Reveal Sermon 4
January 28, 2018
Several years ago, I decided to teach my daughter how to use jumper cables. She wasn’t driving yet, but I knew it wouldn’t be long and I wanted her to be ready. If her car battery died I wanted to be sure she knew exactly what to do. Besides I had a dead battery in my truck. And I needed to take care of it. Sure, I could have called AAA. But I was a man! That made me an expert in everything auto- right? I had this!
So, I called Erin out to the driveway. And I carefully explained the steps. Put both cars in park. Turn off the engine. Attach one of the red clips to the positive terminal on your battery. Then attach the red clip to the positive terminal on the battery of the other car, attach one of the black clips to the negative terminal of the battery in the other car. Finally, attach the other end of the black clip cable to an unpainted metal surface of your car. Start the working car and let it run for a few minutes before trying to start the other car.
Secretly, I have always been a bit scared of using jumper cables. When I was learning to drive there were these stories going around of folks who got the cables reversed and the battery exploding and battery acid flying everywhere and people getting really hurt. Plus, as I shared last week, I had witnessed the hell my sister went through when she was burned. So, I literally went over the steps – three different times. I emphasized and reemphasized how you had to know what you were doing. How dangerous it was to not pay attention and that by watching closely and following my example, she would be successful and safe.
Confident that Erin had heard me, I attached the cables from battery to battery. And I fired up the car. No more than two minutes had gone by when I began to notice smoke coming out from under the hood. I remember having difficulty registering what was going on. But I was pretty sure that it was not good. Running around to the front of the car, I saw that flames had started leaping from the cable clamps. Turns out, despite all my lecturing, all my expertise, all about being a guy who knew about cars, I had attached the cables to the wrong posts. Now there were flames leaping out of the battery post and melting the rubber on the wiring of the cables. I had these visions of the whole car going up in flames, a huge fireball and smoke being seen for miles, and the neighbors coming and fire trucks. So, I grabbed the cables and yanked them off the battery posts. Which as you can imagine, burned the snookers out of my thumb and I told Erin to run for cover!
Thankfully, baring the loss of my thumb for several weeks, everything turned out okay. But to this day, Robyn laughs at me whenever I talk car. I’m sort of a legend of auto maintenance incompetence in my family! Which is fine. Because the truth is, I don’t know what I am doing. I am not an expert mechanic. And when I am ready to admit it. The world is indeed a safer place.
Where am I going with this? Well, from time to time my lack of humility gets me in trouble. The times when I protest that I am competent or an expert when I’m not, they have a way of blowing up in my face. It’s true in automobile repair. It’s true in parenting. And it’s especially true when it comes to following Jesus. The fact is, being a disciple is based upon a humble awareness of our shortcomings
Take your Bibles and turn with me to our text for this morning. It’s found in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8. We will read verses 34 to 38. Today I want to look at what it means to be a passionate seeker of God’s word. We are in the fourth week of our series on vision. For the past 12 years, we have been on the move to make a difference. And that vision has served us well. It has inspired us to dig wells in Costa Rica and work with orphans in Naivasha, Kenya. It has prompted us to feed the hungry in Orlando and repair homes in Georgia. But now the time has come to move into a new era in our church’s history. It’s time for a new vision. As Jesus said, you don’t put new wine into old wine skins. Lest they burst.
Three weeks ago, we began with our church’s mission. And we said that the WHY of FUMCWP is to make disciples. Everything we do. Every worship service, every mission trip, every group that gathers, and every class that is taught should be connected in making disciples of Jesus Christ – those that are lifelong learners of all that God says and does. Two weeks ago, we started unpacking our new vision – the HOW. It’s the picture of who we want to be and as we’re making disciples. We said it is a movement of 4 parts and we said that the first part is to be a vibrant family. A group of disciples who invite, include, equip and cares for each other. As disciples, we have a matching family outfits. One that is modeled after Christ. And unites us in our differences.
Last week we picked up the second of the four movements which is to be gracious hosts. We talked about how we all carry internal scars and how we are all in need of God’s grace and that we want to be a group of disciples who offer the grace we have received to others. Specifically, to invite others into the next step of their journey with Jesus. Today we unpack the third movement – which is to be passionate seekers of God’s Word. Specifically, we are going to look at the importance of humility and sacrifice in our relationship with Jesus. With that in mind, let’s read together. Mark 8:34-38.
