(a sermon on Mark 8.31-38)
Have you ever overheard the tail of a conversation and wished you’d heard it all?
Or been the person speaking, and realised that what you just said to one person is something that everyone needed to hear?
So you raise your voice, gather everyone together, and make the point again but in general terms so that everyone can ‘get’ it.
Re-reading today’s gospel it strikes me that that is exactly what’s happening here. Peter has, in his own wonderful way, missed the point yet again, and Jesus is very firmly setting him straight.
But perhaps Jesus realises in this moment that it’s not just Peter who doesn’t get it. Many of the others don’t see yet what Jesus is really teaching, what he is about. And so he explains – in yet another metaphor.
One of the things I notice so often is that Jesus uses image and metaphor to tell us spiritual truths. Perhaps that’s because spiritual truth is too big to be literally translated into human words. Maybe we need metaphor and image precisely because the same spiritual truth will relate to different people in different ways at different times – and therein lies its power.
So – unpicking this metaphor –
Life Losing and gaining.
Jesus tells Peter that he’s thinking in human terms, not in divine terms. So that’s probably what we need to work on first. We need to stop being literal.
When I read this passage I always think of those lines by William Blake:
He who binds to himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy.
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Basks in Eternity’s sunrise.
And as I think of those words, I imagine a butterfly.
If I were to hold a butterfly in my clenched fist, trying to hold on to it and keep it as MINE, then I would in fact crush and kill the very thing I so wanted to have and keep.
But if I simply stood, palms open, allowing the butterfly to flutter around me, landing and leaving at will, watching its flight and colours with joy, then I would in fact have the thing I so wanted – the experience (and memory) of its colour and beauty and agility of flight.
It is in letting go of something that we find that we are able to keep it.
It’s often the same with cats. My daughter loves our cat. She loves stroking her and cuddling her. But slowly she’s coming to learn that if she chases the cat, trying to clutch her, the cat just runs away.
And if she sits quietly, the cat comes over, lies down beside her, and purrs as she strokes her fur gently. It’s a long learning process!
Sometimes we have to let go of something in order for it to come back to us.
But that’s really hard to do. Especially when what we’re being asked to let go of is our image of ourselves.
You’ve probably all heard of the Ego.
It’s that bit of us that is desperate to survive, to be the best, to beat everyone else.
The bit that wants to be seen, which drives us to be confident or shy or silly or clever or famous – whatever it is that is our identity.
This is the image we have carefully designed and created. It’s what we want other people to think of us. If we’re not careful, it’s probably what we think of ourselves.
This is the self that Jesus calls us to ‘deny’, though it might be easier to say, let go of it.
This Ego is the self that we have to recognise for what it is – it’s the face we show to the world.
But it is not our true inner Self.
The ego is something we’ve constructed and built over the years, every time we’ve experienced something, done something right or wrong, been praised or been told off. Every time we have been loved or rejected.
The Ego is rooted in fear.
But the Divine Self is the part of us that puts others first.
That Self sees no division between people – but that everyone is equally special and loved by God.
It’s also the part of us that knows that we are special too, and that God loves us.
So when Jesus tells us to give up our Selves, what he’s really talking about is giving up the Ego. Giving up the fear-based way of looking at life, ourselves, and other people. Giving up the perfect facebook or Instagram image we like to hide behind.
Because what’s the point of having that perfect image, if behind it we’re actually really unhappy? That’s not life, that’s just existence, surviving from day to day. Life is being joyful and fun and full of energy.
Which brings us to Jesus’ next point. He says, what’s the point of holding on to a false image of life? You will lose the very thing you are trying to keep hold of.
So this isn’t literal life or death. This is about being fully and joyfully alive, or surviving day to day in fear and anxiety.
This is Life of the Soul – or the Divine Self which is about love, as opposed to the Ego, which is all about fear.
35 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 we think we have to hold on tightly to everything, then we are in fact rooted in fear – fear of loss, fear of not having enough, fear of not being enough.
And the very act of holding tightly to things because we’re afraid will mean that we can’t see or act from the perspective of Love.
But if we’re brave enough to let go of our false images for the sake of being more like God, then we will gain something so precious.
In letting go of control, we let life and joy and coincidence and surprises in. We allow others to love us for who we really are on the inside, without being afraid of rejection. And we can love them too. Fully, joyfully, and fearlessly.
That’s the life Jesus calls us to.
But it’s not something we can hold on to. Like the butterfly flitting around us, like the waves of the sea, like the beautiful wildflowers in the fields – we have to enjoy the moment, and let it go. And if we do, it will come back to us again and again and again.
With light and blessings,
Image by Karina Vorozheeva on Unsplash