Prayer and Reflections for Holy Saturday

holy saturday 2

Hymn text from the Holy Saturday Divine Office

Selection from Holy Week Message by Bishop Sue Harper Johnson, North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (3/28/2018)
I have found that each year I tend to focus on one aspect of Holy Week, usually one reflecting the current circumstances in my life. This year I have been fixated on Holy Saturday. Let’s face it, Holy Saturday doesn’t get much airtime in the Protestant church. No Easter vigils, baptisms, bonfires, etc. We tend to move quickly from the drama of Good Friday to the joy of Easter morning, and often use Saturday for Easter Egg hunts and children’s events.

I don’t think we are giving Holy Saturday its due. It is a day of silence and waiting, a day when the disciples must have contemplated the horror of the crucifixion, agonized over their fear and betrayal, and succumbed to the depths of despair. All must have seemed lost.

But while the disciples wandered around in a fog of despair, God was doing God’s finest work. Within the dark and silence of the tomb, God’s resurrection power was bringing life out of death. The tomb became a womb of new life and possibility. And Jesus, firstborn from the dead, laid aside his grave clothes and neatly folded up the cloth from his head. He then headed to hell to proclaim that death had been conquered. And that’s that. The mystery of the ages, the miracle of all miracles, completed in a Saturday.

Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience,
for to wait is often harder than to work. – Peter Marshall

Selection from Worship in the Light of the Cross by John Indermar
Holy Saturday awkwardly interrupts the church’s calendar. We read in Luke of the women who rest on this day in sabbath observance. But we find it hard to replicate their rest in our day.

The prior week’s preparations for palm processions, Passion Week cantatas, and/or seven last word recollections leave little time for decorating sanctuaries and making ready for Easter breakfasts and final practices of brass quartets for Sunday’s allelulias – not to mention eggs to dye and family banquets to prepare. So much to do on Saturday and so little time.

But Holy Saturday offers this advice to activist-bent individuals and congregations and denominations like my own: Don’t just do something, stand there. Sometimes, our busyness cocoons and insulates us from deep consideration of why we think our lives require constant motion. Busyness has often been a prescription for overcoming grief. Do this, do that, work your way out of it. But once the activity dies down, when exhaustion inevitably sets in, the questions and the pain remain, perhaps aggravated by delay in their contemplation.

The women in Luke [23:55-56] actively engage in the immediate aftermath of crucifixion. They follow to see where the body has been taken. They prepare spices and ointments for anointing the corpse. But instead of pressing ahead in a rush to get things done ASAP, they stop. They keep sabbath. In Luke’s terms, they rest. Luke’s word Heschazo carries dual meanings of “to keep quiet” and “to cease from labor.” The women keep Saturday’s vigil in stillness and quietness.

Reflection on Waiting by Henri J. M. Nouwen
To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

Prayer for Holy Saturday by Lisa Degrenia
Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of Hosts,
There are so many things we do not understand

Help us to trust you
even when the situation is desperate and out of control

Help us to follow you
even when the way unclear

Help us to wait and rest
even when every bit of us screams to act

Build in us a faith that perseveres
Even when we can’t see you
Or feel you near
Or understand

Your power and goodness are never diminished
Morning is coming

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Click Here for a video of an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, author unknown

Prayer for Holy Saturday © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
(by Lisa Degrenia, revlisad.com) Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Quotes: Deny Yourself

Quotefancy-217426-3840x2160Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, and Luke 9:23-25 (NRSV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Self-denial is not a mask for self-contempt, but the necessary means for achieving self-mastery; for self-mastery makes possible our self-giving and self-fulfillment. Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment. -Scott Hahn

You will soon be asked to let go of some part of your false self, which you foolishly thought was permanent, important, and essential! You know God is doing this in you and with you when you can somehow smile and trust that what you lost was something you did not need anyway. In fact, it got in the way of what was real. – Richard Rohr 

