28th August Mattins St Georges Chapel Windsor (Jeremiah 15. 15–21 Matthew 16. 21–28 )
‘Those who want to save their life will lose it’ (Matthew 16.25)
I remember going to a Ruby Wedding party in my last parish and delighted in the way the couple seemed to be able to laugh at themselves and each other in the thank you speeches. We were treated to this one liner – “My husband and I have managed to be happy together for 40 years. I guess this is because we’re both in love with the same man.”
Do you love yourself? This morning when you looked at yourself in the bathroom mirror what did you see? A contented self? An ageing self? A fearful or angry self? Who are we – what are we? What might it mean to die to self?
When I was in Chicago in 2008 I occasionally worshipped with the Quakers. I picked up a leaflet “How To Be Miserable.” It gives this advice, “Think about yourself. Talk about yourself. Use “I” as often as possible. Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others. Listen greedily to what people say about you. Expect to be appreciated. Be suspicious. Be jealous and envious. Be sensitive to slights. Never forgive a criticism. Trust nobody but yourself. Insist on consideration and respect. Demand agreement with your own views on everything. Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favours shown them. Never forget a service you have rendered. Shirk your duties if you can. Do as little as possible for others.” What do you see in that mirror?
In the Gospel reading we are challenged to a self denying living and loving, to abandon a self will seeks to manipulate others, preoccupied only with its own power and with creating and defending its worth. This is a radical call. Taking up the cross asks us to be real and vulnerable, to be loved and loving. There is a cost to this. This passage does not call us away from what it means to be a human being, but causes us to be truly human, to find our true selves in God. By abandoning our false selves. Loss and gain is what this Gospel living concerns itself with. Clearly we are being encouraged to aspire as to what will be of gain. The true nurture of self is to love ourselves as God loves us. It is serving the false self that is selfishness. Caring for oneself as God cares for us means opening oneself to God’s love as the life and energy of the soul. That love will expand in all directions: towards ourselves, towards others, towards God. When Christianity is perceived, as teaching that we should ignore our own interests, there is deception and untruth. The Gospels appeal to people to recognise what is good for them; what is gainful. The answer lies in a revolutionary thought. I find myself we find ourselves, when we allow ourselves to be loved and to love and to abandon the effort to manipulate that love from others by playing games and exercising power.
All of us have had our fair share of serving the false self. We all build up facades and hide behind them and it’s difficult to change. Threatened, shrivelled people hide behind massive artifices which have enabled them to survive – they do not need judgement and attack. They need – we need – tenderness and understanding. In this short passage we are confronted with ultimate issues which affect the world of the individual as well as the world in which we all share. Love sets us free to love and to lead in serving and to find fulfilment in such giving which characterises the life of God revealed in Christ. This is our journey and our journey’s end.
What do we see in that mirror? What do we need to do to save our lives? Beware and remember that advice on how to be miserable: “Think about yourself. Talk about yourself. Use “I” as often as possible. Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others. Listen greedily to what people say about you. Expect to be appreciated. Be suspicious. Be jealous and envious. Be sensitive to slights. Never forgive a criticism. Trust nobody but yourself. Insist on consideration and respect. Demand agreement with your own views on everything. Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favours shown them. Never forget a service you have rendered. Shirk your duties if you can. Do as little as possible for others.”
Let us pray Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do. I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, a Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father. Amen