Count the Cost
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 16, 2018
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 1:20-33; Mark 8:27-38
Our reading from Mark places us in the center of the gospel. A journey of some 15 miles puts Jesus and his disciples near Caesarea Philippi, a city rebuilt to honor Caesar, a very Roman place. From this point onward, Jesus will focus his attention on his disciples. Actually, from here on, they will be enrolled in something like Intensive Discipleship Training. Important issues must be considered: What is Jesus’ true identity? What is his true mission? What will be the implications for his disciples’ own identity and mission?[i]
On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. One commentator puts it well when she writes, “The scene looks to us like a stopover on a political campaign, where the candidate and his entourage are checking on the results of their focus groups along the way. What are folks saying? Are they getting the message?”[ii] Evidently, the disciples have heard people’s opinions. They respond: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.”
However, when Jesus shares his definition of “Messiah” foretelling of his own death, it’s too much for Peter. You see, Peter may have the right title, but he doesn’t understand what it means. He doesn’t want to hear about a suffering Messiah. Like many others, in all probability, Peter is more interested in a Messiah who will establish God’s rule; provide honor and glory to his followers—a just reward—NOW![iii] So Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t turn out well for Peter who gets called Satan before all is said and done.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus excels in many things, one of which is to draw a crowd. Wherever he goes; whatever he does, there’s a crowd near by. Today’s text is no exception. Why are they there? Might they expect a political march just around the corner? Maybe. Do they want healing? Could be. Do they suspect they are in a funeral procession? Not likely!
Now imagine, Jesus is walking along, followed closely by his disciples and he sees all those people following him. He knows their hearts. He knows many have come for the wrong reasons. It’s time for a teaching moment, so he says to the disciples and the crowd: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.”
If Jesus knows how to draw a crowd, he also knows how to get rid of one. Who wants to stick around for this? Take up a cross? Lose their life? But that’s exactly what Jesus will do—all for the sake of the gospel. Jesus will deny himself. Jesus will choose to follow the will of God—all the way to the cross. Jesus will practice what he preaches.
Taking up one’s cross is often misunderstood; trivialized by popular use. Today, we are likely to point to our arthritis, or an ill-tempered spouse—and say, “I guess that’s my cross to bear.” But Jesus isn’t talking about something that miserably happens to a person. He’s talking about a lifestyle. Through the grace of God, the cross we bear is the way we choose to look at and live out every day of our lives, while seeking to become more and more like Jesus.[iv]
Jesus offers a cautionary word to those gathered around him: “Before signing up, count the cost!” We, too, should take heed—we who are followers of the way. Are we willing to give up that which is dearest to us, our plans, our hopes and dreams, our resources, and toss them aside if it means that not to do so will keep us from the path God has chosen for us? Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross and live a cross-bearing life?
It’s certainly not a popular way of living. One writer notes, “In America we don’t know much about self-denial. We know about self-fulfillment. We know about selfishness. We know about consumerism. Two roads stand before us today. There is the way of the divine things, which is the way of Christ. And there is the way of human things. There is a way to save your life, but you will lose it there. And there is a way to lose your life for the sake of the Kingdom, and there you will find it.”[v]
“Losing your life” defines the whole of Jesus’ ministry and mission. And like Jesus, at one time or another, haven’t we experienced losing our life only to receive it back again? Allow me to provide an example: When our church provides food to someone though our Break Bread Together program, we are giving something away, right? We are “losing” time. We are “losing” resources. Yet, don’t we receive even more? We feel joy because we are participating in a story bigger than ourselves—the gospel story of caring for the needy for Christ’s sake. We know God’s blessings because we are doing the work of our Abba Father and it is good.
David Lose calls this way of receiving unexpected rewards through sacrifice “inverted logic.” It’s a logic that goes against the logic of the world. The wisdom the world offers will have us believing that there is security in possessions and power. The world’s logic operates on the notion of absolute scarcity. We are pitted against one another in a winner-takes-all competition for goods, meaning, and love. Yet, the way of Jesus is a different “way.” Jesus will have us give of ourselves; Jesus will have us put others first; Jesus will have us take up burdens on behalf of another. Lose concludes that it’s no wonder Jesus is rejected by the people. He’s not just an unusual king—he’s the anti-king—almost the opposite of the kings of the world. I suppose it should come as no shock that his kingdom is still having trouble attracting applicants.[vi]
So, what is the cost for us? Some of us may face unpleasant comments about church being a waste of time or the rehashing of the latest scandal involving some preacher—with the conclusion that all Christians are hypocrites. Some of us may have to reconsider our priorities—how do we use the time, financial resources, and spiritual gifts that God has given each of us? For people on the way—every day—there are choices to be made.
In a poem, Robert Frost writes,
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…”
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[vii]
Will we choose the way less traveled; the way of Christ? Hardships? There will be some. But bounteous blessings will be ours, too—poured down like rain—in this life and in the next when we will see Jesus in all his glory, seated with his Abba Father and the holy angels.
But for now, here we are, fellow travelers on the way. We have the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and our Guide. We have the church as a community of faith to celebrate with us when joys abound; to help us see life and love and hope when our vision gets a little cloudy; to hold us up when we can’t stand on our own, to give of ourselves—our time, talents and treasures—all for the love of Christ. The church, the Bride of Christ, is just one of the many gifts Jesus offers to the world. How blessed a people we are—to know Jesus as our Brother, our Lord, our Messiah, our Savior! Amen.
[i] The Lectionary Commentary, ed. Roger E. Van Harn, 230.
[ii] Sharon H. Ringe, Feasting on the Word, 71.
[iii] Harry B. Adams, Feasting on the Word, 70.
[iv] Van Harn, 403-406.
[v] Mickey Anders at http://lindynuggets.blogspot.com/2012/09/pentecost-16b-september-16-2012.html
[vi] David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=616
[vii] Robert Frost at http://lindynuggets.blogspot.com/2012/09/pentecost-16b-september-16-2012.html
*Cover Art by Stushie; used by Subscription