9/17/2000, P14, Year B
Gain the Whole World...
e was called "Mr. Super Volunteer," at his post every day as he commanded the community clothes closet like it was a corps of cadets. Fellow volunteers and those in need of assistance loved and admired Bill because of his contagious zeal, passion, and deep dynamic drive to fulfill their (Bill's) mission. Indeed, the mission of the ministry was a byproduct of its founder's newfound sense of calling.
At his funeral I shared how Bill had once told me that after retirement he had regrets about "missing the boat" in his vocational choice. "I spent my entire working life building a career and manufacturing widgets, but looking back, what difference did it make?" Then he went on to say, "But, I found my true life's work in giving away clothing to people in need."
It is often observed that the greatest regrets of our senior years are not so much for sins committed, but of lost opportunities. Many move toward retirement with an overwhelming sense of having missed their calling. The ideal is to get on board the boat early on in life and ride it all the way. The Good News is that, no matter what age we are, if we are on the wrong boat, we can change boats.
In our text we overhear Jesus asking his disciples, "Who do people say I am?" More personally, "Who do you say I am? In asking them who they thought he was he was perhaps also asking them who they thought they were, or how did they perceive their calling in relationship to their commitment to follow him?
"...you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?" (Mark 8: 34-37, NLT)
When Jesus talks about "our cross," he is not only pointing toward his Crucifixion on a Cross, and his vicarious atonement for our sins; but rather, he is talking about the practical matter of our choices and to how we will spend our days as his followers. Will we fritter away our lives chasing after goals that do not ultimately contribute to the Kingdom, or will choose to take up our calling and do his work in the world? Jesus used the metaphor of our carrying a cross to illustrate the ultimate commitment required of every follower. He was not against our having joy nor was he requiring needless suffering. Jesus was referring to the heroic effort essential to being his disciple. We must be willing to give our time, talents, and sometimes our careers, to His claim upon us. "We must put aside our selfish ambition," and give ourselves to selfless, and holy ambition. We are all called to a higher calling!
You and I have decided to follow Jesus and the benefits are fantastic in that we have all the things that money can not buy. Ours is not a smooth road to a life of ease. The bumps in the road, even the potholes enable our spiritual growth. He has given us a wonderful calling and purpose and a soul that will continue to reap benefits eternally.
If lots of money could buy happiness, entertainers and celebrities would be the happiest people in the world; but most are not. Most of these have missed grace and have spent their lives chasing after an elusive pot of gold at the end of an ever disappearing rainbow. Many worldly folks would sell their very souls to get rich quick, but ill gotten gain only brings guilt and a muddled sense of meaning.
We all know that Asa Candler, an active member of our church, became wealthy after purchasing the formula for Coca-Cola. However, most don't know how much he used his riches as a tool for helping others. I shared the story last week about his efforts toward building this Sanctuary in 1903. He also, along with his brother, Bishop Warren A. Candler, greatly assisted in the establishment of Emory University. Our church provided the initial temporary housing for the Candler School of Theology in 1913. Asa Candler donated one-million dollars toward the new theology school and university. He saw himself being as much in ministry as was his brother the bishop.
My brother has had a successful career in the insurance business, but after retiring early, has found a new joy in leading Lexington First Methodist in raising four-million dollars for renovation and new construction. Ministry has been my vocation, and it has been Eddie's avocation. We see ourselves as mere Christians on a life's journey taking up any opportunity that falls across our paths to follow Jesus. But honestly, nothing can compare to what we have gained in serving Christ Jesus as Lord.
The worldly perspective is to spend all of our effort and money seeking temporary thrills. Some take drugs and some take trips, but Jesus haunts us with the challenge about what good is it if we only find temporary titillation in life but end up missing our true calling and eventually losing our very souls?
Reflecting upon our text, E.W. Blandy wrote a hymn of simple trust and commitment in 1890. We will sing it as our hymn of invitation today, number 338 in our hymnal:
"I can hear my
Savior calling... take thy cross and follow, follow me.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor