Dying To Self

Rev. Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Lent 2

Gen 17:1-7,15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

February 25, 2018 – Year B

“Dying to Self”

Open our ears, O Lord, to hear your word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills that we may serve you today, now and always.

         As a teenager I participated in a weekend-long retreat for juniors and seniors through the Episcopal Church.  The weekend was led by youth for youth and overseen by adults.  The focus of the weekend was to help participants experience and recognize God’s love and grace in their daily lives.  Once you had attended as a participant, you could apply to be on staff – to be one of the leaders.  This may have been foreshadowing, but in my senior year of high school, I applied to be the Rector for the weekend. 

         It was my job to lead the group through the weekend’s activities and serve as the MC for the retreat.  On Sunday as the participants spent time in their small group rooms talking and laughing, I, with one other staff person, came quietly into their rooms.  As Rector, I stood as my partner read the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and when he was done reading the scripture, I knelt down before each one of them and washed their feet. 

         To this day, the memory of that moment still can bring tears to my eyes.  I was used to playing and laughing and going on trips with these folks.  We had been schoolmates, campers and youth group members together. We had been through good and hard times – we had grown up with one another.  All weekend long many of us worked hard to make the weekend retreat special for the participants.  We were happy to do it. 

         There was moment while washing the participants’ feet that I won’t ever forget.  All the small groups were made up of teenagers, except one.  One small group were youth leaders who were there as participants as well.  They were going through for the first time, so they could better understand what their youth experienced.  As before, I quietly knelt before each person and washed his or her feet.  One of the last people I came to was a youth leader who I knew well.  He was a big guy, always cracking jokes, and built like a football player.  I carefully washed his feet, and as I dried them, I looked up at his face.  He was crying.  Big round tears were rolling down his cheeks as he watched me. 

         In that moment I realized this had nothing to do with me.  This wasn’t the two of us joking or playing around.  This wasn’t him giving me a hard time.  This was a moment between him and God.  As I washed and dried his feet, he was experiencing something holy.  In that moment he was feeling God’s love for him. 

         For me, I  too was experiencing a holy moment.  I was realizing this had nothing to do with me.  I was witnessing God’s love as it touched another’s life.  And I was learning how to be God’s hands in the world.  In that moment, I too felt God’s love in my own life.

         In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus telling his disciples, “…those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  How do words like that translate in the 21st century?  In the first century, the words Jesus spoke may have made sense – the struggle between life and death was more recognizable back then.  What do those words mean to us now, though?

         Several years ago, I heard a phrase that made me pay attention.  The phrase was, “dying to self.”  It means to recognize when we are valuing human traits or behaviors over our relationship with God.  It is letting go of our ego and choosing God’s love instead.  An example would be wanting to win an argument no matter what.  Another may be gossiping about a co-worker or feeling jealous about what a neighbor has and we don’t.  These are all very common experiences in human life, but they also separate us from the love of God. 

         The season of Lent is a time when we are encouraged to look at our lives and take stock.  In these 40 days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, we will once again travel with him and the disciples.  Lent is also a time when we look at how we live in ways that separate us from the love of God.  It is a season of contemplation, prayer, and discernment.  It is also a time for intentional reconciliation as we confess our sins and pray for forgiveness.   

         That brings us back to the phrase “dying to self.”  What are sins we commit every day that divide us from God’s love?  See if any of these ring true in your life:

Wanting to control situations
Over-committing (which is harmful to our own health)
Idolizing success
Being self-deprecating (it denies our God-given talents)
Excess worry
Holding a grudge
Being passive aggressive
Being judgmental
Negative self-talk

Those are just a few ways we sin – by engaging in those behaviors we are choosing to separate ourselves from God’s love.  They are habits of our egos.  It might not seem like it, but we all feel their negative affects over time.   When we die to self – we are releasing the hold those behaviors have over us.  We are consciously saying, “God’s love is more important than what I get from this particular habit or behavior.  I want to feel love more than I want to _______.” 

         What if, for Lent, instead of giving up something, you took on the practice of dying to self…of intentionally choosing love over a particular habit or behavior that does not serve you? 

         Jesus does not promise us an easy road or a “great life” as defined by our society.  This life with Jesus though, can be breath-taking.  It’s those moments when we get a glimpse of God working in the world that are amazing.  It’s when you think you’ve had all you can take, and someone offers you a hand.  Or you have no idea how to pay a bill, and somehow the money is there.  The times when you feel lonely and someone notices you and smiles or says hello.  It is in coming to a Sunday service and this table, when you least feel like it, and finding friends excited to see you and receiving life-giving nourishment. 

         These…these are holy moments.  These are the times when God’s love and grace find their way to us.  God is here with us – inviting us to join in the work of the kingdom.  It is an invitation to beauty and love…not hardship and suffering. 

         No matter what the moment is…God is with us. It is by dying to self that we open ourselves up to God and say Yes!   And every now and then, don’t be surprised if you get to experience one of those glorious moments when your heart is torn open and for a millisecond you feel God’s presence and love in your life. 

         How might you…in this Lenten season…turn to God and say, Yes?




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