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“Profit and Loss”
Mark 8:27-38


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Second Sunday in Lent—March 4, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The two most valuable things I learned in high school, the things which have been the most practical use throughout my life, were both in the business department.  One was touch typing.  I think I took Typing I and Typing II.  We learned on IBM Selectrics and also got a few weeks experience on manual typewriters.  I figured I’d use my typing skills preparing papers in college, and after that probably not type too much for the rest of my life.  But, then personal computers came along, and email, and I became a pastor, constantly writing sermons and other materials.  So, it turned out to be a huge timesaver and blessing that thanks to high school I’m a good typist.

The other very valuable life skill I learned in the high school business department was double entry bookkeeping, how to reconcile credits and debits, income and expenses, profit and loss.  “For what will it profit a man,” Jesus asks, “if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul?”  As you live out your daily life, Jesus says, don’t lose sight of the eternal consequences, don’t forget to take into account the eternal “Profit and Loss.”

Jane Goddall, the famous zoologist, who lived for years among gorillas and chimpanzees, found that they are attracted to, fixate on, and like to collect shiny objects, like bottle caps, coins, costume jewelry.  The behavior of these primitive animals seems so quaint.  But, in his book with the title “Shiny Objects,” behavioral psychologist James Roberts shows how we humans have the same trait.  Except that the shiny objects we are attracted to, fixate on, and like to collect are a lot bigger and more expensive.  Instead of bottle caps, we collect cars, houses, boats; instead of coins, we collect salaries and bank accounts; instead of costume jewelry, we collect the real thing, and all sorts of other trinkets, from iPads to big screen TV’s.  The list of shiny objects that we humans fixate on is endless—and growing.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul?”  This human folly, of gaining the whole world at the cost of losing our souls, goes back to the Garden of Eden, as illustrated in our Creation window.  Genesis reports, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” 

Adam and Eve were led astray by the shiny object of the forbidden fruit.  In the credit column, they had gained a taste of the forbidden fruit.  But, in the debit column, the resulting loss for all of humanity was catastrophic.  Paul puts it this way in Romans: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned . . .  the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men. . .  through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.”

Satan still uses this same ploy, which worked so well with our first parents, and remains very effective with us today.  Satan is seeking to lead you astray with all the shiny objects of this world.  What St. Paul tells Timothy about money also applies to all other kinds of shiny objects: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

The shiny object of financial gain leads people to wander from the way of honesty, and pierce themselves with many griefs.  The shiny object of temporary euphoria leads people to wander from the way of sobriety, and with alcohol and drugs to pierce themselves with many griefs.  The shiny object of sexual pleasure leads people to wander from the way of chastity, or their spouse, and pierce themselves and their families with many griefs.

Beware of shiny objects!  “Watch out!” Jesus says. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. . .  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul?”

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus is tempted by the greatest shiny object in all of history.  “He asked [his disciples], ‘Who do people say I am?’  They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’  ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’” 

The word “Christ” means the “Messiah,” the “Savior” of the world promised from of old to come from the Hebrew people.  But, when Peter confesses “You are the Christ,” at that point he didn’t understand that Jesus would save the world through his suffering, death, and resurrection.  That is why the Gospel Reading says that immediately, “[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

Jesus constantly had to fight widespread Messianic misconceptions, even among his own disciples.  For, the Hebrew people had twisted the Old Testament promises of the Messiah, and expected that when he came the Messiah would be not the Savior of our souls for eternal life, but a mighty worldly warrior and the greatest of all earthly kings. 

Throughout his ministry Jesus had to constantly correct this Messianic misconception.  There’s a very telling verse in the Gospel of John: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”  Jesus would not let them “make him king by force.”  He rejected a crown of gold, because for us and our salvation he had to wear a crown of thorns.  “He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”

Satan is working through Peter to try to lure Jesus away from his Messianic mission, tempting Jesus with the shiny object of a worldly kingdom, an earthly throne, a golden crown, instead of suffering and dying for our salvation.  But, Jesus will not be led astray. “Get behind me, Satan!  You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

“For the Son of Man came not be served,” Jesus said, “but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Paul puts it this way in Philippians, “Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”  His death on the cross was a sacrifice to pay for your sins.  Because of his life, suffering, death, and resurrection, your sins are all forgiven.

“Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  In his book “The Cost of Discipleship” the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.”  That’s literally what happened to Bonhoeffer just a few years after he wrote those words, when in the final days of World War II he was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp because of his resistance to the Nazis.

The camp doctor who witnessed his execution said: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer . . . kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. . . I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

At any moment that scene could be repeated in Iran.  Yousof Nadarkhani is a brave, 34-year-old Iranian Christian pastor, with a wife and two young boys.  Like Bonhoeffer, Pastor Nadarkhani has been sentenced to death by hanging, because at age 19 he converted from Islam.  The London Daily Mail reports: “He was . . . tried and found guilty of apostasy . . . and sentenced to death. . .  the Supreme Court of Iran upheld the death sentence . . .  The . . . Supreme Court’s decision also included a provision for annulment of the death sentence if Mr. Nadarkhani recanted his faith. . .”

Pastor Nadarkhani could save his life if he would renounce faith in Christ.  But, the Daily Mail continues: “Nadarkhani told the court . . . that he had no intention of returning to Islam.  He said: ‘Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?’”

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul?”  Pastor Nadarkhani has weighed the profit and loss.  The profit of keeping his earthly life is not worth the loss of his soul for eternal life.

What about you? All those shiny objects Satan tempts you with; are they worth wandering from the faith; are they worth the loss of your soul?  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul?”  As you live out your daily life, don’t lose sight of the eternal consequences, don’t forget to take into account the eternal “Profit and Loss.”

Amen.

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