Take my life, and let it be,
Consecrated, Lord, to thee;
Take my moments, and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
We are going to be singing these words in a few minutes. Many of us have sung these words so many times that we can probably sing them without much thought.
But are any of us really sure that we want to sing them? Are you sure?
Whenever I sing these words, I find myself reminded of a time when I was young, and we were about to sing this hymn in the congregation that I grew up in, which was in thriving downtown metropolis of Cambridge, Ontario…Galt, to be specific. The beloved and long-serving minister of our home congregation paused, before announcing that we were about to sing “Take my life, and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee”, and asked us to give serious thought to whether any of us should really be singing the fourth verse. People chuckled as they looked down at the fourth verse – “take my silver, and my gold, not a mite would I withhold”. I don’t remember if it was a stewardship Sunday or if the church was in the middle of some fundraising drive, and I have no idea about whether his blunt, but charming, approach was effective, but his question was so memorable that it has certainly stayed with me all these many years later. Fortunately, they didn’t pass the offering plates after the hymn was over to test the merits of that question.
But as much as I might smile when I remember that moment, his question was actually a good one — and one that we should all ask ourselves more often, not specifically in relation to the fourth verse of this particular hymn, but in relation to many of the hymns of our faith. After all, so many of these hymns invite us to put, onto our lips, words of deep and profound commitment.
Take my will and make it thine,
It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart; it is thine own,
It shall be thy royal throne.
These are serious words, reflecting a serious commitment, and should not be sung lightly.
Interesting, this call to deep, serious and profound commitment also stands at the very heart of today’s Gospel reading.
Today’s suggested lectionary text begins with Jesus asking his closest followers, his disciples, a question. This was not a question that he was putting to the crowds who trailed around after him, nor was it being put to the religious officials who were so often his opponents. This was a question that he was asking of his friends.
“Who do people say that I am?”
And they gave him some answers. Some say that you are John the Baptist, some say that you are Elijah, some say that you are one of the prophets.
But he went a step further – okay, so that is what others are saying – but who do you say that I am?
Who do you say that I am? You have spent time with me, you have heard what I have to say, you have seen my power at work in remarkable ways, you have seen me feed and heal and care for those in times of crisis. Who do you say that I am?
To which Peter – who so often got the answers wrong – actually got it right this time. “You are the Messiah.”
You are the Messiah. You are the Christ. You are the One that we have been waiting for. You are the culmination of centuries of waiting, centuries of expectation. You are the One who will help us – finally – to know the fullness of God’s blessing in this land of promise, and help us to be a light to the nations rather than an oppressed and discouraged people. You are the Messiah.
Peter’s answer was correct – but Jesus’ response was surprising. Rather than commending Peter for his wisdom and insight, we read, in Mark 8 verse 30 – that Jesus “sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him”.
This command to keep his true identity a secret reflects an important theme that is woven through much of the Gospel of Mark, and is often referred to as the “messianic secret”. In many parts of the Gospel, Jesus tells those who realize who he is not to tell anyone else. This might seem odd to our ears since we have so often been encouraged to think of the disciples as those who were sent out to tell the whole world about Christ, not keep him a secret.
Which eventually was what they were sent to do. But at this point in the story, it had to be kept secret – because even his closest followers actually had no idea what was about to happen to him; which meant that any “good news” that they would have shared would not have been a very accurate description of what the Messiah was about to endure. And what he was about to accomplish.
So Jesus told them to stay quiet, at least until they finally understood what the work of the Messiah actually was.
But he did not try to keep it a secret from them. Instead, we read, “then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.”
He was letting them in on the secret, trying to prepare them not to be surprised, or shocked when the ultimate work of the Messiah began to be revealed – that is, when the adulation and accolades of the crowds gave way to his suffering, his rejection, his death.
And, even as he laid before them the challenging nature of the road that lay before him, he also wanted them to know that the challenge was not only his to bear. To the contrary, his words also set before them a clear articulation of the fact that following him was going to ask something of them. It was going to challenge them to the very core of their being, to the very heart of their concept of what life was to be all about.
“If any want to become my followers,” he said, “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 there it was.
The challenging invitation to the Christian life would ask nothing less than everything from those who wanted to become his followers.
Which means that unless we are really sure, perhaps we should be cautious about singing words like,
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated Lord to thee,
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Because these words commit us to following the One who said,
“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.”
Following Jesus is a decision, a belief that is going to cost us something.
One would need to have been completely disconnected from any form of social media, or radio, or television, over the past few weeks, to have missed the discussion about the recent decision, by Nike, to feature Colin Kaepernick in a new advertising campaign. Kaepernick is, of course, the NFL player who first sat, and then subsequently went down on a knee during the playing of the American national anthem at the beginning of football games, in order to raise awareness about issues related to racial justice in the United States. That action, and his subsequent difficulties in getting signed to any NFL team, contributed to an incredible amount of attention being focused on him – something that Nike, in choosing him as the spokesperson for this new advertising campaign, was either honouring, or profiting from, depending on who you ask.
It is an interesting story, and certainly one that raises intriguing issues. But setting aside any particular position on the actions that led to this controversy, it is interesting to ponder the words that were attached to the advertising campaign.
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
And it is interesting to realize that the sentiment undergirding that campaign is not dissimilar to the invitation that lies at the heart of today’s Gospel reading. Of course, Christ’s invitation is not as nebulous as the “believe in something” Nike ad. We are not being challenged to believe that we can achieve some level of athletic greatness, as long as we try hard enough; we are not being challenged to believe that some small action that we perform will change the world, if we put our minds to it; we are not being challenged to believe that some form of incredible success is ours for the asking, or perhaps more accurately for the believing.
In Jesus, we are not just being invited to believe in “something”.
Rather, in Christ we are being called to believe in the God who is revealed to us, in Jesus Christ – and then to set our allegiance on Christ as Lord of our lives, and to the good news that he came to share. This allegiance to him, this trust in him, this belief in what he proclaimed and accomplished is the “something” that we are called to set at the very center of our lives.
But what is similar is that, like the ad campaign, we are being invited to believe in something that asks us to be willing to give up everything else.
Of course, it may not be as big a sacrifice as we might initially think. Because even though Jesus’ words are challenging words – words about denying ourselves and losing our lives and not being ashamed of Jesus and the message that he proclaimed – we must remember what he is actually offering in return.
And what he is offering to us is nothing less than life itself. And it is an invitation rooted, entirely, in love. Because Christ knew — and God knows — that pursuing the other things that fill our time and attention might seem like the path to the good life, but those other things will ultimately fail us, they will not satisfy us, they will leave us empty and worn out.
To believe in Christ, and be willing to walk in the way of Christ, trusting in his power and in the grace that he came to live and proclaim, by contrast, is the way to the fullness and abundance of life that God dearly and desperately wants us to pour out upon us. Following him is the pathway that leads to a peace that passes all human understanding; following him is the pathway to a joy that the world cannot give; following him is the pathway to a grace that is sufficient for all of our needs; following him is the pathway to a state of harmony and love that we all long to know; following him is the pathway to true, lasting, eternal life.
Yes, believing in me, said Jesus, is going to mean sacrificing everything.
But believing in me is the also the way to life in all of its wonder and fullness.
So are you sure that you want to sing the words of the next hymn?
Well perhaps the best way to respond to such an invitation is to “just do it”.