Reader: Cheryl Caldwell. audio begins with the scripture passage; sermon begins at 1:50
Is the life you're living really LIFE?

Lent 5   Text: Mark 8: 27-37

What if the life we’re living isn’t really Life?
What if we’re caught up in something else?
How would we know?
And if that’s so, what might we do about it?

Those are just some of the questions I think this passage from Mark Gospel prods us to ask ourselves. It’s not just Mark’s Gospel though, is it? These are some of the questions Jesus puts to us … which is a mercy, for in all the ways they might disturb us, it’s in questions like these that he himself is prepared to meet us … without judgement but rather with infinite understanding, and insight, and the desire of his heart for us to come with him … to dwell where he dwells.

Let yourself bring to your mind’s eye the story of the rich man who comes to Jesus, genuinely asking “what must I do to experience abundant life?” He’s searching … sensing there could be something more.  Jesus says to him, “you know the commandments,” and he recounts a number of them. And the man replies, “Teacher, I have kept all of these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “you lack one thing … go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this he was shocked and then we see him walk away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Interesting isn’t it … this juxtaposition of something lacking and yet the need is to divest, let go. What is it that Jesus sees? Is it generosity that he’s lacking … care for the poor? It can sound like that, at first. But I wonder if there’s something else. He might even be known for his generosity. And besides, this life that he longs to taste, apparently you can’t buy your way into it. If you could, he’d be set. For all his desire to experience something more in his life, the thought of relinquishing all he has, is too big a reach.

How can loss be gain? On the one hand it makes no sense. And yet we watch this person walk away sorrowful … choosing, at least for now, to live with the hunger in his being.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, Jesus says, “and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.”

What if the life we’re living, isn’t really Life? What if we’re caught up in something else? Settled for something less?

I wonder if you recall the story of Karen Ridd back in 1989. At the time she was in her 20s, and went from Winnepg to work for a peace organization called Peace Brigades International in El Salvador. Their job was to accompany human rights workers as they did their work, to be like unarmed body guards, who protected people with their presence. It was at a time the El Salvadorean government was arresting and torturing people who were working for justice and peace. The idea was that in the company of the Peace Brigades, these human rights workers were less likely to disappear, because someone would witness it and document it. And there was a belief that the El Salvardorean government would not touch someone with an international passport. And should anything happen, there would be international pressure demanding their release.

Karen was accompanying Marcela Rodriguez Diaz, a woman who was working with refugees. They were in the church office where this organization was centred, when police raided the office, arrested Marcela, and Karen too, along with other staff. They were taken to a police station, where they tortured people. They were handcuffed, blindfolded, kept standing without food or water and interrogated. They could hear people being tortured around them.

And then it happened … the authorities came for her, brought her out of her cell, and told her that she was being released. It was her earnest prayer. But then she realized she was being released alone … without Marcela. “I won’t go without Marcela,” Karen announced. She refused to walk out the door of the prison. The police took her back to the cell, and locked her up again. Now she really thought they could both be tortured and killed.

The soldiers came to her and asked her, “Why didn’t you go? She told them “You are soldiers, you know what solidarity is. You know that if a comrade is down or fallen in battle, you wouldn’t leave them, and I can’t leave my comrade, not now, not here. You understand.”  The soldiers were quiet for a long time. Then one of them said gently, “Yes, we know why you are here.” For the rest of the time they were in prison, guards kept coming and wanting to see them, the “inseparable ones.” They responded with respect to the connection between the two women. [1]

Eventually, the 2 of them were released, together. Karen came out of there with ever so much more than her living, breathing body alive. She emerged having tasted a whole new depth of life … there was this realization that there was something even more important to her than saving her skin … there was what it is to give herself in love, in solidarity. It happened through her readiness to let it all go.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.”

I wonder if you’ve seen the movie A Man Called Ove?
Ove is this grumpy curmudgeon who lives in some town in Sweden. He’s the kind of person most of us want to avoid. He picks fights with shop-keepers, he’s forever prowling about the row housing complex where he lives, making sure gates are locked, the garbage is properly stowed. He’s obsessed with making sure people are following the rules.

And then this Iranian family moves in, with a couple of young children. But it’s the mother who won’t let herself be put off by the curmudgeon. He’s put up a huge wall around himself and here’s this woman who walks into his life and realizes
there’s way more to this man. She keeps coming around, refusing to be stopped by his instinct to isolate himself. And ever so gradually the stories of his life --the exquisite joys and the deep deep sorrows-- they come tumbling out. That protective wall that was holding him together, and yet not, begins to crumble. And you watch him begin to blossom.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.”

Back to the story of the rich young man, I’m guessing the one thing lacking that Jesus put his finger on is the matter of vulnerability ... the very thing that exposes us to hurt, to failure, and finally to total loss. We are all ultimately vulnerable …the death rate is still 100% no matter how much life energy we put into shoring up and saving our skin, protecting ourselves from suffering of all kinds.

At our core, our essence we are vulnerable. It’s the way we come into the world … and the way we leave this world. And yet how much of the time that we have is spent in trying to overcome it, over ride it … which of course we can’t possibly do without robbing ourselves, and others too in one way or another.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.”

It’s not a summons to recklessness … this is Jesus who’s known for his reverence for life … for every life … so much so he held nothing back … gave everything he had … having glimpsed God’s infinite goodness.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.”

Is the life you are living really Life?

What might be in our way … what might we need to let go, to let down … what might we need to risk losing to make room … to be free to enter into the kind of life that God so desires for us?

Let’s take some time in silence now to wonder about that.

What if, like the rich man, we voiced the question not just to ourselves, but we “take it to the Lord in prayer” as the song goes, asking

what must I do to come into life in all it’s fullness?
What would Jesus see as he looks at us with love?
What would he help us name?

Let’s take some time now in silence.


[1] Karen Ridd's story described by Carol Penner in “Father, save me from this hour”? Palm Sunday Sermon at Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church, Edmonton, Alberta, March 20, 2016