Follow me. One of the most compelling sentences in the Bible. Two words, when spoken by Jesus, create a sense of power and mystery and awe. To follow is to enter into the unknown, to give your life over to another. We rarely want to do this. Yet at the same time it is exactly what we desire: to be led into a better place, a better world, a better life. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God

Following Jesus does not mean imitating Jesus, copying his way of doing things. If we imitate someone, we are not developing an intimate relationship with that person. Instead, following Jesus means to give our own unique form, our own unique incarnation, to God’s love. To follow Jesus means to live our lives as authentically as he lived his. It means to give away our ego and follow the God of love as Jesus shows us how to do it. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming

The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is extremely important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life.
~ N. T. Wright, Simply Christian

Lord, spare me from my wishes, that I may be free for you.
Spare me from my little self, that I may be my divine self.
Spare me from my life, that, dying, I may become yours.
– Excerpt of a prayer entitled Spare Me by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. For more on the ideas of denying our “little self”, ego, and false-self click over to another reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Deny Yourself

“Denying yourself” in its Jewish context means resting in the righteousness of Jesus and denying yourself of the righteousness that comes from performance of the law.
– Simon Yap, What is the meaning of “denying yourself”? 

Yap invites us to consider Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 16:31.

What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves! The irony is that we actually find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning. – Richard Rohr

In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on. -Henri Nouwen

Extended Quote from Steve Garnaas Holmes
To deny yourself is not to punish yourself, or to take on misery. It’s not to live in denial, to turn your back on who you are, but the opposite. We falsely see ourselves as finite, discreet individuals, separate from the world, in danger at any moment of disappearing back into the abyss. It’s not the real truth, but an image of our “self” that the ego uses to manage our consciousness. And we believe it. We spend our lives—mostly unconsciously— protecting that little “self,” and in particular its power, security and esteem. (Hence Jesus’ temptations in the desert.) It’s what St. Paul calls “the flesh.” He doesn’t mean our body; he means something even smaller, contained within our body, limited by our fears and appetites.

But we aren’t such little “selves.” We are part of something infinite. By the life of Holy Spirit in us we are members of the infinite Body of God, who dwells in us and we in God. We are sustained not by our own protection of our little lives but by the life-giving fountain of grace welling up within us to eternal life, flowing with perfect, infinite compassion.

To “deny ourselves” is to deny whatever fears keep us from loving fully. It is let go of our self-centeredness, to say no the illusion, to transcend our ego, to abandon our little skull-caged, death-leashed bit of fear and desire and instead become the infinitely alive and loving children of God we truly are. As those who embody God’s love we give of our lives for love; we are not afraid even of death, because we trust that with love and grace God overabundantly renews life in us. So we follow Jesus out of our selves and into infinite life: without fear we take up our cross, practice compassionate self-giving and join Jesus in loving the world into its newness. You are love; you are Beloved. Deny anything less, and love without limit.

Extended Quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber
Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy

This saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like “If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.” Or “deny your dignity and pick up your cross of continued domestic abuse and follow him.” Or “deny your experience and pick up your cross of trusting religious authorities to tell you what to believe.”

I wanted to convince you that when Jesus says deny yourself, that maybe it’s really denying the self that wants to see itself as separate from God and others. Deny the self that believes that spirituality is a suffering avoidance program. Deny the self that does not feel worthy of God’s love. Deny the self that thinks it is more worthy of God’s love than it’s enemy is. Deny the self that thinks it can do itself. Deny the self that is turned in on the self.

Because I really want you to know that dying to that false self no matter how painful, will bring you real life.

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Click here for another incredibly honest and faithful sermon on the “deny yourself, take up your cross” passage by Nadia Bolz-Weber, entitled “A Sermon on Addiction and the Problem with our Me-based Solutions.”

Click here for a reflection on how denying yourself intersects with social justice by Steve Garnaas Holmes.

