Dr. Anne M. Cameron
June 24, 2012
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
Want to save your life? Lose it. Spend it. Give it away!
Imagine if your financial advisor said, "Want to save your retirement money? I advise you to give it all away."
Or if your doctor said, "Do you want to preserve your health and your energy? Spend it all. Exhaust it."
Or if your boss said, "Do you want to hang on to all your clients, your customers? Give 'em away!"
In so many words, this is the advice Jesus gives in our gospel today. If you are puzzled by this, let's listen to the word of God in the gospel of Mark, and together let's think about what it means for us here and now:
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. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
We know this. We know the words. Fill in the blanks with me, this is one of those "out loud" non-Presbyterian things we are going to do. . .
Those who want to save their life will _______ it.
Those who lose their life for my sake, will _______ it.
We know this. We know it in our heads, but have we really considered how crazy it sounds?
Jesus' words sound crazy when we think of our lives in just one way---the way of possession. When we believe we own our lives, our relationships, our stuff. When that's our perspective, this gospel sounds just plain crazy.
Jesus is teaching a philosophy lesson here, a philosophy based on the premise that we do not own our lives. God does. This philosophy ripples out in all kinds of ways in the gospel, though the particular focus today is 'giving our lives away.' One thing we begin to realize when we take Jesus' philosophy to heart is that there are other important dimensions to life, including the life of the soul. It is the life of following Christ, a life worth spending and yes, even worth losing.
The bottom line is, God gave us life to spend, not to keep.
There once was a businessman---I think his name was Mr. Short---who owned two places of business. One small store was managed by a rough, uneducated fellow called Body. The other business, ultimately of much more promise, was kept by a high minded gal called Soul.
What did Mr. Short do in the course of his business? He did what most people would do. He paid attention where it was most needed. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Mr. Short gave most of his attention to Body. Body demanded it. He nurtured Body, took care of him, tried to give him the best. Mr. Short, on the other hand, left Soul quite alone, to fend for herself.
Any good businessman would be unwise to pour all his time, money, and attention into an inferior and unreliable apprentice, one here today, gone tomorrow. Any smart investor would be foolish to ignore his most talented, visionary, and promising employee, would he not?
Yet most of us are just like Mr. Short. We invest our profits, as we perceive them to be, in that ruffian Body (who, by the way has many nicknames---me, myself, and I, to name a few). We too seldom figure the awful loss brought about by neglecting Soul's concerns.
We invest our time, energy, and money in our comfort, achievement, pleasure. We do nearly all we can to be personally fulfilled, free of pain and anxiety. In the nurture of Self, we often find ourselves stymied. We may even (at times) find ourselves on the brink of emotional or even physical bankruptcy.
We are stymied and stumped, because our investments in this small corner shop ---run by that ruffian Body---are by their nature insecure. Bodies fail. Creature comforts come and go. Relationships? At their very best, they are marvelous. But marvelous is never forever.
There is another way, though, which is the way of the cross. God gave us lives to spend, not to hoard just for ourselves and for those whom we happen to love.
God gave us life to spend. How do we spend it?
Jesus' philosophy isn't really as "either/or" as it may seem. It isn't simply about body vs. soul, or me vs. Jesus. There is a both/and element to Jesus' philosophy, which is also, in its own way, marvelous.
We all know that when we hang on to things/people/ideas, when we hold them tightly, this backfires.
William Barclay says, "There are certain things which are lost by being kept and saved by being used. Any individual talent is like that. If it is used, it will develop into something still greater. If someone refuses to use it, in the end that talent will be lost. . . . [all of] life is like that."
Stewardship is, ultimately, about how we invest the beautiful talents, energy, lives, bodies, minds, and material things we have been given. The whole notion of stewardship rests upon the foundation that none of this is ours. Even our bodies, our very life breath, do not belong to us. They belong to God.
This is one reason we are never satisfied when we seek to keep self, rather than share it and give it away.
Henri Nouwen addressed the upside down philosophy of this gospel in this way. He calls it 'the great paradox of life':
The great paradox of life is that those who lose their lives will gain them. This paradox becomes visible in very ordinary situations. If we cling to our friends, (lovers, children) we may lose them, but if we are nonpossessive in our relationships, we will make many friends. If fame is what we seek and desire, it often vanishes as soon as we acquire it, but if we have no need to be known, we might be remembered long after our deaths. When we want to be in the centre, we easily end up on the margins, but when we are free enough to be wherever we must be, we often find ourselves in the center. Giving away our lives for others is the greatest of all human acts. This will gain us our lives.
The bottom line is, God gave us life to spend, not to keep.
So how do we go about doing this?
First, I think we have to do an inventory. Sit down with yourself and with God, and make a list. Create a balance sheet.
Consider how you are spending your life, your time, your talent, your energy, all the resources and gifts you have been given.
You may want to think about time. You have 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week. Think of your day in three eight hour chunks. 8 hours to sleep, 8 hours to work, 8 hours to do everything else. Look at that last 8 hours you have each day. How much time do you spend: eating, volunteering, studying, shopping, commuting, exercising, praying, hobbies, child care, chores, etc.
How much time is devoted to Body? How much time to Soul?
Then do the same with your budget and other material resources. How much each month is devoted to: bare necessities vs. comforts and wants, charity, savings, other? Be honest about what is a comfort, desire, or want and not a bare necessity.
Then, finally, with your talents: what is given to what purposes?
These inventories will tell us a great deal about where and how we are spending the one beautiful and precious life God has given us. Once we know where you stand, we can move slowly and carefully in the direction of doing less for SELF and more for SOUL, less for me and more for others (which means more for Jesus, too), which is the way of the cross and the way of life.