When I was about six, I came home from Sunday school with an important question for my dad:
“What is a Die Bible?”
He really wasn’t sure what I was talking about—so he tried to convince me that there was no such thing. But I know what I saw.
So next week, I took him to my Sunday school room, I pointed to the book on the shelf, and I ask him: “what’s a Die Bible?”
He laughs as soon as he realizes I wasn’t making this up! He then explains that this is a German Bible.
I took great comfort in that the Bible wasn’t telling me to die.
Except that it does…
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks what are unquestionably the most challenging words of the Bible: “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
In other words, “come and die.”
How do you think the public would react if those words were on our outdoor sign? Or if someone wrote a book with those words as a title, do you think it’d reach the bestseller lists?
We all come before God full of desire for God’s blessing. Trouble is, we approach God in terms of what we can get out of God. There is a heresy spreading like wildfire across this country: that you can have it all and Jesus too. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” they say. That’s not unbiblical—that’s Psalm 37:4.
There is a tremendous appeal in a Christian faith that gives us everything, and costs us nothing. We love a faith that’s convenient, easy, comfortable; and never gets in the way of any of our personal ambitions. We make up our minds to put Christ first in our lives—as long as it doesn’t cramp our style. We do this partly because we know we’re saved by grace—so the temptation always exists to render to God as little as necessary to still continue in God’s grace. Far be it for us to abandon parents or children, livelihoods and possessions, plans and pleasures.
Ironically, while we are most reluctant to abandon anything to God—we abandon to other things all the time. We abandon our hard-earned money on things we think will make us happy, or on lottery tickets and table games that give us a slim shot of winning it big. We abandon our troubles to wine and spirits. We abandon our safety (and others’ safety) by driving too fast and sending text messages. We abandon our principles and our morals to be successful and win peoples’ approval.
Yet when it comes to Christ, we hold it all back. We Lutherans won’t even abandon our pews.
The trouble is, the anxiety’s high, and “prayers aren’t working,” we feel abandoned by God. So we grab on to anything and everything that’s going to give us security and control. Since we cannot control or understand God, we grab onto everything else we feel we need to survive.
But today, Jesus declares that he has come to put a sword through every attachment and ambition in our lives that is not based on a relationship with himself.
This sounds like dreadful, terrible news. But Jesus doesn’t come to destroy your life. He comes to save it. You see, saving grace liberates you from everything that prevents his resurrection from flourishing in your life. Worldly attachments consume you. Christ saves you.
Jesus says that those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, they will find it.
Already, you have died to sin in baptism. Jesus comes so that you may welcome him into where fear, ambition, and pride rule over you. Opportunities exist TODAY for you to die and rise with him.
So begin by looking at your life—and giving thanks for every good gift you are given. To God be the glory for all the good you are permitted to do and receive.
Then, in the presence of God’s grace, abandon. Look at your treasures—then give liberally. Start tithing. Take something valuable and give it away.
Let Jesus break your plans. Stop keeping up with the Joneses. Get off the hamster wheel of trying to have it all, know it all, and do it all.
Swallow your pride and forgive sins. Confess your own and ask for forgiveness. Accept that you’re not perfect and that you cannot please everyone. Let loving take priority over being loved.
Let people become more precious to you being right and getting your way. Let others be first. Become a servant of all.
Do what’s right instead of what’s easy and what feels good.
Without abandonment of these things, you will be a prisoner to fear. But when Christ puts the sword through these attachments, resurrection happens.
Today, let me invite you to practice abandonment… As you are able, get up from your pew, and sit somewhere else—in front of the pew with the flower, if you can. Then share the peace with someone different today. Join hands with the person next to you during the prayers.
If this ruins your life, let me know. But let me assure you that Jesus can bring resurrection into something as simple as this.
Don’t do it for me. Do it for Christ. Do it for your sisters and brothers.
For when we let go, even of a little, Jesus can do great things. Abandon, and Jesus will show you life like never before.