The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 28, 2021
One evening, 75-year-old actor Danny Trejo was strolling down the street and enjoying the city lights shining bright in the night and the cool breeze ruffling his hair – when he was startled by a loud clash of metal and a piercing clatter of shattered glass. He looked up to see in the intersection a crumpled, overturned red Ford Explorer in which a groaning grandmother and a howling baby were dangling upside down by their seat belts.
Braving the cars racing around the accident, Trejo ran into the street to try to worm through a broken window and unbuckle the two. He felt sharp shards of glass cut into his arms. He smelled gasoline pouring down and imagined it exploding into a fireball. When at last he pulled the two to the safety of the sidewalk, he wept with relief hearing the approaching ambulance sirens.
He said that the feeling he had from saving those two strangers was one of the best in his long life. Reflecting further, he realized something and exclaimed, “Wow, everything good that’s ever happened to me happened as a direct result of my helping someone else!”
Jesus asks a lot of us. He asks us to follow His example in service. If we follow Him, we will have to deny ourselves what Trejo denied himself that night: safety, ease and being spared from trouble and pain. But if we love like Jesus, we will discover what Trejo discovered that night: that the reward far outweighs the cost.
Jesus wasn’t joking when He said, “Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” When we make sacrifices to embody God’s love, we find ourselves really living, uplifted and permeated with purpose, peace and joy. It turns out that self-denial is in our self-interest!
That is true even when our self-denial draws little notice and impresses next to no one. A mother of twin infants once remarked how taking care of them requires a lot of self-denial. She noted that, to love them well, she has to deny herself many good things she once considered essential: such as adequate sleep, leisurely eating and uninterrupted times of reading. A baby’s cry for milk tears a carefully crafted schedule to shreds, and a child’s nausea in the middle of the night nauseates the one cleaning up the mess.
Yet, the woman loves her children, and wouldn’t give up mothering them for all the world. You see, those who seek to satisfy God end up being satisfied themselves!
So Jesus is not hating us when He asks us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow His example. He’s loving us wisely and well. He understands that leaving behind our narrow preoccupation with our own comfort and pleasure and getting caught up in a wild, wide concern for others elevates our existence. He understands how our sharing in His fast from good things for love’s sake enables us to share in His feast of God’s great grace. By choosing to walk in His steps, we experience fulfillment of soul, serenity of mind and gladness of heart.
Yes, Jesus asks us to sacrifice and suffer much. But we can only live with Him and learn to love like Him by such sacrificing and suffering. But such “bad” things do us good. Self-denial pulls us out of our smallness, precipitates our engaging in ennobling efforts and packs our lives with meaning and the deepest satisfaction. Thus, while living as a disciple of Jesus brings losses: of security, freedom from disturbance and indulgence of our every wish, such losses enrich us and save our life.
Tim Keller once reflected on how some people never give the life of discipleship serious consideration because they can’t get past the losses it involves: say, of some money as Jesus asks us to help the poor, or of some sexual freedom as Jesus asks us to respect everyone. But if it is true that He is the source of life at its best, and that He fills human hearts with the highest happiness, does it make any sense to say No to the deal He offers in order to say Yes to a deal that can’t offer even half as much…to lose our life for the sake of what can’t give us true life?
Suppose, Keller says, you are dying from a fatal disease and you go to the world’s greatest expert in treating it. The doctor tells you, “I have a remedy for you. If you take this unique medicine I’ve developed the rest of your life, you will be healed and likely lead a long and healthy life. There’s just one problem: chocolate counteracts its effectiveness. So, from now on, you’ll have to give up eating chocolate.” Would you reply, “Forget it! No chocolate? Life without chocolate isn’t worth living! I’ll follow your remedy, Doc; but I’ll be darned if I quit eating chocolate!”
Yes, you will be darned…to a needlessly early death, and to needlessly missing out on a full life!
Does Jesus ask too much of us? Not if He keeps His word! So, do you trust Him to?