In the world of antiques and collectibles, things don’t have value unless someone wants them. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been making a half-hearted stab at organizing and packing non-essentials for the eventual move from the parsonage to a new home. In nine years, the house has become full of things – some necessary, some frivolous, but most having some meaning at least to me. Also in the last nine years, my home has become a place for my mother’s things amongst which are a few choice items from my grandmother including linens, glassware and pottery pieces.
I suppose, as these items came to me, they took on whatever value I gave them. In other words, I liked some of what I’d been given but not all of it. Held back from taking some radical measures and disposing quickly of the things I didn’t like by my mother’s insistent dictate to me, which went something like this: “Don’t throw anything away or get rid of it until I’m dead and buried”, I now find myself in the unfortunate role of having become a reduced version of the weekly star from the newest show focusing on hoarding. I’m not quite in the realm of “buried alive” but I do now have to make choices and I’ll have to make them whether my mother lives on or not. Just don’t tell her. One way or the other, I’m going to have to downsize.
The passage from Mark is an interesting one because it asks the question, which we all need to answer: “what do you and I value.” Where do we place our lives? What are we willing to sacrifice or forfeit for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, when it comes to our faith, “what’s it worth to us?” Christ’s life takes on renewed meaning in the lives of those who have chosen to follow him but the price for them is high. If they seek to save their own lives rather than stand with Christ, they will surely forfeit the very prize they seek to save. It’s easy enough to get self-protective, as Peter’s words and actions quickly prove. One moment Peter is claiming Christ the Messiah; the next he is demonstrating he really has no idea what the consequences of such a confession might mean, not only for Christ but for Peter. As one commentator dares to suggest:
“As long as self reigns, we will forever be seeking painless shortcuts
to the kingdom. We will try and try again to substitute another way
for the way of the cross. But only when we deny self and take up the
cross can we follow Jesus. All our efforts to make another way are a
denial of the one who showed us the way, the way of the cross. This
is true discipleship.”[i]
It’s probably a fair statement to say most of us don’t like the cross much. On one hand, we want it to adorn our churches but, on the other hand, we aren’t sure we want it to define our faith. And the reality of our faith is we must acknowledge the necessity of the cross for without it not much of what we believe works. Christ gave his life on the cross so we would never have to see our lives as worthless and without value.
The same commentator writes: “When we are finally willing to accept Jesus for who he is, the suffering one who lays down his life for others, then we can understand who we are to be, and denying self, we can take up the cross and follow him. [ii] My home has many reminders of Christ’s self- giving act on the cross. I probably have a cross in every room in the house including the bathrooms. Some were gifts. One I bought in Nicaragua many years ago. One has the imprint of the rising dove to remind me of the Holy Spirit. One is an imprinted on a lovely poem framed as a holy reminder of the gift of life Christ gave with his life. Just as we need the cross to fully appreciate the birth and life of Jesus Christ; we need the season of Lent, this time of preparation, reflection, prayer, and gratitude to fully embrace and know the blessing of a risen Lord on Easter morning. There is worth and value in the cross and ever present reminder of our worth and our value in the eyes of a loving God. God gives us the greatest sacrifice in Jesus Christ – life, death, and life again. We are offered the same blessing – to give our lives away in order that we will discover the worth and value God has placed on our very existence. This is, in Paul Tillich’s words, the cross points to the saving love of God for humanity. [iii]
[i] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 W. Hulitt Gloer, p. 73
[ii] Ibid., p. 73
[iii] Ibid., Paul C. Shupe, p. 70