For the 2018 Lenten Journey, I am excited to once again be creatively collaborating with Little Britain United Church. Each worship service and blog will be informed by a resource created by Matthew L. Kelly, who is currently in ministry at Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, USA. I pray that this “Giving It Up” Lenten Journey proves of interest and nurtures the gift of this ongoing conversation with you seekers and readers, who continue to graciously extend trust by engaging with A Deacon’s Musing blog.
23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 9.1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
It’s not often that all four of the New Testament Gospels agree, let alone reflect almost the exact same words attributed to Jesus. Contrary to what you might have heard, each of the Gospels represents a different experience of the Early Church. As well, they also, at times, present stories that are not in agreement. Their contexts were indeed quite different from one another. In these cases, therefore, you just need to read the translations above to get a sense of the similarities.
Now, some might assume that based on this shared text, it might be easy to explain the meaning. The text may be similar because it is, indeed, an important teaching. It does not, however, mean it’s all that simple to explain, particularly within the confines of a blog. With that tension in mind, I outsourced this blog for some help.
For the last ten years (and a bit), I have had the great gift to gather with others who offer leadership in different Christian contexts and denominations. As I was hosting this group, I had a question: so, what does Giving Up Our Lives mean? If it’s a central tenant of our faith, which clearly it is, what does it mean to let one’s life go?
I cannot do justice to the richness of our hour-and-a-half conversation, so I hope some of the highlights below might help us better appreciate both the exploration and the range of possibilities:
- One of the nuances we explored was between “giving up” and “letting go.” One of the interesting responses, in the context of “Our Lives,” was the sense that the former seemed like slavery or being controlled, whereas the latter felt more freeing. Letting go of one’s life, it seemed, was liberating;
- We discussed how the text has been used to control people—historically and now–to shape them into what others wanted, hence, the idea of being controlled;
- As well, we discussed the idea that to give up one’s life is not just an abstract idea, but it is a literal invitation to become, what the theologian Gregory Baum might call, more fully human. To be more human, Baum would contend, is to awaken to compassion, both for oneself and for other people. To see fewer divisions between oneself and the Other. To become aware that my connexion to you is not simply an intellectual exercise, but one with literal implications; and,
- By extension, awakening to the possibility of seeing less “us and them” and more “we.” We acknowledged in this fractious time in our politics in which the anchors of civil society and discourse feel under pressure, letting go of one’s life allows us to recognise the illusions of the divisions that are too often dominant in the public dialogue that surrounds us.
Thinking back on our gathering, two words seem to connect our conversation: relationship and community. Giving Up my own stuff, my own life, leads me to recognize that I am in relationship with Others. Following this further, with more intention, Others is not just the human community, therefore, but a relationship with all of Creation. And lest this feel like we were stuck in some heady space, it became clear this relationship and care for Creation can place our own lives in danger for the sake of helping and/or protecting someone/thing else.
Compassion, as Robert Wright describes in the TED below, is the act of “moral imagination.” The more we consider the implications of compassion, we recognise it as an ever-expanding wave. Moral imagination invites us to recognise connexions that ebb well beyond own lives and our own experiences. This is not to deny the reality that our experiences inform our stories, but to appreciate that our stories are not limited to our own individual experiences. Rather, when we begin to share them, when we start to deeply listen, our interconnectedness becomes more apparent.
As we let go of the illusion of lives constructed in siloed individuality, what is revealed is a freedom that intimately links my well-being to yours. How we live those implications becomes an act of co-creating with one another. This collaborative endeavour is what Christians might understand as the kingdom now.
Words sometimes fail to capture the richness of souls in dialogue. I am not sure how well I have shared this recent conversation. If, perhaps, I have offered some sense of that experience, then maybe the song by Pharrell (video below), Freedom, might present a way to pause our unfolding Lenten conversation which such lyrics as: