“For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:35)
“You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3)
Whoever would save her life shall lose it; and whoever loses her life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. An imperious word! I expect there is no more difficult word, no word harder to slip by or around than this. Oh yes, I, like you, have heard the sermons which try, by hook or by crook, to reduce them to manageable proportions. Countless sermons about giving one's life: self-sacrifice, spending your life until it’s all gone, giving your all, pouring out the cup of devotion till its empty, and so on and so on.
But, you see, it won’t do. When it comes down to it, all too often such things just turn out to be inverse attempts to save one’s life. And on the basis of the text, I can promise you one thing: if you set out to save your life by whatever stratagem, you will lose it. It won’t do. Oh yes, there is indeed a place for such things, and they will in their way, enrich our lives and the lives of others.
But our text doesn’t speak of giving your life. It speaks of losing it. Just losing it. Can you imagine that? Just losing it? There are probably all sorts of ways I could give my life. If I give it I can to some extent stay in charge. I can say, “See, I am giving my life. Isn't that something?” But how shall I lose it? If I give my body to be burned, St. Paul says, and have not love, it profits me nothing. Even the martyr’s supreme act of self-giving could be nothing but a supreme act of self-serving.
But our text doesn’t speak of giving your life. It speaks of losing it. Just losing it.
And as if that wasn't already enough, the path narrows even more. Even losing one’s life could be to no avail. One might lose one’s life, I suppose, in lots of ways. One might just trifle it away. Or, like the sheep, one might just wander off. Or the noblest being, as the gospels tell us, to lose one’s life for others, or even one's enemies. Not so here. Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s, Jesus says, shall save it. But how shall I do that? How shall I lose my life for the gospel's sake? Surely the gospel doesn’t make such demands?
Now I can’t say, I expect, just in what way you will be led to lose your life. But I do know one thing. If you are going to lose your life for the gospel’s sake, you must begin by hearing it. And if you listen closely you will hear some strange and marvelous things. For instance, that other word we read from Colossians. Did you hear that announcement? “You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God!” Think of that! Is that not wild?
St. Paul seems always to speak that way about our dying. It’s past tense. It’s over. You have died. You're through! If Christ died for all, then all have died. A remarkable circumstance! The death is never a project to be completed, a task to be undertaken, a way to be traversed. It’s over. Christ has done even that – indeed, especially that – for us. He has died for us. It seems we can’t even do that well. He does it for us.
But I suppose in that case, we might tend to feel even a little bit cheated. After all the heavy talk about losing one’s life and dying to self and all that, now we’re suddenly told it’s over? Done for us? Is this not to spiritualize the whole business? The old being in us, of course, thrills to hear the uncompromising summons to die for whatever great cause is worthy enough for attention – even if the old being has no intention of actually doing it! And having read the sermon title today, you might expect to hear this martial call to battle. But now, suddenly, to be told it’s too late and that it’s all over is too much. It’s something like the villain in the old melodramas crying out when unmasked at the end: “Curses! Foiled again!”
To lose one’s life for the gospel’s sake is, of course, the most difficult thing for the old being in us to bear. But that, surely, is what is at stake here. For God is not interested in death. God is interested in resurrection, in new life.