Dark Waters of Discipleship
Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
I trust that none of us has gotten through this past week without witnessing the reality of God’s children of all shapes and sizes and ages and genders and skin colors offering their lives to save others of the same wide variety of descriptions – no questions asked – God’s children risking their lives to save total strangers who, nevertheless, are their neighbors, in this case, neighbors threatened by the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey.
I wept at the news coverage of the miles and miles and miles of pickup trucks waiting patiently in line along a Texas interstate towing bass boats and jet skis and anything seaworthy that could maneuver the swirling storm waters and provide safe rescue. I even have had to rethink my snobbish opinion of the uselessness of obnoxious Monster Trucks – if you travel to the Outer Banks, you have passed the home of the Grave Digger of Currituck County fame. The tragedy of Harvey is a Monster Truck paradise; riding above the floodwaters, it is the Monster Trucks that are towing the all-powerful military troop carriers out of the muck and mire.
“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
The outpouring of love and concern in the face of tragedy that we have witnessed this week confirms for us that we must live through this world – not around it or above it. Those putting their physical lives in danger for the pure unadulterated call to save a life or bring warmth and comfort to those who are suffering bring clarity to the complexity of Jesus’ words that we hear this morning. We live through the world, understanding a little better each day, as our faith journey carries us along, that losing our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ is the immeasurable blessing.
All over the world, our military, our law enforcement officers, our fire fighters and EMT’s, and “ordinary” good Samaritans offer their physical lives and wellbeing to save others and, thereby, find the greater blessing. Perhaps we will be called to risk our lives for the life of another, or perhaps we will be called to give our life in other ways; all of us are called to put aside our human luxuries and self-serving actions that distract our focus from our call to ministry. In giving our time and talents, in seeking discernment of our calling, we find the greater blessing.
Jesus offers crucifixion to those who follow him. Jesus refuses to deny the dark side of the world – the dark side of humanity, which is the cost of our discipleship. God came to earth in the human person of Jesus Christ in order to live through the world – to live and die as all of us live and die – living through the world, acknowledging the tragic dark side of humanity while embracing the light of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel lesson we read again of Peter – fresh from receiving the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven as we read last week. Perhaps Peter is feeling a new sense of boldness, as we read today, Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking openly of his eminent suffering, death, and rising again – all of which would be the necessary culmination of Jesus’ earthly life. Peter sought to deny the dark side; Peter, quite unaware and innocently, sought to align himself Satan in denying the divine necessity of God’s plan.
Wouldn’t it have been so much easier and pleasant to continue on with life as the disciples had known it? Peter and his companion disciples had already given up their previous lifestyles and occupations in order to follow Jesus. How could Jesus now speak so definitively and fatalistically of suffering and death? The disciples’ clarity of Jesus’ words would come only after experiencing the darkness of the Crucifixion, which was the necessary element of the Resurrection that would overcome that darkness.
We are all called to ministry – even Monster Trucks have found their calling. It is not an easy way; Jesus never suggested that it would be easy. In fact, Jesus made it plain from the beginning that the call to discipleship is costly; there are swirling storm waters waiting to consume us. As Dietrich Bonheoffer phrased it, “When Jesus calls us, he bids us come and die.”
When Jesus calls us (and Jesus calls all of us), he bids us die to our old selves, die to our temptation to align ourselves with Satan in denying the reality of the dark side of discipleship, die to our fear of the swirling waters that seek to dissuade our calling to discipleship. When Jesus calls us, he bids us to live into our salvation by remaining focused on his presence that allows us to keep walking toward him through the storm.
Paraphrasing Richard Rohr: God does not love us if we become disciples; God loves us so that we can become disciples. God does not love us because we risk our lives – physically or otherwise – to save others; God loves us so that we recognize our call and so that we are able to save others in the name of Jesus Christ his Son.
God’s call is not always as obvious as the “burning bush” was for Moses when he was called to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt. The Apostle Paul reminds us to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. Our ministries are as vastly diverse as the sea, and Satan is there to nip at our understanding and perseverance – as he nipped at Peter’s.
Our neighbors in this community and throughout the world, in Texas and our inner cities and East Asia and the Middle East are suffering. The time has come to take note of your burning bush, to climb into your Monster Truck and hook up your flat-bottomed boat, and get in line to receive God’s instructions. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior will find it.”