Do-It-Yourself Religion

    Mar 15, 2015

    Passage: Genesis 17:1-7

    Keywords: genesis, mark


    Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16  &  Mark 8:31-38

    Do you remember the comedian, Yakov Smirnoff? When he first came to the U.S. from Russia when was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powered milk – you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice – you just add water and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, “What a country!”

    I sometimes think that powdered Christianity, or powdered discipleship is what most of the world desires. Wouldn’t you like a quick fix to sin? Come to church like you go to the grocery store, just add water and you are an instant Christian disciple!

    We have our sacraments and one of them involves water but neither of them is an instant cure or a guarantee of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. Disciples are slowly raised through many trials, suffering and temptations.

    In Mark, Peter has just declared his belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! Jesus was impressed and went on to tell him and the other disciples what it meant to be the messiah. He told them that he was going to rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again!

    Peter rebuked him, taking him aside to do so (not wanting the others to hear his disagreement with the rabbi). Jesus was as angry as he ever was when he answered Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

    And he said this loud enough to be heard by the others and then he explained what he meant. (Though like many of his explanations, he was not understood.)

    One of the most famous quotes from the New Testament follows: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

    There is no such thing as an instant Christian, nor an easy way to live your life as a disciple of Christ. It calls for a radical understanding of God and the lengths to which God goes to prove his love. It also calls for a life that, like Christ’s life, mirrors the image of God in which we were created. It means to deny oneself, but here is where we get in trouble and here is where most people turn in their membership cards because they think that to deny oneself is to do without, and live the life of a pauper and deny oneself of all the pleasures that life offers. Most also think that they must end up dead; that the road of discipleship leads to martyrdom. (A term that has taken on a negative connotation in the light of the radicalized Muslims who commit suicide while taking others with them).

    This statement uttered by Jesus becomes a fork in the road for most Christians. Remember what that great font of wisdom, Yogi Berra, said: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

    This is the fork in the road in the gospel of Mark, for it is at this point that Jesus’ ministry takes a decisive turn toward the cross. Jesus seems to know what he is doing and where he is going. But for the disciples they look at this and want to take another way from Jesus and insist that Jesus follow them!

    They want a “do it yourself religion” that will follow their pre-conceived notions about the Messiah and the power that will go to his disciples. They wanted to train to lead, not to be disciples.
    In Matt. 20 Jesus tells them as he was going up to Jerusalem what was going to happen to him and still, the sons of Zebedee asked to have the seats of favor and authority when Jesus came into his kingdom. All the disciples seemed to ignore what Jesus was telling them. They couldn’t imagine the Messiah being hung on a tree. They couldn’t imagine a powerful man not using his power to overcome his enemies by force. If they couldn’t imagine it for Jesus, how would they be able to accept it for themselves? Jesus came to serve and those who want to be greatest must be the least! The greatest is the slave……

    But what does it mean to deny yourself?

    This is not the easiest of Christ’s concepts to understand. Karoline Lewis, professor of N.T. at Lutheran Theological in St. Louis says it rubs against her incarnational theology that says who I am matters to God! She asks, “And Jesus wants me to deny that? She says she worked really hard to “be me” and she’s not ready to give that up now.

    So denying oneself is to deny yours selfishness when it rescinds relationship. You deny autonomy when it refuses community, and you deny your individualism when it rejects intimacy.

    We are so bound to how we think the world sees us….

    Here’s a little joke:

    A small plane halfway to its destination when the engines started sputtering and failing. The pilot came out from behind the curtain with a parachute on his back. “Friends, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is we’re going to crash. The good news is there are several parachutes here along the wall. The bad news is there are 5 of you and only 4 parachutes. So you’ll have to work it out among yourselves. Thank you for choosing our airline when you had so many choices in air travel. I wish you a very pleasant evening…and with that he was out the door.

    Woman: I am one of the most prominent brain surgeons in America. My patients depend on me.

    Man: I am a prominent lawyer and partner in a huge practice. They would fall to pieces without me.

    Man: I am the smartest man in the world. My IQ is so high that if I mentioned it, it would just make you feel inferior. I’m too important to the world.

    Just two left and one was a Presbyterian minister who looked at the other a teenage boy and said, “Son you take the last parachute. Your young and you have your whole life ahead of you. I’ve had a good run and I’ll take the fall on this one. God bless you and safe landing.

    The teen looked at the older man and said, “Thanks Rev, that means a lot to me. But there are two parachutes left. The smartest man in the world grabbed my backpack!

    We cling to some identity and sense of purpose in life as if our lives depended on it!

    Deny yourself and take up your cross, not your parachute……The cross is God choosing human relationships. The cross represents God’s commitment to humanity. To not take it up is to think only of ourselves.

    We are not meant to survive on our own, or for that matter just for our families. We are called to be a community of believers. To deny our selfish selves that refuses community; the self that thinks it can survive on its own….the self that rejects the deep need of humanity – belonging!

    Jesus’ charge is not to deny the true self. It is an invitation to imagine that yourself needs the other. Desperately. Intimately. Because that is what to be human is all about --- intimacy, belonging, relationship. Jesus is calling us to leave the self-absorbed existence, narcissism, where others exist to be used rather than loved and cherished.

    With this I close: You can’t live in this world the way that God intends us to live without denying the selfish self, the fearful and shameful self and being in relationship with the world.

    If you seek intimacy with others. A vulnerability that allows closeness and trust. It begins with your relationship with God. Our creator defines life for our joy and fulfillment. Believe Him when he says that we must lose our lives to gain them. We don’t have to be the smartest people on the planet just trusting. Won’t you trust the Lord with your life?