For quotes on “taking up your cross”, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this post in other settings, please leave a comment

Sermon Recording – Looking Forward (Luke 2.22-38)

looking forward

Message: Looking Forward
Scriptures: Luke 2:22-38
Offered 1/7/18 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida

How do we stay looking forward, especially when the pull to the past is so strong? How do we look forward when we’re feeling stuck in our present reality? How do we run the race of faith with perseverance and finish well? How do we stay open, expectant and eager for God’s next step for us?

We duly celebrated at his birth… with the star we ran, with the magi we worshiped, with the shepherds we were enlightened, with the angels we glorified him, with Simeon we took him up in our arms, and with the chaste and aged Anna we made our responsive confession. – Gregory of Nazianzus

Who are Simeon and Anna? We meet them between Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the Wise Ones. Jesus is about 6 weeks old. Mary and Joseph bring him to Jerusalem for the traditional sacrifices/rituals associated with the birth of a firstborn son and the purification of a new mother. While there, the family encounters two senior citizens, let’s call them seasoned saints. They’re Biblical models of persevering faith and looking forward. Their trust in God and attention to spiritual practices kept them open, expectant, and longing for the promised Messiah.

Anna and Simeon
1. Are Righteous and Devout
Righteous = Right relationship with God, others, themselves, earth. They live a cross-shaped life long before the cross. Righteous describes their being.

Devout = Devoted. This describes their doing. They are intentional about staying open to the presence of God. You prioritize what you’re devoted to. What are you devoted to? If you want to know just check your calendar and your checkbook.

Martin Luther put it this way, “Show me where a man spends his time & money, and I’ll show you his god.”

Persevering/Long-Haul faith doesn’t just happen. It takes intentionality and consistency, like preparing for the Olympics. Consistent spiritual practices keep us open to God’s presence, strengthen our resolve, keep us looking forward.
Anna and Simeon are looking for God and looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises.

2. The Holy Spirit rests on them
This is a result of their faith and practices. It’s so clear it’s repeated three times in the passage. (verses 25-27)

What spiritual practices are you using to stay open to God’s presence, so the Holy Spirit will rest on you? (prayer, scripture reading, fasting, Sabbath, tithing, serving, etc.) These practices are timeless. They’re the same practices used by Anna and Simeon.

3. Looking forward
As a result of their faith and practices, Anna and Simeon anticipate and expect God to move and act. They have tremendous faith and trust in God. They have perspective, keeping a right proportion between looking forward and looking back like a car’s windshield and rearview mirror.

4. Looking forward to the consolation of Israel
Anna and Simeon move beyond “what’s in it for me” faith to a bigger picture. Me to We. (Again consider a car’s windshield) They’ve embraced the very heart of God, that the Messiah would bring salvation for all people. This helps them to finish well.

Simeons’s Song, Luke 2:29-32
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

All of this is available for us as well.

Prayer
Holy Spirit, as you rested on Simeon and Anna, so rest on me
Keep me expectant and open to your appearing
Make me a model of your compassion and wisdom
Make me a sign of your persevering grace and transforming power

Holy Spirit, rest on me
Keep my eyes clear, open, looking forward
Fill me with anticipation of you fulfilling your promises
Keep me trusting in your goodness and victory for the world

Save me from despair and falsehood
Grant me true perspective and faith
Keep me looking forward
Not just for myself, but for the greater good, for all
Take me beyond me to the fullness of your heart and plan
For you prepare salvation for all people,
The Jews and the Gentiles
The insiders and the outsiders
We all need you and we can all be saved. Hallelujah!

Holy Spirit touch me
Cleanse me
Enlighten me
Fill me
Strengthen me
Reveal to me
Rest on me
Amen

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I’m excited to now offer mp3’s of my Sunday messages. A huge thank you to Sean and my brothers and sisters at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota for all their help in making this possible. If you’re ever in Sarasota, please drop by for worship Sundays at 9am or 10:30am, or join us live on our Facebook page at 9am Sundays, or drop by during the week for a chat or small group. You and those you love are always welcome.

sermon © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

Sermon Recording – Ceasing (Mark 6)

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Message: Ceasing 
Scriptures: Mark 6:30-32
Offered 1/1/17, New Year’s Day, at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida

Classic New Year’s Resolutions
1. Exercise, eat right, lose weight
2. Quit smoking, drinking, drugging
3. Get serious about my spiritual life
4. Budget, pay off debt, save for the future
5. Organize my house
6. Organize my calendar so I can do more in less time. If I keep my scheduled focused, I can work more efficiently, do more things in less time.

