Second Sunday in Lent
Would you take a one-way trip to Mars? This is the question that the private Dutch organization, Mars One posed to the world. Mars One is seeking to put willing participants on the red planet beginning in 2024. When Mars One put out the call for volunteers, they received over 200,000 applications from all over the world. A couple of weeks ago, they announced that they have selected 100 of these applicants to be on the short list for the mission to Mars.
This is a one-way mission. No one who will go to Mars will ever come back. They will not die in the comfort of their own home or their own planet, but instead they will see the end of their days in the darkness of space or on the red planet itself. Would you do it? Would you volunteer for the mission?
Sonia Van Meter was one of the folks who volunteered and who found herself on the short list to go to Mars. In her application video she states one of the reasons why she wants to leave earth and travel where no man or woman has gone before, “My purpose on this mission is to help people back on earth to look up and realize that there is nothing we can’t accomplish if we simply make the decision to do it.” She really believes in the mission to Mars and the good that can be accomplished through it, and she is ready to give up her life to be a part of the discovery and inspiration that comes from space exploration. She also has a spouse and two step-children. She would be giving up her whole life in order to go to Mars in many ways. Would you be willing to give up your self and your life for something like that?
After Peter rebukes Jesus for suggesting that the Messiah would have to suffer and die, Jesus calls his followers together and tells them, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” and then that Jesus is ashamed of those who are ashamed of him. Jesus says that denying your self and taking up your cross somehow allows people to truly live their lives and that to do otherwise is shameful.
Pick up your cross and follow me. I often hear people talk about the “cross that I just have to bear” as some inconvenience, pain, or injustice that we are supposed to not complain about because God gave it to us. But that isn’t necessarily what Jesus is speaking about. The cross is a means of a shameful death in service to the gospel- namely to proclaim God’s unconditional love through our words and actions. Sometimes the phrase “taking up one’s cross” is abused and it serves as a justification for people to suffer needlessly. It is abused when it is told to those who are suffering under abusive relationships or under the yoke of systemic racism. Domestic abuse and racism do not proclaim God’s unconditional love, so that is not a cross that ought to be borne by anyone.
Jesus calls us to boldly give up our lives for others. In some cases literally, but in others Jesus calls us to give up those things that possess us and our lives such as our money, our time, our comforts. Following Christ’s radical life of self-giving, unconditional love will change your life. You will never be the same. When we live our lives for others, Jesus tells us, we will see that there really is no other worthwhile way to live.
Jesus also makes the uncomfortable declaration that he will be ashamed of all those who are ashamed of him. By many standards, Jesus’ life is shameful. He does not live an honorable life and he does not die an honorable death. He grew up as a poor, itinerant rabbi who hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, and the sick. His critics even call him a glutton and a drunkard! He alienates himself from most of the respectable people in his community- the devout religious leaders and the powerful politicians. As far as his death goes, he dies crucified to a cross- a death reserved for insurrectionists. He lived this life and died this death because he lived his life and died his death for the sake of others. He was willing to give up his life for the sake of the world- whether they deserved it or not.
It looks shameful when we follow this way of the cross too. When we give of ourselves for others instead of seeking our own honor or comfort. It looks shameful when we are bathing the body of a sick or elderly parent. It looks shameful when we spend years of our life changing dirty diapers. It looks shameful when we waste our time helping a friend who just stabs us in the back soon after.
But this is the path of true life. This is where love is revealed. Christ chose this way of self-denial and cross bearing and in it, he defeated death and won abundant and eternal life for all those whom he came to serve. He invites us to experience this life for ourselves. When we give hope, love, and life we receive hope, love, and life.
What is truly a shame in the eyes of Jesus is the life lived only for one’s self. Such a life is ruled by fear of loss and is consumed with holding onto things that will quickly fade. We cannot hold onto our money, our time, and our security even if we have a white-knuckle grip. When we die, those things and our selves will perish. Hope and love that are shared abundantly with others will not perish. Even death cannot destroy the love that comes from a life freely given.
We will surely fail at times in giving ourselves away for others. We will be too selfish or too scared to deny our whole selves and take up our cross to follow Jesus’ self-giving example. Even when we feel ashamed at having been ashamed of the life of Christ, we have to remember that Jesus was true to the way of the cross. He freely gave his life and his love for all of his sisters and brothers- the faithful, the shameful, the brave, and the cowardly. Jesus’ love and life journeys to the cross for all of us and it raises us up to new life.
So would you make the one-way trip? Sonia Van Meter and 99 others who are a part of the Mars One mission are willing to give their lives up in order to inspire hope and wonder here on earth. Sonia Van Meter says about her decision to spend her last days on another planet, “It would be wonderful if my death could be a part of something more than just one individual.”
She desires to give her life for the sake of others. Christ too invites us to give our lives up for the sake of others- not necessarily by traveling to Mars, but in service to the gospel. He invites us to give our lives to others as a gift that proclaims to them that God loves them unconditionally and withholds nothing. We are given the gift of our lives to share with others this message of incredible love anywhere God calls us in the world… or on Mars.