net-worth, our popularity or our prestige -- instead, it is the forgiveness and the new life that we receive from Jesus Christ.

Because once we begin to move these desires from the center of who we are -- once we give up on the illusion that these human longings are the essence of the good life -- then the possibility arises that the Holy Spirit can fill us, do battle with these human wants, and help us to experience (at least a glimpse of) the kind of life that God wants to give us.

I still don't want to be a loser. But I am more and more willing to acknowledge the possibility that God has more in store for me than my human mind can imagine. I pray that God might help me to loosen my grip on my own human desires. I pray that God might inspire me with the grace and joy that comes from a Christ-centered life. I pray that God might open me up to the movement of the Spirit, in a way that transforms me into the kind of person Jesus calls me to be: a believer who is willing to lose even life itself, if that's what it takes to live in a way that is faithful to the One who gave so much for me.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. Why did Peter argue with Jesus, when he began to talk about his suffering and death?
  2. What are the human things that preoccupied Peter's mind, and the what are the divine things that Jesus would prefer to have him consider?
  3. What would it eventually mean for Simon Peter to lose his life, and gain the life Jesus wanted for him?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. What human wants and preoccupations do I hold on to a bit too tightly?
  2. What sacred message is God trying to get through to me these days?
  3. How can I discipline myself to keep my human self-centeredness in check, in order to make more room at the center of my life for God?