Preparing my sermon this week, I find myself deep in Wesleyan territory with the gospel reading from Mark 8:31-38. For you non-lectionary preachers that is Jesus telling Peter, the disciples, and everyone else that if they wish to be his disciples they must deny themselves and take up their crosses.
In doing my study, I opened my Wesley Study Bible and found a note that caught me by surprise.
Although Jesus’ words could be thought of as a call to martyrdom, it is more accurate to think of them as a demand for a total reordering of commitments.
I certainly don’t have a problem with saying this is an implication we could take from what Jesus said, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus’ words are, in fact, a call to martyrdom. Given what happened to Jesus and at least a few of the apostles and a large number of early Christians, I can only read Jesus’ talk of losing our life as exactly what it sounds like.
We might draw other lessons from these words, but let’s not remove the sharp edge of the executioner’s nails in our haste to spiritualize the Scriptures.
Of course, even as I write that, I know where I’m going next, John Wesley’s sermon “Self-Denial.” In the sermon, Wesley goes all in on spirituality. He writes that every obstacle to our spiritual life can be attributed to one of two things: “either we do not deny ourselves, or we do not take up our cross.”
And lest my United Methodist brothers and sisters think they can wriggle off the hook on this text, here is what Father John says about preaching self-denial:
If [a minister] would, indeed, be pure form the blood of all men, he must speak of it frequently and largely; he must inculcate the necessity of it in the clearest and strongest manner; he must press it with his might, on all persons, at all times, and in all places; laying “line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept:” so shall he have a conscience void of offence; so shall he save his own soul and those that hear him.
This is why I keep reading John Wesley. He makes sure I never forget that what I’m doing is important.