Pentecost +16: What you give up to get it

"Timing" by alanwordguy on flickr
Jesus 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 Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:34-38)


I started using a new workout DVD a couple weeks ago as part of my summer-long quest to get a little healthier and to try to build up, for the first time in my life, any small amount of upper body strength, because I have the wimpiest arms ever. Just ask any of the high school youth who watched me try to do a pull-up on the playground of a rest stop along our drive down to New Orleans…and right after Pastor Miller did about twenty of them in a row without even blinking…

So anyway, in the warm-up portion of the workout, the instructor says, very kindly, that you don’t have to be perfect. “Just give it everything you’ve got,” she says. And then, with an evil glint in her eye, she repeats herself, “That’s all I want – everything you’ve got.”

We hear that encouragement a lot these days: give it everything you’ve got, give it your all. It makes me wonder about the economics of giving over everything we’ve got. It makes me wonder about the economics of giving up our lives.

In the first five minutes of my first economics class in high school, my teacher defined the study of economics using another popular phrase: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Economically speaking, this means that everything always has a cost. What is free to you comes at a cost to someone else. There are fixed resources. Life is a closed system. There are so many hours in a day and so many days in a week; the cost of choosing to do one thing is not choosing to use that time to do something else. There are only so many dollars in your bank account; the cost of choosing to purchase one thing is the choice not to purchase that other thing.

Everything has a cost, and the true cost of something is what else you give up to get it. And I dare say that there are plenty of things in our lives – from coaches and teachers to bosses and television commercials, from our families to our own ambitions – that continually promise us the world, if only we give up our lives to get it.

Jesus, too, knows the demands that are placed on our lives. This is why he asks the pointed question in today’s gospel, “for what will it profit [you] to gain the whole world and forfeit [your] life?

This question exposes the temptation we all face: to forfeit our lives in order to gain the whole world; to give give give all of our time and money and energy for some promised future reward, which we hope will be, at best, equal in value to what we gave up to get it.

And so Jesus’ question for each of us is this: what are you losing your life for, either by choice or circumstance?

As a person with a career, are you losing your life to the demands of your company and your clients so that you will be considered successful?

As someone who suffers or watches someone suffer from chronic illness, are you losing your life to the intricacies of medical care, or to a sense of fear and despair?

As a spouse or significant other, do you feel pressure to lose yourself to your relationship?

As a student, are you losing your life to your grades or to your fear of failure or to the pressure to achieve a lot now so that you can get into a good college and go forward to live a successful adult life?

As a parent, are you losing your life to all the activities that your children do in the name of personal growth and well-roundedness?

As a soul dealing with anxiety or depression, are you losing your life to the masks you put up to convince the world that everything is fine?

As a broken and flawed human being – as we all are – are you losing your life to shame, fear, or regret?

And when you lose your life to any of these things, do you find yourself feeling renewed or fulfilled? I suspect not. I suspect that giving up your life for these things leaves you feeling tired at the end of the week, fragile, anxious, wistful. Because what of these sorts of things are worth what you give up to get them?

But what does Jesus say we should lose our lives for? Jesus says, “whoever loses their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

These words, my brothers and sisters, are words of freedom. Listen to what he is saying. There is only reason that Jesus calls you to lose your life: for his sake. Jesus asks us, as his disciples, to give up ourselves for the sake of the good news that he brings. This means giviving ourselves over to being peacemakers and healers, kind and gentle souls, beacons of hope, voices of praise, signs of compassion, reconcilers and restorers, even as God has reconciled and restored us.

And I know that sounds like a lot. And maybe you’re wondering how much of your current life you’ll have to give up to make space for all of that. Maybe you’re terrified to give up the life and lifestyle you have for the sake of those things, because you know that once you do, there’s no going back.

But hear again the words of promise that Jesus gives you: “Whoever loses their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” Jesus has already given up his whole life for you and for the sake of the world. He has turned the world upside down to reveal a kingdom of God where we are saved by grace and not by works. He has defeated death and won for us abundant life. And so he is the only one that truly gets to demand your life. And to what end? In order that you might receive a new life in return, a new heart and a new spirit, the fullness of God’s grace and mercy flowing through you.

The good news is that Jesus defies economic theory. Faith and discipleship are not a zero-sum game. God’s grace and mercy do not exist in finite quantities. At the Lord’s table, there is such a thing as a free lunch of grace and forgiveness. The cost of giving up your life for the sake of the gospel is outweighed by the irrational truth that you will get back more than you gave. Giving over your life for the sake of Jesus will get you back more life than you started with. More hope, more grace, more peace, more joy, more freedom.

Friends, you are free to say “no” to all other things in your world that demand your whole life. You are free to talk back to the voices that try to tell you that if you don’t try to do it all, you won’t be successful. You are free to find your worth not in what you do, but in who you are: a beloved child of God.

And so Jesus asks you, and asks me, and asks all of us: “What will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?”

“But,” he says, “if you give your life to me, and lose your life to God’s good news, then I promise that you will have life and have it abundantly.”

May God give us the strength and wisdom to seek this life always.

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