A Kingdom of Losers

If you missed our online worship on Sunday here’s the sermon. You can read the text or watch the video.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

The kingdom of God is for losers but everybody wants to win. 

Consider Jeremiah, he was a loser of a prophet. He faced such difficulty and such insult that he wrote a whole book about it (Lamentations). Scholars even called Jeremiah the weeping prophet. He knew not what it meant to rejoice. He knew not what it meant to receive accolades and praise. He was the butt of the joke and his pain was unceasing. Jeremiah was such a loser he even wished that he had never been born. That’s just plain sad.

Consider Paul, he was a loser of an apostle. He spent what seemed like half of his ministry in the confines of a prison cell writing letters to people who didn’t even want to hear from him. And just listen to some of what he wrote in our second lesson this morning. Be patient in suffering? Bless those who persecute you? Associate with the lowly? Never seek revenge? If your enemies are hungry, feed them? No serious winner could ever commit themselves to such an ethic.

Consider Jesus, he was a loser of a Messiah. In our gospel reading last week Peter was finally beginning to see. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus affirmed Peter’s faith, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!” But then as we heard today Jesus immediately goes on to qualify just what sort of Messiah he is. Namely, a Messiah who would suffer and die. A Messiah that would baffle their expectations not by winning but by losing. “This can’t be so!” exclaims Peter. Doesn’t Jesus know that the Messiah is supposed to win?

By all worldly accounts Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus are losers. Yet God was at work in and through them and their losing to achieve his purposes in the world. God was with Jeremiah and spoke through him calling Israel back to faithfulness. God was with Paul and he took the gospel to new people in new places. And God the Father was with God the Son, Jesus, making the cross the way of life, raising him from the dead, and elevating him to a place of authority over every human authority.

The kingdom of God is for losers but everybody wants to win. And that presents a problem for us because you can’t win your way into God’s kingdom, you can only lose your way in.

That’s what Jeremiah and Paul knew and that’s what Jesus is saying to us this morning. Do you want to follow me? Then you have to pick up your cross. Do you want to be alive? Then you have to learn how to die. As one theologian put it, “Christianity is simply extended training in dying early,” (Hauerwas). 

Traditionally Christians have a word for this learning-how-to-die, it’s called martyrdom. But the Greek word that we translate martyr also means “witness.” A martyr is a person whose life bears witness to the life that Jesus gives. And that witness begins for Christians in baptism where we have died with Christ in order to be raised with him. In other words, if you want to receive the life that only God can give then you have to let go of the life that you think you’ve made for yourself.

This morning Jesus is inviting you to pick up the cross because he wants you to let go of what it is you’re holding on to. He wants you to let go of the lies, he wants you to let go of the resentment, he wants you to let go of the unforgiveness. He wants you to let go of coercion, violence, and force. He wants you to let go of your addiction to reputation, power, and wealth. He wants you to let go of the facade of strength and put-togetherness. He wants you to let go of your need to win.

He wants you to let go and to hang on to the cross instead. He wants you to hang on to love instead. Because that’s where he is and if you lay it all down for him you’ll find that you have more than you need. Because when we are weak he is strong and his strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Now, you don’t have to follow Jesus but if you want to this is the cost. This is what you’ve got to take up. But this is what you stand to gain if you’re not afraid to lose. So, don’t be afraid to lose. It’s the only way to win. Be a loser, for Jesus!

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