This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on February 28, 2021. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
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 Creator with the holy angels.”
This pre-telling of what would happen in the Easter/Lenten story is eerie to read about now, as we are almost a year into being online as a church, with the pandemic continuing to change our world in every aspect. It makes me wonder, what would we have done differently, if only we’d known? Maybe nothing, but maybe everything.
A year ago, would we have known that we’d be worshipping from our couches on Sundays? Or that we’d utilize Zoom more than ever before? Or that masks would be worn by more than just medical professionals?
If only you had known, what might you have done differently to prepare?
This week, our second week of Lent, we hear a message that shares the same sentiment: “If only we’d known…” Jesus shares about the great suffering and rejection he’d undergo very soon, and while it wasn’t happening yet, that it would, and it would change the world.
He tells about his death, not an incredibly uplifting thing to talk about, and he repeats himself over and over, that yes, he is going to die. Yes, this painful and grief-filled thing is happening.
But in addition to his proclamation that he is going to die, he was also open about the truth that one day, he’d rise again. And he was also clear that in the meantime, we’re not just going to sit and do nothing. That’s not why he shared that news. It’s because he wanted to stir the people to focus on what is important, and to prepare for his death and then his resurrection.
That day is coming, but it’s not here yet. Our job is to prepare.
Jesus’ words today are tough, because over and over, he communicates that his call is to come and die for the sake of the kindom. And so, Jesus in doing so, is calling us to follow him, not to literally die, but to let go of the practices that may be self-centered or not helping them to bear good fruit for the Gospel. He’s teaching the disciples that in following him, they’re tasked to continue to do the work, preparing the kindom, giving up the things that don’t matter, in order to make room for what is right in front of them, the things that do bring good fruit.
We are called to make room for the Gospel, even in times that are hard. We do this by creating time for spiritual practices, for prayer, exercise, meditation, rest. We make room for the Gospel by investing our time and resources in this that emulate Christ’s teachings. We make room for the Gospel by taking inventory of the things that aren’t needed in our lives, the things that perhaps need to be trimmed down or cut off entirely.
All of this is preparation. Because as Christians, we are tasked with preparing and making room for the Gospel. It means we allow space for ourselves to hear the Holy Spirit, invest energy in causes Christ himself would have been devoted to, and for listening to and connecting with God in more areas of our life.
Some of you have given up something for Lent, or added something into your life, with the purpose of making room for the Gospel. For some of us, that’s an important way, but it’s also not the only way. What Jesus is getting at, is that at our core, there are few things that can lead to this overwhelming and everlasting joy. And we can’t fully experience that joy unless we make the choice to invest in it, moving from living for ourselves or our possessions, to living for Christ.
At the beginning, I asked you to think about what you may have done differently, had you known that this year would be like it has. If Jesus had come to you a year ago and said, okay, this is what’s going to happen, what might you have done? Unfortunately, we didn’t know that this would happen. We couldn’t have predicted that the way we would be doing church would be drastically different. And yet, we find ourselves now in a new year, one where resurrection is once again on the horizon. We are now in a place where what might be is a story that is more familiar, a story where we can in fact make room for the Gospel.
Because Friends, resurrection is coming. We don’t have all the details, the dates or times, and neither did the disciples. But what we do have is the transformative promise that resurrection is on the horizon. And so, the question is, what will you do now to prepare for the coming resurrection in your life?
Will you serve in a ministry of the church? Will you offer your skills to an area or organization that can use you? Will you be mindful of the relationships you have started this past year and commit to continuing?
What can you do now, to prepare for what is ahead?
“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?”
Jesus asked this question with not just authority, but with a hugely needed perspective. What good will it do for us to waste our time/money/energy/gifts on things that will not serve us well when resurrection does come? And I think it’s a very timely question for us too. This last year has been difficult, heartbreaking, frustrating, 100% yes. And even if a small glimmer only, we know that there will be a day when the heartbreak is less, when the challenges we’ve faced will shift once again, where we can one day hug our families. And that is the promise of resurrection.
This Lenten season, may we remember that promise, that resurrection is coming, but it’s not here yet. May we work to make space in our own lives for the Gospel, giving up what is no longer serving you and inviting in that which invites God in too. And may you be a living example of resurrection, a living example of God alive and working in our world.
Let us pray:
God of life, death, and resurrection, we thank you for the hope you provide in our lives, the promise of tomorrow, and the urge to continue on. God, lead us to embrace this spiritual practice of active waiting, of making space for you. Help us to remember what really matters, even when Good News seems hard to find. In your gracious name we pray, Amen.