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
So, Tiger Woods was back on the golf course this weekend (pic 1). Shot two under after 3 rounds at Farmers. Over the years Tiger has compiled an amazing record: 79 wins on the PGA Tour, 40 wins on the European Tour. Including 4 Masters and 3 US Opens. And yet as impressive as that is, Woods pales in comparison to the greatest golfer of all time. I am talking of course about the late Kim Jong-il, father of the current dictator of North Korea (pic 2).
According to a 2011 article in the New York Times, the man known as Dear Leader once shot a 38 under par at the Pyongyang Golf Complex. In case you are golf-speak challenged like me, let me translate. The average golfer shoots somewhere around 90. A 34 is nothing short of miraculous. Not only that, according to 17 security guards that were present, Kim Jong-il actually nailed 11 holes in one in that one round of golf. That’s a probability of 12 septillions to 1. Or 12 followed by 24 zeros. According to legend it was his first and only round of golf. He actually putted with his opposite hand with a putter that he designed 20 years before in case he was ever to take up the sport. Of course, it’s also said that Kim could talk to dolphins and could change the weather with his mind. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/21/sports/remembering-kim-jong-ils-ventures-into-the-sporting-world.html)
It’s easy to look at someone like Kim Jong-il and laugh at his obvious attempt to pass himself off as something he was not. And yet don’t we do the very same thing? Ever presented yourself in a light that was more favorable than fact? Maybe not to that extreme. Ever acted like you had it all together when you did not? And I’m not talking car batteries and jumper cables here. Ever tried to convince yourself that the white lie you told, the unkind thing you said, the plea for help you ignored was no big thing? When deep down you knew that it was? Ever tried to convince others you were smarter, stronger, more significant than you really are? We have all fallen into the trap of misrepresenting ourselves to others. And even to ourselves.
The problem of course is that the longer we glass over our shortcomings, the more we pass by our brokenness, the more we insist that everything is just fine, the less we’re going to need God. In his book, The Dusty Ones, A.J. Swoboda tells of meeting a missionary who had served in countries all over the world. She told him that when you go to places where everyone has their needs and wants met, the percentage of people who believe in or worship God goes down. But she pointed out that in places where people do not have their basic needs and wants met, they are more likely to believe in and worship God. In other words, there is a reason why the first of the 12 steps of recovery begin with a confession of being powerless. It is not by accident that our communion service begins with a confession of the ways we have failed to live up to God’s will. That’s because as Swoboda puts it, God only makes sense to those who need him (The Dusty Ones, A.J. Swoboda, Baker Books, 2016. P. 113).
This is why Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” In Jesus’ day, everyone knew what the cross meant. The cross was an instrument of death. It meant that eventually you would die for the cause. Today the cross reminds us that He died. It tells us of God’s love for us. God went to extraordinary lengths to give us freedom from the bondage we were into sin, brokenness and death, despite our natural fear and distrust of God. Finally, the cross stands for our inability to overcome these things on our own. In other words, the cross reminds us of our great need for God.
In his book on St Francis, Eager to Love, by Richard Rohr, he talks about the genius of St. Francis and his focus on the path of salvation – in which he called a spirituality of imperfection. Francis understood that works of righteousness, so to speak, or practices of holiness. That far from it any ladder to climb would appeal to our ego. That the path to salvation laid through imperfection, through the cross, if you will. Through Christ and our humble acknowledgment of our fears and our brokenness and our hang ups. For by grace you are saved through faith. And that not of yourselves. It is a gift from God. Not of works. So that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9. I ask you this morning, do you need mercy? Rohr says that mercy is the one true boarding pass to salvation. Do you recognize your dependence upon God? Passionate seekers of God’s word never forget their dependence upon God. It’s what makes us seekers in passionate seekers.
Second, passionate seekers are increasingly self-forgetful. “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will find it.
Jesus has just fed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. Not only had everyone eaten until they were satisfied. There were actually 7 baskets of left-overs and Jesus has just restored the sight of a blind man. He has spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on them until the man could see. In the few short months after his baptism, Jesus has made a deaf man hear. And a demon-possessed man sane. He has raised a little girl from the dead. And now people were coming from all around. Hoping that somehow, they might receive healing from Rabbi Jesus.
