I remember so very clearly a few weeks after I became engaged the phone call from one of my best friends as he complained to me, “Brian, it feels like we are losing you.” My good friend was right. We had grown up together. We had backpacked together. We had studied together. We had cheered and waved our arms wildly along the roadsides as professional bike racers flew past us.
But after I became engaged and later married most of what we had shared as young bachelors was lost to a different time and stage of our lives. I was the first of my friends to marry and it wasn’t long before they too put one life behind them in favor of embracing a new life.
I thought about that experience as I read those words made famous by Jesus as he said to the crowds, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake…will save it.” Mark 8: 35. The truth was, when my good friend said that he felt like he was losing me, he was exactly right. If I was to take marriage seriously I couldn’t also try to save my life as a single man. I couldn’t be both single and married at the same time. I would have to lose one life in order to open myself up to another life—a life I wanted and chose, but one that still required the giving up of a former life and identity.
Over the past few weeks I have visited over two dozen of our Presbyterian churches. If one consistent question has emerged in these visits it is this: “What can the presbytery do to help us figure out where we are going to be in five to seven years?” It has come from congregations who appear dwarfed in their roomy sanctuaries and from congregations who fill the pews, but who still worry about the aging of their congregation.
And I wonder if Jesus words to the crowds about wanting to “save their life” has any bearing on some of our congregations who are thinking a whole heck of a lot about surviving into the future. I wonder if he would, just like he did to the crowd, remind us that too much energy spent on saving our life will likely end up with us losing our life. I wonder if he would remind us that losing our life in service to his mission and his life will ultimately end up saving our life. It is sort of a saving the church Jesus style!
This language of losing and letting go is not easy. If we had our way we wouldn’t ever lose anything; we would only gain things. We wouldn’t clear out our garage to make room for new toys; we would just build extra garages!
But I am thinking about those words from my good friend from childhood when he complained to me, “Brian, it feels like we are losing you.” The truth is there are some things in life where one can’t simply add a new identity like adding the letters from another degree to one’s name. There are some things that require a losing of an old identity in order to embrace a new identity. Being single and married was like that. I couldn’t be single and married at the same time.
I don’t know if this holds true for our congregations as well. But I do know that Jesus is serious when he says we have to lose ourselves for his sake in order to save ourselves. Is Jesus saying we would do better to lose the church for his sake than to save the church for ourselves?
Eek! Those are sobering words.