Friday, February 27, 2015

Follow the Leader

As a child, one of the games I played was “Follow the Leader.”  All children coveted the role of Leader so that they had the chance to make everyone else follow them into the trickiest places in the school ground or wherever they were playing.

This is a good analogy for the Christian life.  Last week we heard Jesus say to his disciples “Follow me!”  This morning we read of Jesus saying to his disciples that anyone who wanted to “follow him” should forget themselves and take up his cross.  This following involves getting behind Jesus and going where he goes.

There is an interesting word play, or perhaps just a coincidence, in the original words used in these texts and the text when Jesus says “Get behind me Satan” which we just read. 

To Satan Jesus says “Depart behind me”. 
To the disciples Jesus says “Come behind me” and
To the crowd and his disciples Jesus says “Follow behind me”.

In this story we read today it is clear that Peter has not yet understood who Jesus really is, nor has he understood what it means to follow after Jesus.

The Son of the Father
Mark uses this story to remind his readers again who it is that Jesus maintains the most intimate relationship.  Jesus here describes himself as the Son of Man, and makes it clear that God is his Father.

Now you will remember from last week, when we read of Jesus’ Baptism, the voice from heaven referred to Jesus as “my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says that the words God gave to Jesus at his baptism are the same words God gives to everyone.  “The words, ‘You are my Beloved’ revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings.”

God’s voice comes to everyone and declares that we are all God’s Beloved children.  That’s a beautiful insight and something we must all remember during Lent – since we have already been declared God’s Beloved and are his children, then our approach to Lenten Practices should not be made with a mind to making ourselves good enough for God.  Rather they become our heart-driven response to the God who calls us his beloved.

Keeping our Eyes on Jesus
In Mark’s gospel, there are a number of statements about discipleship and it is appropriate that we hear this one so early in Lent.

Discipleship is fundamentally about following Jesus – come behind me, or follow behind me.  The obvious consequence of this is that we will always have Jesus in view in front of us.

And in this passage he says two things about this discipleship.

Firstly, he says that we need to put our selfishness aside and fix our minds on following him – “taking up the cross” is a metaphor for discipleship.  The game of “Follow the Leader” gives us a sense that this following of Jesus might lead us into unexpected or even difficult places.  It might even mean we have to risk everything.  But if we keep our eyes on Jesus he will not let us down.

The second thing he says is that this world of his Kingdom will be rather upside down to the world we all live in. 

“If you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it.

This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of Christian discipleship.  All our instincts are to do everything we can to save ourselves and the things we love and care about.  But the life Jesus offers us can only be found when we abandon all those things.

I suppose this gives something of a hint about why people go without during Lent – as a tangible reminder that they should be willing to give up even their life for the sake of the Kingdom.  But you can see how easily this can become something that is undertaken out of fear rather than love.

Nothing is more un-Christian than having to prove we are worthy of being loved.

Instead, believe God’s voice that says, “You are my beloved.”  The journey of Lent leads us to the truth that we are already loved.  Lent isn’t primarily about giving stuff up.  Only give stuff up during Lent if it helps lead you to the truth that you are loved just as you are.  The worst thing we can do during Lent is to be tempted to earn God’s favour through self-denial.  

The Christian journey isn’t about trying to be good enough to earn God’s favour.  The Christian journey, including the Lenten journey, is about relaxing into the truth that God only relates to us like a parent who unconditionally loves her child.  As James Alison says, the Christian journey is about relaxing “into the realization that being good or bad is not what it’s about.  It’s about being loved.”

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