March 22, 2015
Sermon preached by Rev. Todd Weir
Text: John 20:20-33
You can lose a lot of things.
You can lose your mind, your memory or your marbles.
Your confidence, self-esteem or your mojo.
You may lose your way, your place or you can even lose face;
Your reputation, self-respect, manhood or virginity.
You can lose sleep, time or your prime.
You may also fail, suffer defeat or take and licking and keep on ticking.
You can lose an argument, a game or a war.
And if you lose your wealth or your health, you then lose hope.
You can be lost in space, lost without your love,
Jesus said, You can lose your life to save it, or save your life only to lose it.
You might even lose your faith…
We seem to be real losers.
Poor little sheep who have lost their way.
No wonder there is so much joy in heaven when we are found.
Apparently the one thing we can’t lose is God.
Losing is an important part of life. Our culture is too obsessed with winning, and the attitude of football legend Vince Lombardi who said, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” We are a winner take all society, some social scientists have said. What is winning really? Its just a game, its fun, we get a charge out of it. But in the end, so what if you are the best at throwing a football, shooting baskets or sprinting to the finish line. Most of life doesn’t have clear wins and losses. The important things-teaching or raising a child, friendship, building a house, growing food, feeding the hungry or making peace-don’t have clear winners or losers. You share and support, care and give, nurture, plan and create. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but in most of life you are not either winning or losing, just living.
The excessive emphasis on winning creates a lot of problems, like income inequality in our economy, or an inability to seek common ground or compromise for the social good. If you want a good marriage, you have to decide if you want to be right or you want to be loved. Sometimes in life we have to let go of something in order to have something else, because we can hold it all. Learning to lose and let go is an important skill, more important perhaps than winning, because most of us will do more losing.
Losing is a big part of self-development. Our first lost occurs when we leave the womb. You never have it so good again, warm and safe and protected, no major worries or stresses, and never alone. It’s a loss and we cry. And if we don’t the doctor gives us a whack to make sure we are alive. But without that loss we never will take our first steps, draw a picture or maybe even cure cancer someday. Later we may lose our innocence and we find out how hard life can be, how ruthless and hard-hearted people can be. It’s a painful loss, but then who wants to be naïve, living with an unrealistic view of the world and missing what is really happening. When we lose our innocence it is a chance to become wise and resilient.
I remember a book title by Judith Viorst called “Necessary Losses.” Its fallen out of my library and apparently much of memory too, but the title really says it all. The subtitle of the book is “The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow.” Necessary losses indeed! How many people do you know who go through life thinking that life owes them something. Some look for love in all the wrong places. Then they find they were really looking for love at all, but for someone to take care of them, when they really needed to learn more about taking care of themselves.
As Holy Week approaches, the scriptures bring us near to the reality of death. Jesus has been predicting his own death and now reflects upon it. He turns to images of nature where death and life are always cycling back and forth. The seed dies in the ground and comes up again with new life, giving a great abundance back to the earth. We watch the trees every Fall as green leaves lose their life giving power of photosynthesis, turning brown, yellow and red and plunging to colorful death. But what might these natural examples have to do with a human life, when we die not with beautiful leaves or more seeds but in loss of faculties and bodies that waste away before us? I’m reading from the Message, by Eugene Peterson, which gives us a slightly different translation:
24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. The Message
Jesus talks of death as if it were a necessary loss. If we hold on to life as it is, it destroys life.
The truth is parts of us are dying all the time. You probably just lost half a million or so cells just listening to me. See, I’m talking you to death. We all lose about 100,000 cells per second. Fortunately, just a many cells are being reproduced in a healthy body. Healthy bodies have this constant cycle of dying cells and rebirth of new ones. Some scientists say that we are regenerated every seven years, which is an enormous relief to me. Apparently, cells that don’t die off in the normal cycle are a real problem. These cells are related to diseases like cancer and become problematic because they get in the way and block healthy development of the body.
(See Science Watch, March/April 2000 if you are scientifically inclined. http://www.sciencewatch.com/march-april2000/sw_march-april2000_page3.htm
I believe this is true in the spiritual and emotional life as well. “Those who love their life will lose it, but those who love their lives for my sake will save it.” Our failure to let go and let some things die is a primary spiritual disease, for new life can’t come without some death.
The inability to forgive, or holding on to a grudge, leads to death of relationship while anger and bitterness ravage the spirit like a cancer. To reach the place of forgiveness feels like a small death within the self. It means letting go of my right to retribution, or my sense that I was right all along, or that someone has to suffer like I did for things to be right again.
Holding on to regrets strangles hope before it can lift us to new life. Trying to control events and other people leads to frustration, excessive stress, and exhaustion. Letting go of things we cannot control is a spiritual exercise in the art of dying so that new life may abound.
We may even need to let God die. The truth is this-few people get God right the first time, or ever. Sometimes our God is too small and we will stop believing in that deity when it no longer works. That God must die in order to know the true living God. Do you know what the early Christians in John’s day were called? Atheists! Why? Because they didn’t believe in the Roman gods. Apollo, Mercury and Saturn were gods once, now they are just cars.
On the cross there really is a death of God. The God of law, the god of angry violence, the punishing god people fear, that God, who really only exists in our fears and self-judgment, maybe that God died with Jesus on the cross, so that we might know the living God who is reckless with love, who abounds in grace, who is broken-hearted in the death of Jesus, and who suffers when we suffer. The God who is separate and sovereign and removed for us is a necessary death, so that we may know the God that is with us, for us, and ahead of us. That is a God I could lose my life for, a life that doesn’t measure up anyway. Losing that life might just save me for a real life. So what have you got to lose? Really, what do you have to lose?