Dr. Greg Osterberg

Mark 8:34-37
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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world
and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
People take risks with their lives for all kinds of reasons. I myself used to take risks in
somewhat “extreme sports” — but not like this guy:
Danny MacAskill is a Scottish stunt bicyclist, maybe the best in the world, with a serious
flair for extreme mountain biking. Watch a minute, as Macaskill rides on the deathdefying
Cuillin Ridgeline, on the Isle of Skye, Scotland – his native home.
(don’t worry — he does’t crash!)
[ One minute of The Ridge, video by Danny Macaskill is shown.
This link is to the full 7-min. version.]
Now, that’s risky! But, one wonders, beside adrenaline & beauty — to what purpose?
Still, just daily living involves risks — some inherent, like driving in snow.
Some risks are purposefully chosen.
Like Dr. Craig Spencer, who returned from treating ebola patients in Guinea asymptomatic,
but later turned out to have contracted the disease.
He survived, to the applause of the nurses who cared for him…
Dr. Spencer wrote recently in
the New England Journal of
“I’m just someone who answered
a call for help and was
lucky enough to survive.”
He took a risk, because while
the United States has 245
medical doctors per 100,000
people. West African nations
have less than 2/100,000 (!)
[Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times]
Spencer writes that despite the risk and struggle of treating patients with Ebola,
“…the satisfaction I got from treating ill patients washed away my fear and made me
feel new again.”
Well, if you are trying to recruit people to a team, to a successful organization, or
to start a social movement — you might not want to start your invitation by highlighting
the risks!
But Jesus, gathers interested people, and says (to translate into equivalent 21st C.
American vernacular —
“Buckle up your electric chairs!”
That is the contextual equivalent of “Take up your cross…!”
“Jesus! — don’t say that!” — I want to blurt out!
Peter, one of Jesus’ first followers did blurt that out! Just before our little reading in
Mark, Jesus drops another “bomb-shell”: He says he will be rejected, and be killed.
“Jesus! — don’t say that!” Peter blurts out, taking him aside…
But, Jesus rebukes Peter right back, saying “…you are setting your mind not on divine
things, but on human things.”
This is not how you roll out a recruitment campaign! Who wants to follow a soon-to-be
executed leader — much less risk their life doing it?
Today, let’s come at this reading 3 ways:
1st – considering the context of Jesus, and the writer of Mark
2nd – asking how “Success” fits with Jesus;
3rd – looking at commitment and risk
First – Let’s understand Jesus’ words in context here. Mark (& other gospels) are not
“News accounts” nor transcripts from a recording.
Mark’s writer has purposes beyond reporting “facts.” Primarily it is encouraging early
disciples to remain committed as things start “heating up” against their new faith.
Mark wrote to people facing harrowing times! Risk times.
Second – Jesus never promises “success” — material or social — by following Divine
Purposes with our lives.
“”” .
That’s why Peter & Jesus really “get into it” about this. Peter clearly seems to have
pushed a button here. Maybe Jesus encountered that seductive success choice before:
alone in desert after baptism… the “Temptation.”
Clearly, his vehemence with Peter makes you wonder if Jesus wasn’t a bit tempted to
be a First Century “success”:
” ” ” — be respected Rabbi laureate
” ” ” — a renowned as a healer
” ” ” — maybe retire someday and write his memoirs…
No. Jesus turns his back on that. Jesus rebukes Peter, using same New Testament
Greek word used to “rebuke” evil spirits.
We ourselves sometimes wish God would make US “successful” though, don’t we?
Each era brings a new version of that old,
“God wants you to be rich, good-looking, and popular,” seduction.
Not that faithful people can’t be blessed with good things happening. But, that is not
God’s priority, and not our prime purpose! If anything, it is a sometime by-product, but
certainly not always. Over and over, Jesus shows or teaches his followers central priorities
for living: compassion, generosity, and respectful humility.
Jesus — touches the leper
— gives the cloak
— treats his neighbor as himself
Don’t expect that living this way will make you appreciated, or well-liked, or wealthy.
Nope: It does however make you more tuned-in to your Creator, to your purpose.
Most people who nudge the world in a better direction never win recognition. But, their
lives have meaning, purpose – they make a difference!
Third (& last) –
Commitment to God’s purposes for our lives requires risking our selves.
Not always physical risk, like those 600 marchers who, 50 years ago yesterday, left
Selma to cross a bridge over the Alabama
River, seeking voting rights.
Lawmen representing the State violently
attacked them.
The national outrage about that helped
start momentum toward the passing of
the Voting Rights Act. Today, key provisions
of that law are under attack. We
must urge Congress to protect the Voting
Rights Amendment. Raise your voice!
Take a risk…
Jesus grew up in a violent time too. Romans hung resistance leaders on crosses by the
roads not far from Nazareth. This had to make an impression on the young Jesus.
Even if Jesus’ words, “If anyone wants to follow me, let them take up their cross…”
are taken metaphorically, his words call us to risk our very selves – in New Testament
Greek, “pseuche” — our “life-energy” — risk living out God’s presence and purpose, here
and now, among us:
by affirming each person as family;
by working together for justice;
by teaching our kids that people matter most, then living that way ourselves!
This life is a pretty short ride — make it count for something — something soul-full,
something wonder-full!
People risk their lives for lesser goals: Mtn. Biking, Hang-gliding (always wanted to try
that!) People waste their soul/self for – wealth, fame, or power.
“what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” says Jesus.
Risking our selves as Jesus’ followers,
We won’t win recognition — but we’ll recognize what matters.
We won’t get rich — but we’ll have all we really need.
Join me, between now and Easter — Let’s risk our-selves for life and love,
” ” ” ” ” for people and peace, for justice and joy! Amen.