Generosity: A Measure of Discipleship (3/4/12)

05 Mar

2nd Sunday in Lent (B)

Mark 8:31-38

Immediately before these verses, Peter had this great insight as to who Jesus actually is. You are the Messiah. But the next thing Jesus says to him, in our text today, is, Get behind me, Satan! Does that bother anyone else but me? Satan? Really? If Peter said something incorrect, why doesn’t Jesus just say, Good try, Peter, but that’s not quite right. Thanks for a really good effort, though. Let’s work on this together, OK? But, no, he calls him Satan. That doesn’t square with our common perception of Jesus as nice guy and good teacher.

I give Peter the benefit of the doubt, here. When someone you care about talks about dying, the natural human response is for us to not want that to happen. Peter takes Jesus aside and tells him so. It’s just human. And Jesus blasts him for it.

Because here’s the deal: what Jesus is saying about his coming death and resurrection is so desperately important that he simply can’t afford to be nice. There isn’t time. It’s like a child starting to run out into the street. You aren’t so worried about being polite, you simply grab them however you can and pull them back to safety.

That’s the sense of urgency here. The difference between divine things and human things is that important. It’s life and death. Get behind me, Satan!

So as far as Peter’s rebuking Jesus, just because something is a common or even an expected human response doesn’t make it good, right, or Godly. In fact, often the divine things fly in the face of common sense and human expectations.  “The last shall be first.” “Love your enemies.” “Leave the 99 sheep to go look for the 1 who is lost.” “Give to everyone who asks.” “God’s Messiah must be rejected, suffer, die, and be raised.” Jesus adds another one right here, those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Let’s bring this home: I don’t think Jesus is talking about losing your life as in dying, but more losing the things that we think will give us life. When someone talks about “living the good life,” don’t we usually think that means having lots of money, financial comfort and security, and surrounding ourselves with the good things money can buy? In our human culture, it makes sense to us that more money equals better life. So we talk that way, live that way, and all seem to agree. We do whatever we can to make more money and to keep more money. Because we believe that having more will give us a better life.

Then when Jesus throws the divine thinking on us, saying something about giving away so much that we have to adjust our good lifestyle, we either ignore him as “oh, that silly Jesus,” or, just like Peter we quietly take him aside and rebuke him. C’mon, Jesus. You know that can’t be true. I work hard because I only want to provide good things for my family. Surely you’re not saying that my children should do without, are you?

And Jesus replies, Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

But Jesus, I’ve got to provide for my kids. College expenses will be coming up. I’ve got to save for retirement, don’t I? That’s just being responsible!

And Jesus replies, For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. It’s that important.

Since so much of our culture, our identity, our sense of what life is about is tied directly to how we feel about money, I think that’s one of Jesus’ primary targets for us. We have accepted the notion that more money equals more life, but Jesus says that’s the type of human thinking that leads only to death. Get behind me, Satan. It’s that urgent.

When it comes to money, the divine thing in the face of our human thinking is generosity. The nature of God is that God gives us everything, constantly, continuously. Whether we deserve it or not, whether we believe in God or not, whether we go to church or not, whether we are generous or not—God is generous to us. The gifts of creation are constant. As Martin Luther wrote in the explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed,

I believe that God has created me together with all creatures. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. God does all this out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

Forgiveness and unconditional love are given to us day after day after day. And it’s not that God sits back and doles this out to us out of some excess reserve. The divine nature of God’s generosity means that God gives God’s own Son, the Son gives his own life, for our sake.

We’re still early in Lent, this season of deliberately changing our minds from human things that we believe give life to divine things that actually do. So let’s get specific about that. Jesus tells us in this text that if we want to become his followers, we would deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

This Lent, why not make a conscious move from saving our lives to losing them? This Lent, why not try giving more and keeping less? Biblically, a general guide for generosity is giving away 10% of our income; at least in the Old Testament. The New Testament refers to giving away everything. But 10% is a pretty good gauge, I’ve discovered. So try it. If you’re already giving away 10%, try 15%. Outrageous generosity is a divine thing. See what happens when we set our minds not on human concept of having more, but the divine concept of giving more. Try it this Lent. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? It’s that important. It’s that urgent.

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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Sermon


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