Being Productive
1. Makes me feel important, needed
2. Keeps the adrenaline pumping. You can be addicted to stress.
3. Hurry keeps everything on a safe superficial level. Depth takes time. I don’t have to look closely at my relationships or my situation or my soul. I don’t have to feel my feelings fully. I’m fine as long as I’m busy. No, we’re not fine we’re sick.

Hurry Sickness – an unhealthy, continuous internal drive to accomplish more, achieve more, experience more in less and less time. More and more has diminishing returns. It keeps us from living well and ultimately destroys our soul.

John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted
For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith.
It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Do you want a life like this, or do you want something different?
Jesus offers an alternative.

Mark 6:30-32 NRSV
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Jesus’ Cure for Hurry Sickness is Ceasing
Ceasings = Solitude, Silence, Slowing, Sabbath
Ceasing distraction and noise and trying to do it in our own strength
Ceasing hurry. Ceasing in order to seek.

Jesus practiced ceasing regularly throughout his ministry
1. At the beginning he spent 40 days alone in the wilderness and at the end he spent the night in Gethsemane before crucifixion
2. Spent the night alone in prayer before choosing the disciples
3. Time away after the death of John the Baptist
4. After feeding the 5000, after healing a leper, after the 12 returned from preaching/teaching

Verse 31 says they were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. That sounds like us.

Jesus was busy, but never hurried
Busy = full schedule, many activities, demanding
Hurried = unhealthy inner drive, keeping up appearances, proving yourself
Hurry is based on fear and worry.
Hurry is constantly preoccupied, never fully present.

Busy = constantly reminded of God and my need of God
Hurried = unavailable to God

Vance Havner said, “If you don’t come apart for a while, you will come apart in a while.”

Jesus’ Cure for Hurry Sickness is Ceasing
Solitude Silence Slowing Sabbath
Creating space to listen. Trusting God will provide.
Stopping the self medication stimulation, distraction, and society scripts
Allowing God to hit the reset button

How to practice ceasing?
Quiet time, quiet place
Little ceasings throughout the day

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I’m excited to now offer mp3’s of my Sunday messages. A huge thank you to Leon and my brothers and sisters at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota for all their help in making this possible. If you’re ever in Sarasota, please drop by for worship Sundays at 9am or 10:30am, or drop by during the week for a chat or small group. You and those you love are always welcome.

sermon © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

Soul Tending, a small group experience based on Luke 13:10-17

soul-tending

As you gather, move chairs into groups of three.

Welcome and Centering
ONE:
Welcome. Let’s center by taking a deep breath in, let it out. Breath in, and out. Let’s pray together.

ALL: An Invitation to Christ by Dimitri of Rostov
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.

Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart with the flame of your love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there,
for you alone are my King and my Lord.

Gratitude and Glory Sightings
ONE:
1 Chronicles 16:34 NRSV
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

Please stand and share with the whole group a word of gratitude or glory sighting from the last week. Did God teach you something or reveal something to you? Was a prayer answered or was God apparent in the midst of a situation? Did God give you the chance to bring peace or hope or share the Good News of Jesus?

Persons stand and share

God’s Word for Today
Adapted from Pray as You Go, a daily prayer app (Jesuit apps)

ONE: I’ll be reading the scripture three times. As you listen to the scripture the first time, place yourself in the story. Who are you and what are you feeling?

Luke 13:10-17 (NRSV) Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Pause

As you listen again, what part of the scene is affecting you most? Be brave and stay with that part. Read the passage again and then pause.

