Jesus said to them, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
On Thursday night, a group of adults and youth got together to talk about what youth group might look like for Aurora and Trinity in the near future. For part of the evening, we looked at a national study done in the last 10 years on Youth and Religion. One exciting thing we learned is that 92% of the youth in America are interested in God, faith and religion. 92%! But then we learned something troubling. (Okay, youth listen up now, because I am talking about you). The study found that American youth could barely tell you about the god they say they believed in, and what they could say…was pretty generic. Most said that God’s primary goal for their life is for them to be happy and to feel good about themselves.
And Jesus said to them, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
We learned one more thing on Thursday night. (Okay parents and adults, listen up, because now I am talking to you.) We learned that 3 out of 4 youth consider their beliefs to similar to that of their parents. Which means the faith that they can’t articulate and the belief that God just wants them to be happy and feel good most likely comes from us. That is their learning it from the adults in their life. Do we believe that God’s simple goal for our lives is for us to be happy and to feel good? Is that God’s goal for us?
In our gospel for today, the festival of Passover has arrived. So it is the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus’ death is before him. Good Friday, the night where we will strip the altar and close worship in complete darkness, is coming. And Jesus knows it. And so Jesus takes this opportunity to give meaning to his death by giving us a little sermon. He reminds us that when plant a seed in our garden or in our field, the seed has to die in order to bear fruit. In order to be what it is meant to be. And the same is true for us.
If we seek to protect and preserve our life, if we are turned toward and focused on ourselves, if we make yourself the object of your love, paradoxically we will lose it. Just like a seed that never dies never bears fruit. But if we hate our life. And by this, Jesus doesn’t mean actually hating your life, but he means turning away from yourself. If you give away your life, making someone else the object of your love, then you will actually gain your life.
Jesus’ goal for us is not a happy, or a safe, or a feel good life. Jesus wants for us abundant life. And the paradox of the Christian faith is that abundant life comes not from clinging to and protecting your life, but by giving it away in service to someone else.
But so often we don’t want to give our lives away, because we think it leads to a death-like experience. And we are so afraid of death sometimes.
Most of us either know of or have experienced an over protective parent or parental figure. They are the one’s whose sole goal in life is to keep their children safe and protected from anything that might be dangerous. And who can blame them. They don’t let their kids play outside with their friends because they might get hurt. They walk their child to and from school, looking over their shoulder for any source of danger. It is based completely on a fear of harm. But I cannot help but wonder if it isn’t more about protecting themselves. Protecting themselves from ever having to experience a child in pain. But we know what happens. What so often happens is they end up preventing their children from ever actually living. So by trying to protect their own life and their child’s life, they are actually losing it. Jesus says, “Those who wish to save their life will actually lose it.”
A couple of years ago, a family friend, Dave, died in a tragic accident leaving behind a wife and four young daughters. It was awful. Weeks later, his wife and I sat down over lunch and she opened up about what all of this had been like for her. She said something that day that I will never forget. One of the hardest parts, she said, is that no one says her husband’s name anymore. It was as if people went out of their way not to say his name. They would tip-toe around it; it was as if he never existed.
Preacher Tom Long knows what this is like. He tells a story about when he heard from a friend that one of his classmates from seminary had died. The classmate went home for Christmas break. At the Christmas table, he felt a headache come on, and so he excused himself from dinner, went to lay down in bedroom, and he never got up again. A brain aneurism took his life, leaving behind a wife and two children. Tom asked, “Well, how are Sue and the children doing?” and the friend replied, “It’s hard. Very hard.” Tom then said to himself, “I’m am Sue’s friend. I need to go and see her. But I won’t go now. She has a house full of family. I’ll wait until they are gone.” And then when the family had gone, he said to himself, “I need to go see Sue. But I won’t go now. This is the first moment of solitude she’s had after her husband’s death.” He kept saying it….but he never went. He was afraid to go, he said. A few weeks later he ran into his friend again and he asked, “How are Sue and the children doing?” And he said, “Well, I supposed they are doing about as well as can be expected. I saw her last night, by the way, and she asked about you.” “She…she asked about me?” Tom whispered. “Yes, I think she would like to have seen you.” He was afraid to face the death; he wanted to protect himself from it.
And Jesus said, “Those who love their life…those who want to protect their life, those who want to be happy and feel good all the time…will lose it. But those who risk their life in this world, those who give it away… will keep it.”
Is God’s goal for your life for you to be happy and feel good? No. If this were God’s goal for your life, then to protect yourself you would never speak Dave’s name and you would never go to visit Sue and the children. But if God’s goal for your life is for you to give yourself away in love, to risk your life, then you will talk about Dave, because his family really needs to hear it. And you’ll go into that dark place of grief where Sue and the children live and you will stand beside them. And it precisely there, in the midst of darkness and death, that you will find a deeper love and life than you have ever encountered.
God sends us not to the happy places of the world but to the dying places. Why? Because only when a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies can it bear fruit. It is out of the dead places of our lives that God brings life and in a couple of weeks God will go into the very place of darkness and death. God will go to the cross and die, so as then to bring out of death…life. AMEN
 Christian Smith, Soul Searching, p. 162-163.
 Christian Smith, Souls in Transition, p. 286.
 Sermon preached by Tom Long at Luther Seminary on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010. Can be found here: http://www.luthersem.edu/celebration/archive/2010/Default.aspx?m=3733