Rev’d Jonathan Gale
“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
I suppose Hagar in giving up her son by abandoning him under a bush in the desert, is a good example of somebody giving up. We’re programmed to fight, or if the danger is too great, to flee, but seldom is our instinct to give up – especially our life.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus said Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15: 13)
We face many endings in our lives, some which suggest themselves naturally and others which we have to work at.
I have spoken before about the Ronald Rolheiser book I’m reading for the fifth time called, The Holy Longing. He speaks in it of dying to certain things to which we cling so that in doing so we can be blessed. These are things which naturally present themselves but which we don’t always give up on.
He speaks of:
- The death of our youth
- The death of our wholeness
- The death of our dreams
- The death of our honeymoons
- The death of a certain idea of God and church
The principle he is talking about is not clinging to things that in our lives have passed their use-by date. He says, “We face many deaths within our lives and the choice is ours as to whether those deaths will be terminal (snuffing out life and spirit) or whether they will be paschal (opening us to new life and new spirit.” Paschal of course refers to Easter and resurrection.
He then implies that the reason Jesus would not allow Mary Magdalene to cling to him after he was resurrected was because she was clinging to the idea of him she had known before, not to the resurrected Lord.
He imagines her reflecting on this with these words,
I want to cling, despite your protest
cling to your body
cling to your, and my, clingable humanity
cling to what we had, our past.
But I know that … if I cling
you cannot ascend and
I will be left clinging to your former self
… unable to receive your present spirit.
He’s talking about a realisation that God always has something better for us but that we need to let go of the old in order to receive the new.
Then there are things which we don’t naturally give up. Especially because the Fall – the coming of sin into the world – has infected us in ways that are not helpful.
In the Romans reading Paul talks about baptism as a symbolic act that allows the old life (essentially the self-centred life that is not submitted to God) to be crucified and buried with Jesus in order that we might live the resurrection life of Jesus. We give up something in order to gain something better.
This takes faith because at the heart of discipleship is trusting that what gets removed will be replaced by something better. When Jesus says, 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it he is talking about exactly this – understanding that the self-centred, greedy, acquisitive, grasping life (even though it might seem like the thing that will benefit us most) is in fact less pleasurable, less meaningful, less satisfying than the life that dies to self-centredness and opens up to the life of Jesus.
I have shared before about the words of my Old Testament professor (one Victor Bredenkamp) at his retirement party. He said, “I have always maintained that the true pleasures in life are intellectual and spiritual.” Of course as a twenty year old I thought, “Yeah, right.” I had no idea just how correct he was. And I’m still learning how correct he was.
When Jesus says, 34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword, the main victim of that sword is the un-crucified self-centred life that is reluctant to give up the third rate for the first class.
On Thursday Holly mailed out Day One, and in the accompanying email I inserted a link to a short You Tube talk by Graham Cooke on judgement. In this he explains that when God judges us it is in order to overwhelm us with something better. That is how things work in this dispensation of grace.
But it takes a step of faith to give up what we think has served us well. Partially it’s because we have grown blind to how badly what we cling to has served us, and partly because we can’t easily visualise what God will replace it with. So letting go of the selfish in order to take hold of what God says is better, takes courage – and faith.
Then there is another kind of giving up which is different from the other two. This is what we need to leave behind in order to move forward.
Paul was determined to make progress in the Christian life. He tells the church in Philippi, 12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;* but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved,* I do not consider that I have made it my own;* but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly* call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3: 12 – 14)
But I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own says Paul.
Jesus has made us his own. So, having been made his own, what are we to press on to make our own? It’s the goal for the prize of the heavenly* call of God in Christ Jesus.
That entails a step of faith as we allow Jesus to be Lord of every aspect of our lives, especially those areas we cling to and which we know are not necessarily good for us, the things we have settled for, the things which we accommodate and sometimes don’t realise are holding us back.
We all want to get rid of what is not good for us, but letting go is critical before we can receive what is better. The idea of being baptised into Jesus’ death is scary. But that‘s what needs to happen before we can receive his resurrection life.
It’s an ongoing process as we press on to Christian maturity. May God grant us all the faith to let go of our lives for Jesus’ sake, so that we may find them for Jesus’ joy – and, and this is often what we find so hard to visualise – our own joy!
Genesis 21: 8 – 21
Romans 6: 1b – 11
Matthew 10: 24 – 39