Those Who Lose Their Life Will Find It
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
June 14, 2020 Second Sunday after Pentecost
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here.]
A nuclear reactor had a partial meltdown on Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on March 28th, 1979. A second reactor at the site suspended operations. Over the next two years the public came to believe that the nuclear industry could not be trusted.
Citizen groups organized a referendum to stop the restart of the second reactor. The citizens groups were mostly middle aged and middle of the road. I was working for a nonprofit that helped them have a more effective voice as they tried to counter a multimillion-dollar publicity campaign by the nuclear industry.
The leader of one of the citizen groups introduced me to their spokesperson just before a press conference and my heart sank. She was painfully shy and soft spoken. She was a kindergarten teacher and had never done anything like this.
She walked up to the front of the room full of reporters and was embarrassingly nervous. But then her voice got louder, her words grew passionate, and suddenly I was listening to Martin Luther King Jr. channeling through this gentle, petite white woman.
Afterward I asked, “What happened to you up there?” She said, “It takes me about ten seconds to remember the faces of my kindergartners, and then the rage rises up in me at what these people are doing to them.”
“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” This is one of the most central teachings that Jesus gave about the spiritual path that he calls us to follow, and it is also the secret to the movement for social change that he calls us to join.
That kindergarten teacher had a spark of the Holy Spirit in her that was ready to help establish the realm of God on earth for her little children, but she had to lose her life to ignite it. She had to forget her shyness, her desire to be approved, her ego’s self-regard, and once she lost all that for the sake of love and justice, a tremendous force for change surged through her.
This is what Gandhi meant when he said, “There comes a time when an individual becomes irresistible and his action becomes all-pervasive in its effect. This comes when he reduces himself to zero.”
Jesus said, “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of God speaking through you.”
It is hard to believe that it would be most effective to reduce ourselves to zero and trust a higher power to flow through us. Our ego, the voice of our self-interested selves, raises doubts and blocks us.
That is why the slogan of the movement that Jesus led was “Repent, for the realm of God is at hand.” The word translated repent is the verb form of metanoia. Metanoia means losing our current life in order to move beyond to an ever truer, deeper, more Spirit-filled life. We need to reduce our ego’s voice and let the voice of the Spirit speak through us.
This is hard to do. It means going against our training from our parents, schooling and culture. They helped us develop strong egos to succeed according to society’s standards. That is why Jesus says we need to love him more than we love our family. We need to let go of attachments to approval and conformity, and that could disturb the peace of our lives as others try to hold us in the old ways.
Think about how Jesus’ home synagogue in Nazareth treated him when he called them to metanoia. They tried to throw him off a cliff.
Think about the moderate white clergy of Birmingham, Alabama who told the Rev. Dr. King that he was moving too fast with desegregation—prominent people he no doubt wanted to have approve and help him. If he had listened to their voices and to his ego’s voice of self-interest, he would have chosen a path of compromise as he sat alone in the Birmingham City Jail.
But he was free enough of attachments to write a defiant, passionate letter, and the movement went on to the Birmingham children’s crusade, and that changed history.
King and the other great leaders in Birmingham followed the inner spiritual path of losing life to find life, and so they found themselves not long afterward hundreds of thousands strong, standing before the Lincoln Memorial with the eyes of the nation watching. King was giving a carefully crafted speech when suddenly the Spirit spoke through the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.
She called out, “Martin, tell them about your dream.” The Spirit in her sparked the Spirit in him, and he veered away from his prepared text. He spoke words that are still ringing in our ears almost sixty years later.
“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….’
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Jesus was another man of color who had a dream, he was another person of an oppressed race who looked around with compassion and helped build a movement of transformed people to transform the world.
That movement continues today, and it is far larger and more powerful than ever. The dream of God’s realm on earth is close at hand, and we are the ones the Spirit will work through, but we need to undergo our own metanoia, our own losing of our self to find our self, to be effective.
This brings us to the need for prayer, especially centering prayer or meditation, a method for losing our self, quieting our ego’s voice, opening to the Spirit, trusting the Spirit will guide and empower us when we emerge.
We need that power, so let us become silent and centered and show the Spirit that we are willing to lose our life and live the life of love and service it gives us in return.
Let us pray…