A sermon preached at the United Parish of Upton on September 13, 2015
Mark 8: 27-38 . . . for what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The other day I read an article about a couple who’ve chosen to live in the Victorian era. That’s right, even though they are physically present in twenty-first century Washington state, they’ve given up electricity, refrigerators, indoor plumbing, washing machines…. And comfortable clothes…. So they can write with a dip pen, read by oil lamp (and wash the chimney’s every morning, I expect), and move around town on big wheel bicycles.
They’re not Sturbridge Village re-enactors, who go home at night and take a hot shower before sitting down to a cold drink and a baked chicken in a heated home. They do this 24/7, and glory in the work of emptying the pan of melted water under their icebox.
I’m going to step out on a limb, here, and say that these two people are living in a romantic dream…romantic and, for that matter, inconsistent, given that they use the internet, maintain a blog. I bet that when they go to the dentist, they ask for novocaine – and I hope both of them vote, even though in Victorian times, she would not have been allowed to do so.
They also want us to know that they understand themselves to be closer to the ethical center of life, that they use fewer of the world’s resources by wearing wool and cotton, and so on. From that, I gather they’ve never actually studied the working conditions in late Victorian-era mills, or thought about the conditions under which that cotton was harvested and so on.
We like what we like and we especially like what gives us comfort. For these two people, comfort comes in corsets and long underwear.
For others – maybe even most of us – one place comfort is found in our real or idealized memories of home. I can’t give those two Victorians too much of a hard time; whenever I really miss my grandmother’s kitchen, all I need to do is go over to Sturbridge and visit the farmer’s home… we had more upholstered furniture, but the kitchen is familiar and reminds me in so many ways of that place I loved so much.
Today’s lesson from Mark is all about comfort. It’s just not the kind of comfort that two Victorians might recognize, not the kind of comfort that the nostalgia of Sturbridge offers us. It’s not even the kind of comfort Peter was looking for.
We’re not all that different: mostly, comfort, home – that idealized, remembered, theoretical (or even actual) home of our hearts is all about comfort. If we had it we remember it with love; if it wasn’t there, we wish it had been or we’re angry because it wasn’t, and maybe we dream that “if only”, it would have been.
Comfort, safety, security, home — and then Jesus, poking his head in the door to ask a question. “Who do you say that I am?”
Well, Peter, by then, knew the right answer. “You are the Messiah.” Jesus reacted the way Peter expected by saying “shh; we don’t want anyone to hear you”. And so Peter assumed that the home Jesus was building, building by becoming the Messiah, would be like the dreams they all had of a place where the rich were thrown down and the poor took over (Peter was poor. . . ). It would be a place where they could give up the tough work of fishing and become tax collectors, raking in the coins. It would be good; it would be comfortable; it would be the home of their dreams.
Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man (that is, the Messiah), must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.
That’s no way to mount a revolution! It’s no way to build that comfortable home for which Peter yearned. And so, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!
My older grand-niece started school this week. She has a loving home, two great parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles & cousins who have surrounded her with love all her life. She even has the world’s most patient dog. Her home is indeed a haven of comfort and a place of peace. But if you look closely, it’s the most challenging, discomforting place she’s ever been. Sure, she’s loved, but she’s had to learn to stand up for herself, literally. Last year, her parents upset the apple cart by giving her a baby sister; oops, she’s no longer the only, well-loved offspring. And now, just as she’s gotten that kid under some control (she thinks! Her sister has learned to walk. . . ) she’s off to school.
We’d like to think that at least the best homes are places of constant comfort, but I want to suggest that the best places are places of constant challenge, of growth and outreach, of change and adaptation.
That’s what Peter learned. He learned that everything he’d ever known about what makes life worth living was built on a flawed foundation. The best life wasn’t one that said “what works for me is what works for you.” It turns out the best life is built on this: “what matters to you, matters to us”.
It turned out that home wasn’t a musty refuge like a dog’s bed, festooned with what had worked well years ago, little bits of this and that. Home is where we get the strength to go out and serve our world.
Peter whined to Jesus; he tried to get him to change, to give up this self-denying, self-sacrificing idea, and Jesus told him to step to the rear, to stop tempting him. Then Jesus said: “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?
Life, the good life, the profitable life, the worthwhile life, is not about a total abandonment to comfort, but instead it’s about putting others first, not about self-indulgence, but about listening to the other. Jesus asks what the point is if, in our search for money, power, reputation and things, we lose that essential sense of home – real home, grounded home – that gives all we live and do its true value.
Because home really isn’t about a physical place, or even a particular gathering of people. It’s about the spirit we bring to those places, to those gatherings. For some of us, home is our AA group, family the friends we eat lunch with every week.
Good home, true home, points us outward, calls us to leave behind that which holds us back, invites us to reach out beyond our comfort zone.
Good home, true home, welcomes the refugee, reaches out to the different, stands up for the down-trodden, speaks up for the silenced.
Jesus said it best when he said: “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?
What would it profit us to gain the whole world but waste our lives?
© 2015, Virginia H. Child