Listen to the passage a third time. Discuss your experience with Jesus and listen to what he says to you. Read the passage again and then pause.

Share your experience with your group of three. When your group is ready, continue with the prayer time, spiritual goal setting time, and closing blessing.

Prayer Time
Jeremiah 29:12 NRSV
Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.

Pray blessing over each other and for each other’s needs
Pray for the needs of your community and world

Spiritual Goal Setting
Care of Soul Question – What devotional practices are you finding most helpful in strengthening your relationship with Jesus?

Fulfilling Your Call Question – What is your mission from God and how are you fulfilling it?

Set a spiritual goal for the coming week.

In your group of three, read the closing blessing together.

Closing Blessing- Psalm 5:11-12, The Voice
Let those who run to You for safety be glad they did
Let them break out in joyful song.
May You keep them safe—
their love for You resounding in their hearts.
You, O Eternal, are the One who lays all good things in the laps of the right-hearted.
Your blessings surround them like a shield.

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Soul Tending, Luke 13:10-17 compilation © 2016 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Prayer Station- Letting Go

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Prayer Stations are interactive experiences with Scripture or devotional prompts. A simple, creative gesture can help us slow down and listen for what God reveals. The gesture likewise opens us to respond.

For me, utilizing the sense of touch in prayer takes me to a child-like place. I’m reminded of a less complicated time- a time of wonder, imagination, and play. It gets me out of my head and into my heart. I’m often surprised by the ease and depth of God’s interaction in these encounters.

This prayer station was designed for the opening night of a women’s retreat. The opening night theme was “Let it go.” It could be used in many other settings as well.

I pray this idea encourages you to set aside some time to meet God in interactive prayer. If you choose to use this idea, or better yet create one of your own, I’d love to hear from you. – Lisa <><

Prayer Station Instructions

Mark 6:31
Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Psalm 46:10
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

Practice…

  • Turn off your phone and leave it in the basket. It will be returned to you at the end of the day.
  • Take off your watch, your Fitbit, or anything else you might carry to measure yourself and measure time. Leave it in the basket. It will be returned to you at the end of the day.
  •  Write
    •  Use the paper and pen to write your to-do list. Write down the things you “should” have done, things you are missing in order to be here, things still to be done
    • Write down the burdens you are carrying
    • Write down your worries, your concerns
    • When finished, fold the paper and write your name on the outside
    • Leave it in the basket as you entrust it to Jesus for the time we are together.

Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Prayer Station Symbols

  • Blue, patterned tablecloth, small white dove, earthen water jar representing the refreshing living waters of God the Holy Spirit
  • Icon of Jesus offering a blessing known as Christ Pantocrator
  • Wooden statue of Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying a lamb.
    • He will feed His fold like a shepherd; He will gather together His lambs—the weak and the wobbly ones—into His arms. He will carry them close to His bosom, and tenderly lead like a shepherd the mother of her lambs. Isaiah 40:11 The Voice Bible
  • Framed copy of Psalm 23.
    • The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always. He provides me rest in rich, green fields beside streams of refreshing water. He soothes my fears; He makes me whole again, steering me off worn, hard paths to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name. Psalm 23:1-3 The Voice Bible
  • Candle representing the Light of Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit
  • Green plant representing the hope and promise of new life and growth
  • Paper and pens for the writing project
  • Three baskets- one for phones, one for watches and Fitbits, one for the writing project

Click Here for the printout of the instructions for the prayer station

Quotes: Deny Yourself

Quotefancy-217426-3840x2160Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, and Luke 9:23-25 (NRSV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Self-denial is not a mask for self-contempt, but the necessary means for achieving self-mastery; for self-mastery makes possible our self-giving and self-fulfillment. Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment. -Scott Hahn

You will soon be asked to let go of some part of your false self, which you foolishly thought was permanent, important, and essential! You know God is doing this in you and with you when you can somehow smile and trust that what you lost was something you did not need anyway. In fact, it got in the way of what was real. – Richard Rohr 

