Summary: Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost centered around the statement by Jesus, "What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?"
Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28
August 31, 2008
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
There’s a great movie that came out several years ago entitled Waking Ned Devine. The movie is set in a tiny little coastal village in Ireland called Tullymore. And one of the main characters, Jackie O’Shea, is watching the nightly news when he hears that the winning ticket for the national lottery was purchased by someone in his sleepy little village. But he just doesn’t know who—nobody has come forward to claim the millions. So, he throws a chicken dinner for the whole town and buys several cases of Irish Whiskey and throws a party the likes of which has never been seen in Ireland, all in the attempt to woo the lucky winner to share his $10 million dollars with him. Everybody in the town think that Jackie has won the lottery, but he slyly remarks, “No it wasn’t me, but if it was, the first thing I’d do is share it with all me friends.”
Unfortunately, after the party is over and his life’s savings has been spent on this party, he still doesn’t know who the lucky winner was. But there was one person in the village that didn’t show up, Ned Devine. So Jackie O’Shea and his best friend Michael O’Sullivan trek up to Ned’s cottage to bring him his chicken dinner. They knock on the door, but there’s no answer. It turns out that Ned Devine had the winning ticket in his hand, but the shock of winning all that money caused him to have a heart attack and die. So there Ned was, still sitting by the television in his chair, the look of utter astonishment on his face, and the winning lottery ticket in his cold hand. Jackie and Michael think it would be a shame to let all that money go unclaimed though, so for the rest of the movie Jackie decides that Michael is going to pose as Ned Devine to claim the $10 million dollars. It’s a great movie.
That would be just my luck though, as a good Methodist, I’d buy the winning lottery ticket and then die before I could even spend a penny of it, or “share it with all me friends.” All the money or stuff in the world is useless if you don’t have any life in you to enjoy it.
Jesus talks about just this in our gospel lesson today. He’s just told his disciples that he is going to go to Jerusalem and be killed. And Peter scolds Jesus for saying something like that, but then gets scolded himself. Jesus tells the disciples that it is absolutely essential to his life that he die. Then Jesus goes on to explain, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (16:24-26). What good is all the money in the world and all the fancy cars and all the expensive houses and all the gourmet food if you’re not alive?
The Greek word in the gospel lesson for “life” has a little different meaning than it does in English. Our word for life is a biological or scientific term meaning we have a pulse and we can breathe and there’s brain activity going on. But the Greek word for life, psyche, is not a medical term at all. It has more to do with who we are and what gets us going than just a pulse. A better way to think of it might be to call it “our innermost self” or something along those lines.
The bookstores are full of these self-help books that tell us about selfhood and self-esteem and there’s that one best-seller by the guy down in Houston with his big smile that tells us how to have our “best life now.” Well, you buy his book and you might not have your best life now, but he certainly will have his best life now. Talk about winning the lottery. But I digress. My point is this: there’s a ton of books and tapes and shows out there about how to focus more on our own life, our own desires, our own wishes and dreams—but the Bible is the only book that tells us just the opposite of that.
The real best-selling book tells us not how to live a better life, but how to die a better death. The real best-selling book tells us not how to improve ourselves, but how to deny ourselves. The real best-selling book tells us not to focus on ourselves at all, but to focus on Christ. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (16:24-26).