It’s in this context that Jesus calls the crowd to gather around him and says to them – if anyone wants to follow me you must deny yourself, take up their cross and follow me. The Greek word for denying is a-par-NEIGH-oh-my. It roughly translates – to forget one’s self. Or to lose sight of one’s own interests. Which must have been the last thing those around Jesus were expecting to hear. After all, it was their needs that drew them to Jesus. Just as it is our needs that draw us to Jesus. Jesus makes the distinction between coming to him and following him. It’s different when you want to come to me but if you want to walk with me you’re going to have to increasingly look over your self-interests.
Jesus says that following him involves an increasing amount of self-forgetfulness. One author I read compared this idea to that of out-growing the terrible twos. Remember the terrible twos when the entire universe revolves around you and around your needs and wants. It’s a time of great defiance. And it’s a time of gradually learning that others exist. Every parent has a war story of the defiance of their toddler. Of course, there are some thirty-two-year old’s and some fifty-two-year old’s who are still learning this. Most of us learn to recognize that there are other people who have needs that are not the same as ours. We have to in order to mature and thrive. The same is true for us spiritually. (www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/sermons/2012/february/denyability.html). For when we come to Jesus it is all about our wants and our needs. The goal is to mature and realize that it is God’s will and other’s needs. This is what we mean about increasing self-forgetfulness.
One of the sermons I read this week, the author was talking about looking in the mirror. Disciples are those that look at themselves and say, I am not the one that I follow. I am not the one that I worship.
Practically speaking denying ourselves might look like saying to ourselves, “I may want to be treated well, but I’m going to put on an apron and serve. Or I may think I should go first, but I will go last. Or I might feel like giving her a piece of my mind, but this is a time when Jesus would be silent.” Passionate seekers look over and beyond their own self-interests.
So, my challenge this week is to grow in your own self-forgetfulness. Specifically, choose an interest that you want to look at less. Or the need to be seen as the most intelligent or most interesting person in the room. It might be the need to feel secure through our bank account. Or to control our relationships so we feel important. Choose a behavior or a self-interest that you want to forget about and choose a new habit to help you move on. To help us with that, we are going to pass out cards again. This time with the logo of passionate seekers on the front. And then on the back two words: BE and DO. This week I encourage you to take a few minutes of prayer and fill it out. The BE is a passionate seeker of God’s Word. The DO is the behavior of practice you will undertake to increasingly forget a self-interest. For example, if it is my need to be right that I want to address, as a passionate seeker, I will make an effort to not put in the last word. Or to listen more than I speak. If I want to work on my need to feel secure through my bank account, as a passionate seeker of God’s Word I will make a generous donation to someone in need. I challenge you to fill this out and tuck it in your wallet or in your phone case and pull it out each morning at breakfast to remind yourself.
The goal is to become very clear where your priorities lie. To be clear of things you need to let go of. The story that speaks to me about this is that of Thomas Nelson Jr (pic 30). He was an elected governor of Virginia and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In October of 1781, General Cornwallis marched his British troops into Yorktown. The patriots to the south had wreaked havoc on his army, and he was hoping to rendezvous with the British Navy on Chesapeake Bay. American and French troops, anticipating Cornwallis’s plan, pounded them with cannon fire, while the French fleet cut off escape by sea. History says that Nelson, gathered the men, he pointed to a beautiful brick home on the outskirts of Yorktown and explained that it was his home. And that Lord Cornwallis had set up the British headquarters inside. And he told the American artillerymen to open fire on his own house. As legend has it, he even offered 5 pounds to the first one who hit it.
Now that’s extreme. Or is it? Here is the point. Thomas Nelson was clear about the greater priority. He knew what he had to forget about. He was all in. I ask you this morning. Are you clear about your priorities? Are you willing to trade your own agenda for God’s agenda? Are you all in as a passionate seeker? Passionate Seekers never forget their need for Christ. And Passionate Seekers increasingly self-forgetful, that leaves them to be passionate in their seeking.
The truth is, Jesus has called us to a way of the cross. And it’s critical that we recognize this. Because we aren’t just jumping a car. We are not talking about a dead battery. We are living body of Christ in this world. We are his hands and feet of Christ to our neighbor. So, I am going to deny myself. I am going to take up my cross. I am going to be a Passionate Seeker.
How about you? How about you?