“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” This quote is from Gandhi. Recently, it’s something I’ve been hearing Anthony say often: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
It sure sounds like something Anthony would say, or Gandhi, or Jesus. Indeed, Jesus puts it like this: “For those who want to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Today the scripture Sylvia just read begins in the middle of an open conflict. Not too long ago, Jesus told Peter that he was the rock on which the church will be built. Jesus began trying to prepare the disciples for his death on the cross and his resurrection three days later. This was not going well.
At one point, Peter took Jesus aside and said “No! This can’t happen to you!” And you’ve got to love Peter for trying, but Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block.” Peter is the rock on whom the church will be built. Now Jesus is shaming him for his concern. All of this is right before Jesus tells the disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Please don’t miss how this is a crisis.
Throughout the Gospels, there is a chronic problem of the disciples not understanding what Jesus is trying to teach them. They don’t get it. They become mystified with him; he becomes frustrated with them. I’m sure some of that is going on here, but there’s also something more. What Jesus is telling the disciples is simply more than they can handle.
Now you know from being human, as we grow, each one of us develops a capacity for handling the things life throws our way. Think of it like a container. We don’t all have the same size or kind, but we all have one holding together our inner being.
When something unexpected happens— like getting a phone call from an old friend or getting into a minor fender-bender— well these things are okay. We can deal with it. As long as the interruption fits inside our container. As long as we can get things back to normal. As long as we can make it home for dinner. We’re resilient; we can handle it.
Until we can’t. A crisis is an incident that does not fit inside our container; it breaks it wide open. Crises are any significant life event. A new job is a crisis. Death is a crisis. So is birth. So you know we can live through crisis, that’s what we do. You and I carry the scars and stars of every crisis we have ever survived, and we’ll do it again.
In the Gospel, Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for a crisis. Get ready because blood will pour. Bread will get broken, and so will the world. Jesus is not just another rabbi with another philosophy that will fit into our sense of what is normal. Jesus is not even the Messiah they were expecting; he’s not the king who comes to rescue the oppressed. That would be awesome. And that would fit into our sense of what is normal.
Instead the kingdom of heaven comes crashing into the world in order to turn power upside down. Those who are humble will be made great. Those who are kicked out will be welcomed home. The powerful will be brought down from their thrones; the lowly will be lifted up. There is a crisis coming for the world, Jesus teaches.
There is a crisis coming for me, Jesus tells them. And if you want to follow me, there’s a crisis coming for you. You will not be able to get things back to normal. You will not make it home for dinner; we’ll have to eat on the way. If any want to become my followers, let them pick up their cross and follow me to death. Those who want to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for my sake will find it…
It’s a horrifying thing, he’s telling them. It’s not just, you will see me get tortured, and executed, then raised from the dead. Jesus is telling the disciples, if you mean to follow me, this will happen to you. It reminds me of the old program called Scared Straight which took at-risk teenagers on a field trip to a prison. The point was to threaten them: See this prison is where you’ll end up if you keep going down the path you’re on.
If you’re reading the Gospel the way I am, the next thing we’re expecting is for Jesus to make a few disciples go with him to see a trial where someone is taunted, and whipped, and executed on a cross in front of his mother. You want to know what will happen to you? This is horrifying.
Instead. What happened was Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to the top of a mountain. Heaven broke into the world intermingling divinity with humanity. Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun; his clothes became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared alongside him. “This is my son the Beloved. I chose him,” sang the LORD from the bright cloud. “Listen to him.”
The disciples fall down on the ground terrified. Everybody’s container was shattered; I bet the mountain itself was shaking. There will be no getting things back to normal! Jesus goes over to the disciples on the ground, even Peter. He touches them and says “Get up. Do not be afraid.”
We were expecting Jesus to show us the horror of the cross. You want to know what will happen to you? You will see heaven break into earth and hear the voice of God announce, “I love you.” When the crisis knocks us to the ground, we hear Jesus say, “Get up. Do not be afraid.” This will happen to you; you will get up from the dead. God knows you have done this before.
After the divorce.
After the accident.
After the baby died.
After the first night in your house without your partner.
After the suicide didn’t work out… There will be no getting things back to normal. We know that.
We know what it is to feel the next day intrude with oblivious determination. We even know what it is to get out of bed anyway. You try that, you’ll know what Toni Morrison means when she writes in Beloved, “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” Please don’t miss how this is a crisis.
Please don’t miss how this is a miracle. Resurrection is what we are made for.
If you ever come to CPR training here, you’ll watch a series of videos produced by the American Heart Association. They depict a variety of scenarios where people are out and about living their lives. Suddenly a person experiences a cardiac event, and an unsuspecting bystander steps up and follows the protocol for rescue. Check the scene, call for help, get the nine-one-one dispatcher on speaker, assess whether the person is breathing, get the AED, turn it on and do what it says. (The machine will talk to you!)
While the situations in each video are different, a few things are the same. We, as the audience, are watching from the perspective of the bystander who steps in to help. In each scenario, our part concludes when the EMTs arrive on the scene and say the best most hopeful words: “Okay. We’ll take it from here.”
Now I can tell you, I’m glad to know how to do CPR. I can also tell you, in the event that I ever have to, I will be immensely grateful to hear the EMTs say “We’ll take it from here.”
CPR training has a clear beginning and a clear ending. It begins when you see the person in distress; it ends when the EMTs arrive. Accordingly, the training videos do not show the whole story of what’s involved with coming back to life.
We don’t see the person go to the hospital later and get hooked up to monitors. We don’t know if they’ll have to heal from broken ribs caused by our amateur chest compressions. We don’t know how this incident will impact the rest of their life. Which makes me think, what if it’s up to us to pick up where the training videos leave off…
We follow a savior who gets up from the dead and issues the threat, you will do this to. You will have to.
Our faith is all about the work of coming back to life and helping others do the same. We know this is more than than giving breaths and chest compressions. You know we will visit you in the hospital and bring you a meal when you can’t make it home for dinner. We will sit down beside you when the world has been shattered and there are no words. Imagine if we, as the church, could tell the EMTs, “Thank you for your quick response, but she has a long road of recovery in front of her. Don’t worry. We’ll take it from here.”
You will have to get up from the dead, and you’ll have to do it again after that. What I need to tell you is that we will be here to go with you. We will be here when you lose your life, and we’ll be here when your life finds you.
Jesus says, If you mean to follow me, you must deny yourself and take up your cross. Then come with me to the top of the mountain. God will say to you, I love you. We will learn to say to each other the words of Christ: Look your life is coming for you! Get up. Do not be afraid.