Losing your soul – Sermon

Matthew 10:39 (Briarwood, March 2013).

Good morning.

An open letter appeared in the New York Times

that send shock waves through the financial community.

A senior director

at the most prestigious

investment bank

in the world,

who advised

fund managers managing

almost $1 Trillion dollars,

was resigning.

In his open letter,

published for the world to see,

he explained why.

He said he had worked hard

to pursue his dream

of working at this bank.

Had grown up in South Africa,

become a Rhodes Scholar finalist,

went into business

and finally was

recruited from there

by this bank.

He moved to the U.S.

full of promise

and began work.

Was promoted several times,

and ended up,

as of March 14th of this year,

in charge of a major division

that covered Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

His letter is entitled, Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs.

Published in the New York Times;

It begins like this.

Today is my last day at Goldman Sachs.

After almost 12 years at the firm – first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London –

I believe I have worked here long enough to understand

the trajectory of its culture,

its people and its identity.

And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic

and destructive as I have ever seen it.

He goes on to say

how when he first started

at the firm,

the people who trained him

were most concerned

with integrity

and with the needs of their clients.

He says that now,

the most common question

he gets asked by his underlings

and by those he answers to,


not what would be best for my client

but how can I best make money from them.

He laments this culture at the firm.

So much so

that he can no longer be part of it.

When you read the letter,

it is almost as if

this man realizes

something deep

about life and living;

it is almost as if

this man realizes

that the company he works for is losing its soul;

and if he stays

he’ll be in danger of losing his.

Jesus asks Peter,

What shall it profit a man

if he shall gain the whole world

and lose his own soul?

Jesus asks Peter

because Peter puts Jesus

in danger

of losing his own.

Jesus lays it out for his disciples.

I must go through great suffering

and be rejected

and be killed

and after three days

rise again.

This is the path Jesus knows

he must take.

We usually know, don’t we,

the path we must take.

That’s not the hardest part.

The hardest part is following through.

Because on the way,

we always meet people

like Peter;

sometimes even inside of us.

Peter takes Jesus aside,

sets him straight.

But Jesus,

thank God for the example of Jesus,

Jesus will have none of it.

Calls Peter Satan.

And to get behind him.

Peter isn’t thinking of divine things

but human things.

And that is who Satan is.

The one who tries to get us to the look another way.

Not towards the path we know deep down is right.

The one who in doing so,

quite literally

endangers our souls;

because friends,

we know,

we know all to well,

that our souls are something we can

in a sense,lose’.

Jesus teaches us how not to.

Our souls, Jesus says,

that which is the center of our life,

that which guides our will and desires,

that part of us which is God’s image within us,

the soul,

is only kept

when we give away our lives.

The soul,

the true human soul:

we only keep it

when give our lives away,

in following Jesus.

That is the aim.

That is the rocking chair test.

When we’re sitting in our rocking chairs,

with our grandchildren (or equivalents)

at our feet,

and we’re looking back on our lives,

to evaluate them,

isn’t the one thing we want

to be able to say for sure,

isn’t the one thing,

that the path we’ve followed

has strengthened our souls,

and not weakened them

to the point of being taken away.

The path we follow

when we follow Jesus

is the path of giving away;

this is true religion.

Because Jesus

is the Jesus

who gives away his own life.

Why do we have to tell ourselves

so many times:

it’s not in keeping things

that we gain a good life?

it’s not in accumulating

that we are faithful followers of Jesus,

but it’s in giving away.

And those are two different lives:

the life of gaining the whole world,

and the life of the soul.

The man who wrote

the letter to the New York Times:

that difference was opening

before him

like a chasm.

Jesus praises

the widow who

goes to the Temple

and gives not nearly as much money as the Pharisees,


not because the Pharisees give more,

but because she gives everything she has.

Annie Dillard,

who won the Pulitzer prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,


“One of the few things

I know about writing is this:

spend it all,

shoot it,

play it,

lose it,


right away,

every time.

Do not hoard what seems good for a later place…

give it all,

give it now.

The impulse to save something good for another place

for a better place later

is a signal to spend it now.

…Anything you do not give freely

and abundantly becomes lost to you.

You open the safe

and find ashes.”

There is a theme

in ancient stories

called wanderlust.

The young hero,

sets off from home,

to explore new horizons

and new places,

with the belief

that life’s truth

lies elsewhere;

he is looking for his soul.

