Brian Hiortdahl, Overland Park, KS

 Warm-up Question

What does success look like?

Success or Bust

Darko Milicic was the number two overall selection in the 2003 NBA Draft, chosen behind only LeBron James, and ahead of several other notable stars.  His professional basketball career is widely considered such a disastrous disappointment that his name has become almost synonymous with the term “bust”:  a colossal failure.  Yet in a lengthy article, Sam Borden offers ten reasons why Darko should be considered a success.  Despite his failure in the NBA, Milicic has become more emotionally mature, financially secure, and at a peace with himself and his history.  He is able to acknowledge past mistakes without being defeated by them.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you consider Darko Milicic a failure or a success?  Why?
  • Have you ever felt pressure to continue something you really wanted to quit?
  • What expectations from others impact you?  In what ways are these expectations positive or negative; how do they help or hurt you?

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary ReadingsFor lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Peter has just correctly identified Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  This title comes with enormous expectations.  Jesus then “sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah” and, as this week’s reading opens, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering… and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  The Messiah was expected to restore power and glory to Israel; being crucified (by Rome) is the complete and exact opposite of this.  Peter tries to talk Jesus out of this nonsense and gets harshly scolded for it.  God has other things in mind.

As Jesus elaborates, he says something very difficult that resonates with Darko’s story:  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those 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?”  The word “life” can also be translated “soul”—one’s truest self. Expectations and appearances can cloud our understanding of who we really are, and what God wants for us and from us.  Getting there is often a difficult climb beginning with loss that feels like death, “like Old Darko died.”

In our confirmation class, the pastor wrote on the board about twenty responses to the question:  “What do you and your parents hope for in your life?”  The list included answers like happiness, financial security, a home, family, good health and reputation—the things usually associated with success.  Then the pastor said, “Let’s evaluate Jesus on the cross.”  Every last item was eliminated; Jesus was a “failure” on every count.  A total messianic bust.

Things are not always as they appear, the pastor explained.  Maybe the antisocial nerd everyone considers a loser is a future CEO.  Maybe the beautiful and popular student everyone admires is a lonely self-injurer.  Success can be an impossible burden and failure freedom.  The cross reminds us that God has other things in mind than we do, and the truth is usually deeper than the surface suggests.

Discussion Questions

  •  How does Darko’s story illustrate what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples?  Where do you detect God’s grace at work in his life?
  • Who judges you, and how?  Whom do you judge?  How might you reconsider your evaluation of them?
  • When have you experienced a loss that you later saw was the beginning of a blessing?
  • What in you, or in your church, needs to die in order for you to live?

Activity Suggestions

  • In your group, make your own list of hopes that you and your parents have for your life.  Do any of these describe Jesus on the cross?  Do these hopes enliven or threaten the soul—are they human things or divine things?
  • Identify a “bust” you know—someone (or a population) considered a failure or a disappointment.  Pray for them, write them an encouraging letter, and find a way to appreciate or serve them.
  • Visit a monastery and share a prayer liturgy with the community there.  Stay and talk afterward.  What new perspectives do you get?

Closing Prayer

Set our minds, Lord Jesus, on divine things.  Show us the truth about ourselves and others and you.  Empower us to shoulder our callings, and give us the courage to follow you through times of confusion and pain and loss to the joy of new life.  Amen