The readings for Sunday are available here.
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
My spiritual journey over the last few years has involved a concerted effort to learn what it means to simply be myself in a ministry role. But while my personal context has been aimed at formal, possibly ordained ministry, I’m convinced that all of us are called to undertake this work of learning to simply be ourselves with each other, because that’s really what it means to be fully ourselves, as best we can. As Jesus seems to hold up here, we are all called to find our lives.
But there are things that can complicate this pursuit of the simple self. A big one is the way we get caught up in an ill-fitting understanding of Jesus’ summons to self-denial, to “take up our cross,” to “lose our lives.” Jesus really does call us to these things, but we completely miss his purpose if we hear in him the voice of a stern taskmaster unconcerned with the daily realities of our lives. Many of us have voices in our minds that would take cruciform self-denial to mean a denial of our personal desires, interests, disappointments, hopes, concerns, even loves. We’re tempted to believe that in order to “lose our life,” we have excise or empty these things from our sense of self.
Now, some people do need to hear that its time for them to take step back, sit down and listen, if they’re in the habit of exaggerating their own voice above others’. But a whole lot of people need to hear the opposite: stand up, share your voice, share your self. I’d go as far as proposing that our attempts to silence or excise those parts of our selves is just another way of withholding our fullest, truest, simplest selves from God.
So what does Jesus call us to, instead? To discover this, we’re can start by learning to hear what Jesus’ real purpose with this promise is: he isn’t the stern, distant taskmaster, but the “Good Shepherd,” the “Great High Priest” who sympathizes deeply with our everyday lives. He was born, had desires and hopes, he suffered and died–lived a full human life–so that we would find life in him.
If this is the Jesus that we’re called to follow, then everything counts. Everything that animates us, excites us, concerns us, saddens us, every way that we experience the world, everything that makes us who we are, can be found in the grand design of who God is calling us to be. Sure, some things we want simply aren’t realistic right now, and some things would turn destructive to others and to ourselves. The ability to discern that, and to hear others wisely show us that, is a mark of maturity. And even in the face of our unrealistic or destructive desires, our response to disappointments, struggles and inadequacies also count: a healthy and community creates space for a safe honesty about this reality, aware that none of us can make it on our own, aware that we all need each other.
As we continue our work to build a healthy church community that shines the love of God in Maple and the surrounding area, our hope is that people can be themselves at their fullest, truest and simplest, that they can find their place and their lives with us. This is because we are called to give and receive the deep welcome that we have experienced at St. Stephen’s, and because the vibrant creativity of our mission going forward will always require new voices and perspectives.
Most of all, firstly and finally, this welcome and mission as a church is grounded and animated by the truth that we can all find our lives, our full, true and simplest selves, in the presence of the one “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known.” Our whole lives have been “baptized into the death of Christ,” which entirely means that our whole lives can be found in the risen life of Christ.