In the classic story,

the hero wanders aimlessly

with no destination;

he is consumed with his

own desire to find himself.

It is only after fruitless searching,

that he returns home,

only to find

that is soul is there;

and not far away

and not found by looking for it.

Jesus said,

If any want to become my followers

let them deny themselves

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 the sake of the gospel

will save it.

After the genius Michelangelo died,

someone found

in his studio

as piece of paper

on which he had written

a note to his apprentice Antonio,

in the handwriting of his old age;

the final advice from this wizened-old artist was this:

Draw, Antonio,

draw, Antonio,


and do not waste time.

Those who save their life will lose it.

Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Being a disciple of Jesus friends,

is about giving away to God,


about God being our only aim.

And the only God we know

is the God made known in Jesus.

We don’t know another one.

God wasn’t hiding behind Jesus,

waiting to tell us more.

What we have of God

we have in Jesus.

If we want to know about God

and what it means to live,

we have to look at this Jesus.

This Jesus,

didn’t have seven mansions.

Didn’t have a fleet of camels.

Never wrote a book.

Didn’t really even have a home.

Except among friends.

This Jesus,

was persecuted by the state,

the focus of hate by established religion,

was tested,


then crucified by occupying forces in his own country.


If we want to know about God,

this is who have.

The one who died.

Who gave everything.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

in his book

The Cost of Discipleship says this:

When Jesus calls a man,

he bids him come and die.

Whoever loses their life, will find it.

Jesus doesn’t just call

part of us to follow.

But all of us.

Jesus doesn’t just want the excellent parts of our lives,

but the broken parts too.

To follow this Jesus,

is to give away all ourselves to God.

This is the God who suffered and died.

This is the God whose heart is broken

for suffering and death in our world,

and in us.

This is the God

who longs for the healing of the nations,

and for healing in us.

In our bodies.

In our souls.

A family once heard about healing

happening at Lourdes,

in France.

The place made famous

for its stories of people going there

and being healed.

It caught their attention

because their daughter had a

terminal illness affecting her heart.

So the family set off

from the United States.

A mother, a father and their daughter.

They made their way to Lourdes.

There was a man there

who had set up,

near the shrine,

said he was a faith-healer.

The parents were happy to find him,

and they lined up with the rest to speak with him,

with hope for their daughter.

When their turn came,

the three of them walked up,

and the man bent down

to speak to the daughter:

what healing are looking for today? he asked.

The daughter

sick herself,

answered the man,

well, I’m worried about my Dad,

he is shy;

and I’m afraid that sometimes

that makes him very lonely.

The man turned to the mother,

and said,

Well, what miracle do you want today?

The mother,

who had come all the way across the ocean

for her daughter to get well,


Sir, I do want any.

I have one right here.

She is my daughter,

who is able to look so compassionately

and insightfully on her father;

whose heart more concerned with her Dad’s

than with hers.

We know

that we all want physical healing.

But it wasn’t the physical healing

that got Jesus impassioned in the Gospels,

as much as the spiritual.

Healing the paralytic man

was a breeze compared to

convincing him, and others,

his sins were forgiven.

Healing the man with the withered hand

was no problem

compared to convincing those who watched

that being legalistic harms life.

After today’s sermon,

there will be an opportunity

to come forward

to receive anointing with oil for healing.

For you.

Or for someone you love.

The Jesus we follow is concerned for us.

He wants us well, in body, mind and in spirit.

This oil of anointing for healing

is a moment

during Lent,

where we can turn to Christ once more

and offer him our lives,

and look to him for true wellness

for our bodies

and for our souls.

So followers of Jesus,

beloved by God,

in a moment,


bring everything,

and give it away to God.

John Calvin,

a leader in the Reformations in Europe,

says this

in his handbook for Christian living:

“We are not our own;

therefore neither our reason nor our will

should predominate in our deliberations

or actions.

We are not our own;

therefore let us not propose it as our end,

to seek what may be expedient for us

according to the flesh.

We are not our own;

therefore let us, as far as possible,

forget ourselves

and all things that are ours.

On the contrary,

we are God’s;

to him, therefore

let us live and die.

We are God’s;

therefore let his wisdom and will

preside in all our actions.

We are God’s;

towards him, therefore,

as our only legitimate end,

let every part of our lives be directed.

And now may the peace of God

guard your hearts and minds,

in Christ Jesus.


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