Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sermon for Lent 2

O God, You see that of ourselves we have no strength. By Your mighty power defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul through Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

In this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus teaches us that He must suffer and die as He calls His followers to do the same. This teaching is difficult for some especially as we live in a world that seems to be so infatuated with the self.

Jean Twenge in her work Generation Me writes the following. In many ways, there’s no better time to be alive than right now. Think of all the advantages we have that earlier generations did not: television, cell phones, better medical care, computers, more education, less physical labor, the freedom to make our own choices, the ability to move to a more desirable city. These last two, however, begin to hint at an underlying problem. Our growing tendency to put the self first leads to unparalleled freedom, but it also creates an enormous amount of pressure on us to stand alone. [1]

Our affluent generation puts great value on leisure and luxury. If we must have a cross, it must be made of Styrofoam or worn as a piece of jewelry. A premium is put on comfort and ease. Thus the thrust of today is to let the self go and do as it pleases. Authors and speakers urge upon us self-affirmation, self-realization and self-fulfillment. We hear little about self-discipline and self-denial. The teachings of Jesus in this regard run contrary to the prevailing thoughts and whims of today’s thinking.

Consider the thrust of Jesus’ teaching. Real and abundant living is found in three disciplines which are found outside of the self. If you are looking for a satisfied life Jesus would suggest to us that we must deny the self, loose the self, and crucify the self.

1. Deny the self. V. 34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

A. Christ speaks of denying one’s self. John the Baptist said “He must increase, I must decrease”. To live under God’s directive we must think less of ourselves and more of Him. We need to deny ourselves for each of us are sinners. Conceived in sin we are found to be wanting. Each of us by our very nature are blind, dead, and enemies of God. We must look to Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.

B. Denial is letting go and letting God. This is increasingly more difficult to do in our present age. The world and environment in which we live is more and more focused on the self. “What’s in it for me?” the world asks. I want it my way, and I want it now. How often do we see selfish people doing it their way, on their own terms? Some call it self-gratification. What it all boils down to is the self at the center of the universe. A man wrapped up all in himself makes a very small package. Yet, this is how the world judges success and power and fame.

“The one with the most toys wins!” so says the bumper sticker, and yet all this striving leaves men broken, tired, and left wanting. For true peace and contentment we must deny the self and seek after a higher good – His name, again, is Jesus Christ. Deny the self, “He must increase, I must decrease”.

2. Lose the self. V. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

A. Saving one’s life can lead to losing it. Taking up our cross means that we simply submit to God’s will. Again, this too is something that is increasingly hard to do in our world. Just how does one take up their own cross? It’s found in obedience to the will of God. As I decrease and Christ is to increase I find myself seeking Him who died for me.

We pray so often in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done”. Do we really mean that when we pray it, or have the words become so common place? Christ has called us to obedience. We are to submit to His will. We are to walk according to His command. We are to act, as He would have us go. We follow as He leads.

B. When we loose our life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel then we shall save it. It is not seen in gaining more for the self. It’s found when we remember to keep Christ the heart and center of all that we do in our church, school, family life.

3. Crucify the self. V. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

A. There is the possibility of wasting one’s life. Years ago The United Negro College Fund had as its slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” A tragedy of life is to waste this precious once-in-a-lifetime life. Jesus called Judas Iscariot a “son of perdition” in other words a waste. Judas Iscariot was one who wasted his life. Jesus said it would have been better if he had never been born. Life can add up to zero. The Savior taught that when we try to save our lives we lose or waste them. In losing one’ life in service to Christ we reap abundant life.

B. There is a necessity of investing one’s life. Follow Jesus. That is the third and final command. “Savior lead, I follow Thee” so go the words of the hymn. We follow Jesus as He leads us into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. We follow as He leads us to the cross and empty grave giving us His life in exchange for our mortal way of doing things. The words sound simple. It takes a life of faith to live them daily. That’s why this season of Lent is so often referred to as a discipline and pilgrimage. We are on a walk with the suffering Savior. We walk with Him as He gives direction. We follow Him to the cross and empty tomb where we find in Him salvation and life. It is His death that has saved us. It is His life that He exchanges for our futile way of living. It is in His resurrection that we find what we truly need to have life and have it abundantly.

This week, as you have time, glance through the hymnal. Our hymns are a great treasury of strength to the battered Christian. Notice how the lines from the Christian’s prayer book come to life. Savior I follow on guide by Thee…Savior, lead, I follow Thee. Wherever You go I will follow, forsaking this world…to find in Thee my life my rest, Christ, crucified I come.

[1] Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and Moore Miserable Than Ever Before. by Jean Twenge, PhD © 2006 Simon & Schuster pg. 109

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