Summary: To succeed, to live, to love, and to serve we must... (Material adapted from LeRoy Lawson in his book, The Lord of Love, Chapter 9 with same title as sermon)
To be, or not to be; that is the question- whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them? Few lines of Shakespeare are better known that these. If I had understood Shakespeare, I’d have been better prepared later when studying the works of the French existentialist Albert Camus. After staring hard at what he considered the absurdities of human existence, he concluded that there is only one really serious problem a human being must solve. He must decide whether life is or is not worth living. Should I or should I not commit suicide? “To be or not to be; that is the question.” In popular media suicide has been so glorified that it is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 14 year olds. How sad!
Jesus raises similar issues in John 12, although from a different point of view. Suicide is not the question, but the meaning of life and its relation to death is. He turns a request for a visit from some Greeks into a probe of the reasons for His imminent death. He doesn’t have time for a cordial visit right now, because He is too busy getting ready to die. Jesus does not speak of death as a defeat but as a supreme honor. “Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” John 12:23, NIV. With a reversal of human expectations, Jesus transforms apparent failure into a triumph. Jesus claims that His upcoming crucifixion is victory. In these verses, the Lord provides the divine rationale for his death. Jesus said earlier in John 10:10 that “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (more abundantly).”
Thesis: To succeed, to live, to love, and to serve we must...
To succeed we must lose
We can hardly think of execution on a cross, a fate for criminals, as a way for the Lord to be “glorified.” “Glory” conjures up visions of a royal coronation or of soldiers coming home to a ticker tape parade down main street after a victorious campaign. In the minds of the Jews, “Glory” should have referred to the overthrowing of the hated Roman overlords by someone like Jesus. Until Jesus’ day, no one became a success by the way of the cross. Yet crucifixion is exactly what Jesus is talking about. He must die in order to succeed. What is more important this is the natural sequence of God’s economy? In what really matters, to succeed we must lose.
For this to make any sense we must decide what we mean by success. Gary Bettenhausen will help us to decide it. Some years ago, in an Indianapolis 500 race, veteran driver Al Unser lost control of his race car, which then skidded into the track wall and exploded into flames. Seconds later, another driver slammed his vehicle to a stop and rushed to pull Unser out of danger. That driver, Gary Bettenhausen, had been giving everything he had for months so that he would be ready to compete in the 500, but in a split second, he chose to let his chances die to save Unser. He failed as a driver. He succeeded as a man and friend.
Read a book by Pat Conroy entitled My Losing Season. In that book Conroy recounts the season in 1967 when he played point guard for the Citadel college basketball team. In his book Conroy contrasts the lessons from winning from those learned from losing. “Winning,” he writes, “makes you think you will always get the girl, land the job, deposit the million dollar check, win the promotion, and you grow accustomed to a life of answered prayers.” “Losing,” he writes, “is a fiercer, more uncompromising teacher, cold-hearted, but clear-eyed in its understanding that life is more dilemma than game, and more trial than free pass.” Conroy also says, “Though I learned some things from the games we won that year, I learned much, much more from loss.” Jesus says something similar in John 12:25, get to in a minute, but look at a parallel verse in Mark 8:35- “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:35. Lose our lives in something beyond ourselves.
We love to be around winners. They exude a vitality and optimism that is contagious. They seem to have excess energy; being in their company is like a battery recharge. There is something we need to learn from them though. All the winners have lost at one time or another in their past. And, if necessary, they are prepared to lose again. Success is not so dear to them that they will sacrifice everything for it. They are ready to lay down their achievements, if they have to, for the sake of what is even more important to them. They’ll lose a race to save a friend.