Being a follower of Jesus

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This can be so confusing, but in simplest terms, this means that if we claim Jesus as Lord of our life, we follow him even if it leads to our physical death.  There is nothing more we can give than our very life.  This teaching of Jesus leads to an understanding that God values each human being enough to die for them.  Jesus is with those who suffer and if we follow him, guess where he leads us…he leads us into places and situations where people are hurting.

16th
Sunday after Pentecost, September 16, 2012

Isaiah
50.4-9a; Psalm 116.1-9; James 3.1-12; Mark 8.27-38

Pastor
Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace and
peace to you from the good Teacher, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Education
is a gift from God.  The fall is a time
where learning is on our minds. People of all ages begin a new school
year.  People who have planted gardens try
new canning recipes upon the harvest.  We
never stop learning no matter how old we are. 
 It is the same with faith.  There should never be a point in our lives in
which we say, “I have learned all there is to know about God.”

I was
eating lunch with a 75-yr. old seminary professor a few years ago and we were
discussing a certain passage in Scripture I found particularly
challenging.  He looked at me and said,
“I see this Scripture in a whole new light lately.  It has caused me to think differently and
contemplate God in new and wonderful ways.” 
Knowing he must have read this text 1000 times before, I replied, “So,
I’ll never know the answer then, huh?” 
He started laughing and said, “Nop! 
Isn’t it great!” 

At the time
I didn’t think it was so great because I wanted more clarity, but looking back
on it, it really is great.  I love the
joy I see in him as one of my teachers on how the teachings of Jesus bring him
excitement, challenge, and delight, even at age 75.

Right now
we are in the church season of Pentecost. 
Pentecost is a season of learning and growth.  It is 25 weeks of being taught by Jesus and what
it means to follow him. 

Today, in
our life together at Heart River marks the start up of Sunday school.  I hope you teachers weren’t too intimidated
by the first 2 verses in our reading from James.  “Not many of you should become teachers,”
James writes, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater
strictness.  For all of us make many
mistakes (James 3.1-2).”  This is not the
primary verse one should use to ask for volunteer Sunday school teachers!  Don’t worry…there is grace in teaching, and
the Holy Spirit to guide you.

James writes
these things because he understands the importance of sharing the story of
Jesus and what it means to follow him. From Jesus’ birth in an animal stall, to
his baptism in the Jordan River, to his temptation in the desert, to his
healing of many, his feeding of people and his scandalous eating with
prostitutes and tax collectors, and eventually to his trial and crucifixion,
and lastly his death and resurrection. 

Like
anyone’s story, including yours and mine, there is much to learn about Jesus’
story.   What sets the story of Jesus apart
from any other is that it deeply affects each of us, and better than anything
else, communicates what God desires for human beings and the world.  Teaching about Jesus and how to have faith in
him is serious business.  We learn from
our Gospel reading today that following Jesus and having faith in him could
cost you your life.  And yet, we also
learn that by losing your life for the sake of the good news of God in Jesus
Christ, you actually save it.

Well, why
(and how) is this?  Why is following
Jesus so serious that it might cost me my life someday?  Can’t I just go to church and try and be a
good person?  Can’t I just pray a little
and have everything go right for me?

Fortunately,
or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), this is not the way faith
in Jesus works.  Jesus teaches his
disciples and us a very hard lesson in our reading today. 

“Then
[Jesus} 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
(Mark 8.31).”

Let’s pause
here and think about the word, “must.” 
Like Peter, I wonder why Jesus must
undergo great suffering, be rejected, and killed.  I understand a little more why he must rise after three days because if he
didn’t every one would think he was a fraud and his message of God’s love for
the world would die with him.

Okay, I’m
going to ask you three questions to help us better understand the necessity of
Jesus’ suffering and death.  How many of
you in your life have suffered in some way, (whether that be physical, mental,
or spiritual suffering)?  How many of you
have known someone who has died?  This last
one might be a little harder: What does God have to do with your own suffering
and death? 

I’m going
to give you the answer to this one:  Everything.  God has everything to do with your suffering
and death.  Don’t get me wrong here.  It is not in a way that God causes your
suffering and death, but in the way that God is with you through it every step
of the way.  Well how do we know this
when in suffering I feel totally alone?

It is
because of Jesus’ suffering and death that we know that God cares about it and
understands it.  Other than probably
love, we are affected in this life by suffering and death more than anything
else.  [It is devastating].  God has come to earth in Jesus Christ to
address the pain and isolation of suffering. 
God has also come in Jesus to address our fear of death.  We have a God who can relate to us in our
deepest pain because God has been through it.

A pastor
named, Brian Stoffregen, has asked the question, “What is a self worth (or in
other words: what are you worth)?”  One
answer is, “The death of God’s son.  Each
of us is that valuable and important to God (http://www.crossmarks.com/brian).”

Teaching
and sharing this with others is one of our highest callings.  So many people in the world believe and feel
that God has abandoned them.  Perhaps
even some of you here today feel this way. 
Again and again, Jesus makes it clear that he will go through suffering
and death to be with us.  You and I
matter more to him than he values his own life.

Jesus is
willing to give up his life for others and it is exactly what he calls us to do
as well.  He continues to teach by
saying, “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 (Mark 8.34-35).” 

This can be
so confusing, but in simplest terms, this means that if we claim Jesus as Lord
of our life, we follow him even if it leads to our physical death.  There is nothing more we can give than our
very life.  This teaching of Jesus leads
to an understanding that God values each human being enough to die for
them.  Jesus is with those who suffer and
if we follow him, guess where he leads us…he leads us into places and
situations where people are hurting.
 

Jesus asks
us to carry our cross, and yet when we feel the weight of suffering, we realize
that he helps us carry it because he walks with us.  And because Jesus bears the weight of
suffering with you and me, we then are able to help carry the cross of others
as well.  To pick up our own cross and
follow Christ is to trust that no matter what happens to us in our life, Jesus
is there with us.

Another
pastor, Richard Jensen, has pondered these teachings of Jesus.  This is what he hears Jesus say to you in
these teachings, “I will die with you when you die and bring you with me to
eternal life (Preaching Mark’s Gospel, Richard
Jensen, p. 133).”

What an amazing gift we have in a God who has
gone through suffering and death in order that we might have a companion when
we feel all alone.  We have a God who
values each human life enough to die for you and for me.  We all get to be teachers of this
message.  And this teaching, this good
news and gospel message, is actually worth dying for.