Does Faith Fatigue You?

Mark 10:28-31

March 10, 2013

A few Sundays ago, I was relaxing after lunch and the television was on. When the program that I was watching finished and went off, it was followed by a show that I had not seen before called Property Wars. The more I watched, the more interested I became. Property Wars is set in Phoenix, Arizona and focuses on the professional lives of six foreclosed homebuyers who work in the area. What is most interesting about the market there is the fact that the buyers are not able to go inside the foreclosed homes until after they have purchased them. So, they are actually buying homes by only observing the outside, which means that they are taking a big gamble on how the interior looks.

Since their plan is not to live in the houses that they buy but rather to resale them for a profit, you can easily imagine that a big part of the show is the chance to witness the moment that these same buyers walk inside of their just purchased homes for the first time. Sometimes what they see makes them want to cry as the interior is far worse from what they had hoped. On other occasions, what they find makes them want to jump for joy because the inside is either as good as or better than what was hoped. Either way, seeing the inside is the moment that these real estate cowboys find out if their recent investments were worth the risky purchase or not.

This relationship between cost and value is one that most all of us in this room can fully appreciate. From the homes we live in, to the food on our table to the other daily decisions that we make, all of us regularly want to make sure that what we pay for things is far outweighed by those same items’ value.

This same principle is at work in our lives of faith. And, as a result, sometimes we become quite frustrated when we sense that what we are putting into our faith lives is not being rewarded by what we are receiving in return. Without question, such moments can be among the most difficult in our lives as God’s people and we all understand why this is the case.

The good news here is that we are not alone. Rather, even the gospels themselves portray several New Testament figures as being equally concerned that their decision to follow Jesus is worth the effort. And, Peter’s statements to Jesus in our text for today from Mark 10 are a prime example of one such moment.

From the outset, it is important to see that Peter’s words here are the continuation of the story that we focused on last week in our worship—that is the encounter between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler. As we discussed last Sunday, Jesus challenged this man to divest himself of his wealth and possessions for in Jesus’ mind, these were the things that were keeping him from truly embracing the Kingdom of God. As the text moves toward a conclusion, Peter also weighs in on Jesus’ conversation with this same Rich Young Ruler.

As he does, it is fairly obvious that Peter’s words are born out of frustration and some level of disappointment. In no uncertain terms, Peter wants Jesus to appreciate that he and the other disciples have done exactly what has just be prescribed to this young ruler. That is to say, they all have given up everything—families, possessions and prominence to follow Jesus. But, Peter is struggling to embrace the idea that their collective commitments and sacrifices have produced the promised or anticipated results. Born out of frustration and a sense of concern for what lies ahead, Peter shows his real humanity and disappointment with where their commitments to Jesus have led them.

In a remarkable way, Jesus responds to Peter’s words and feelings in a very direct and understanding way. He doesn’t try to sugar coat things or deny the reality or validity of what Peter says. Instead his response is both an affirmation of Peter’s feelings that is both honest and at the same time full of hope. In turn, what Jesus offers to Peter and to all of us are good words and guidance for those moments when our faith frustrates and fatigues us. As he does, Jesus wants Peter to understand that while the life of faith isn’t a bed of roses, without question, the benefits far outweigh the cost.

Again, Jesus’ words to Peter here are invaluable for you and I today in the midst of our own faith and for that matter in the midst of the general frustrations of life. In turn, this morning, in light of the fact, that we have likely been frustrated in our faith in the past and the fact that we will likely be frustrated in our faith in the future, let me mention several things that Jesus says to Peter that are well worth our remembering as well.

From the outset, Jesus affirms that faith is not easy. Peter is right after all. They have given up a lot to follow after Jesus obediently. And, truth be told, there is still much that they will give up in the future. In light of this, what is remarkable is that Jesus doesn’t attempt to deny or ignore reality. Rather he is very honest that obedience does have costs associated with it. This is a good word for us too. For the truth is that sometimes we convince ourselves that any time hardships, struggles or frustrations enter the life of faith then something must be wrong or askew. Yet, this is nothing more than a natural part of the process. Faith is not supposed to be a walk in the park or a bed of roses and we are much better off if we affirm this truth before the fact rather than to encounter it in an unsuspecting way.

At the same time that Jesus affirms that faith is not easy, he also cautions Peter and the other disciples not to allow their current circumstances to become a false picture of the whole life of faith. What I mean by this is that Peter and his colleagues were obviously making their way through a difficult spot in their task of discipleship—these were hard days. In turn, Jesus’ conversation with the Rich Young Ruler evidently struck a nerve. But the trap that Peter was in danger of falling into was the temptation to quickly conclude that their current experiences were a sign of how things were always going to be and that simply wasn’t accurate or a fair portrayal. In turn what Jesus wanted his disciples to embrace was the fact that while difficulties are a part of the life of faith they are only a part and when we live through these moments, we must always hold tight to the belief that good days and better experiences are generally ahead.

When I think about this, I am reminded of counseling sessions with couples who have been married for only a short time. It is not uncommon at all for couples in their first few months of marriage to schedule an appointment only to arrive and admit that things are not turning out as they had hoped. Generally speaking what has happened is that the honeymoon is over and they are settling down to real life where things are not always like they were on the first date. In turn, they quickly conclude that the few fights or frustrations that they have suddenly experienced are a sign of how things are always going to be and they are ready to throw in the towel. What becomes so important in those moments is to on the one hand affirm their frustrations but at the same time to help them to see that this is not the way things will always be. In all likelihood things will get better. They will learn how to live together and over time they will learn how to navigate through the things that are concerning them—generally speaking, things will improve.

In a nutshell, this is what Jesus was saying to Peter. “Yes Peter, you are right, this is difficult. But, listen to me Peter. Don’t allow your current frustrations to lead you to think that this is the way things will always be because that is never an accurate or fair conclusion to make. There are and will be bumps, frustrations and fatigue along the way. Yet, mark my word, things will get better.” Without a doubt, these were good words for the disciples and they are good words for us.

Finally, Jesus also challenged Peter and his colleagues to embrace the truth that ultimately the present and future rewards of faith far outweigh the costs. Whether it would be seen in the near future or the distant future, Jesus was very clear that the frustrations, sacrifices and fatigue that all of the disciples were experiencing was worth it.

Without question this is a tremendously important word for us too. In the life of faith, the rewards and the benefits far outweigh the cost.

I read recently an interesting story about the discovery of the tomb of Charlemagne who was the first emperor of the Roman Empire. When Charlemagne’s tomb was uncovered in modern day Germany years and years after his death, the finders were surprised at what was inside. The body of Charlemagne was sitting on his throne marvelously intact and surrounded by the spoils of his years as leader of the Empire. Yet, in his lap was a scroll with one of his fingers literally placed in a position to be pointing toward a particular statement. What they discovered was that the scroll was a section of the gospels and the statement that the finger was pointing to was this: What should it profit a man if he gain the whole world but loose his soul? (Smyth & Helwys Commentary: Mark, Alan Culpepper, pg. 288.)

Surrounded by power and the great trophies of this life, it was as if Charlemagne was saying that all that this life has to offer is of little value compared to the rewards of the kingdom of God. Amen.