Follow me. One of the most compelling sentences in the Bible. Two words, when spoken by Jesus, create a sense of power and mystery and awe. To follow is to enter into the unknown, to give your life over to another. We rarely want to do this. Yet at the same time it is exactly what we desire: to be led into a better place, a better world, a better life. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God

Following Jesus does not mean imitating Jesus, copying his way of doing things. If we imitate someone, we are not developing an intimate relationship with that person. Instead, following Jesus means to give our own unique form, our own unique incarnation, to God’s love. To follow Jesus means to live our lives as authentically as he lived his. It means to give away our ego and follow the God of love as Jesus shows us how to do it. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming

The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is extremely important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life.
~ N. T. Wright, Simply Christian

Lord, spare me from my wishes, that I may be free for you.
Spare me from my little self, that I may be my divine self.
Spare me from my life, that, dying, I may become yours.
– Excerpt of a prayer entitled Spare Me by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. For more on the ideas of denying our “little self”, ego, and false-self click over to another reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Deny Yourself

“Denying yourself” in its Jewish context means resting in the righteousness of Jesus and denying yourself of the righteousness that comes from performance of the law.
– Simon Yap, What is the meaning of “denying yourself”? 

Yap invites us to consider Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 16:31.

What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves! The irony is that we actually find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning. – Richard Rohr

In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on. -Henri Nouwen

Extended Quote from Steve Garnaas Holmes
To deny yourself is not to punish yourself, or to take on misery. It’s not to live in denial, to turn your back on who you are, but the opposite. We falsely see ourselves as finite, discreet individuals, separate from the world, in danger at any moment of disappearing back into the abyss. It’s not the real truth, but an image of our “self” that the ego uses to manage our consciousness. And we believe it. We spend our lives—mostly unconsciously— protecting that little “self,” and in particular its power, security and esteem. (Hence Jesus’ temptations in the desert.) It’s what St. Paul calls “the flesh.” He doesn’t mean our body; he means something even smaller, contained within our body, limited by our fears and appetites.

But we aren’t such little “selves.” We are part of something infinite. By the life of Holy Spirit in us we are members of the infinite Body of God, who dwells in us and we in God. We are sustained not by our own protection of our little lives but by the life-giving fountain of grace welling up within us to eternal life, flowing with perfect, infinite compassion.

To “deny ourselves” is to deny whatever fears keep us from loving fully. It is let go of our self-centeredness, to say no the illusion, to transcend our ego, to abandon our little skull-caged, death-leashed bit of fear and desire and instead become the infinitely alive and loving children of God we truly are. As those who embody God’s love we give of our lives for love; we are not afraid even of death, because we trust that with love and grace God overabundantly renews life in us. So we follow Jesus out of our selves and into infinite life: without fear we take up our cross, practice compassionate self-giving and join Jesus in loving the world into its newness. You are love; you are Beloved. Deny anything less, and love without limit.

Extended Quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber
Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy

This saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like “If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.” Or “deny your dignity and pick up your cross of continued domestic abuse and follow him.” Or “deny your experience and pick up your cross of trusting religious authorities to tell you what to believe.”

I wanted to convince you that when Jesus says deny yourself, that maybe it’s really denying the self that wants to see itself as separate from God and others. Deny the self that believes that spirituality is a suffering avoidance program. Deny the self that does not feel worthy of God’s love. Deny the self that thinks it is more worthy of God’s love than it’s enemy is. Deny the self that thinks it can do itself. Deny the self that is turned in on the self.

Because I really want you to know that dying to that false self no matter how painful, will bring you real life.

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Click here for another incredibly honest and faithful sermon on the “deny yourself, take up your cross” passage by Nadia Bolz-Weber, entitled “A Sermon on Addiction and the Problem with our Me-based Solutions.”

Click here for a reflection on how denying yourself intersects with social justice by Steve Garnaas Holmes.

For quotes on “taking up your cross”, click here

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