Mark 8: 27 – 38 Released from the Net of Regret   September 12, 2021


Released from the Net of Regret

Mark 8: 27 – 38


(preached on September 12, 2021)


Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat things in our gospel passage for today from Mark.  He’s very clear that when we choose to follow him, we’ll have to lose some things.  He says if we want to save our lives, we’ll lose them.  But his good news is that when we lose our lives, we’ll find new life.  We’ll find the true life God intended for us with the very first breath we took.  We’ll find the peace that comes from knowing that we’re living into the lives God wants for us.


Jesus is talking to a crowd here, a large number of people.    Sometimes I wonder:  How many of the people in that crowd actually took Jesus at his word?  How many of them answered his call to lose their old lives and follow him into new lives?  Surely in the crowd that day there were some who listened politely and then returned to their homes and their everyday lives.  And sometimes I wonder, what about those who walked away, who chose not to follow Jesus?  As the years went by, did they look back at their decision not to follow?  Did they wish they had decided differently?  Did they regret that decision?


Regret is the feeling you get looking back at a decision you made, or something you did, and wishing you had done things differently.  Psychologists tell us that regret is one of our most common emotions.


All of us feel regrets from time to time.  There are different kinds of regrets.  Some regrets are about things we didn’t do when we were young, maybe because we didn’t have the confidence.  For example, one of my friends says he regrets something that he didn’t do in middle school.  He was offered the lead in the school play, but he didn’t believe he had the talent for it.  He turned down the lead in the school play because he didn’t have confidence that he would do it well.  Now he regrets that.


I have a regret about my own school years.  I regret that when I was in school I didn’t take the opportunity to study more math.  After Algebra II in the tenth grade, I decided I had had enough math.  I didn’t like math much.  It was hard for me.  I liked literature and languages and history much more.  After Algebra II, no more math was required at my school, so that was it.  I never took Calculus or any kind of advanced mathematics.  Now I wonder, would my life have been better if I had studied more math?  There’s no way to know of course.  But learning more math might have given me more ways to think about things.  It might have given me more ways to solve problems.


I regret not learning more math, but that regret doesn’t cause me a lot of pain.  I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what might have been if I had studied more math.  I don’t dwell in feelings of regret about it.


But some regrets are harder to live with.  Some regrets can cause us a lot of pain.  We might regret making that stupid statement at the job interview, that cost us the job.  We might regret starting that argument at Thanksgiving.  We might wish we hadn’t said those things that got some family members so mad at us that now we’re not on speaking terms.  We might regret being so critical of our kids when they were growing up.


Some regrets are hard to live with.  Some regrets don’t go away.  When we feel those regrets, again and again, we can get to a place where we’re overwhelmed by regret.  We feel like we’re dwelling in regret.  We’re consumed by thoughts of “if-only…”  and “what might have been.”  Dwelling in regret can be painful because we can’t change the past.  We can’t turn back the clock and be in high school again.  We can’t un-say the hurtful thing we said.  We can’t start over and be new parents again.


Some regrets are painful.  And we might make those regrets even more painful.  We make those regrets even more painful when we take on too much responsibility for something bad that happens.  Sometimes we get caught up in regret for something that isn’t entirely our responsibility; something that isn’t our fault.  For example, one young man was tormented by painful regret for years.  The young man’s father had taken his own life, and the son deeply regretted something he had failed to do: as an adult, he hadn’t listened to his father very much.


Since he lived far away from his parents, he called them every week.  But on those calls he didn’t spend much time listening to his father.  After his father’s death, he said, “If only I had listened to him talk, just talk about the ordinary things in his life.  But when I called my parents, I didn’t have much patience for my dad’s ramblings.  After a few minutes, I always asked to speak to Mom.  Maybe if I had listened more, Dad wouldn’t have gotten so depressed.  If I had just taken the time to listen, he wouldn’t have taken his own life.”


That young man was dwelling in painful regret.  You might say he was caught in the net of regret.  But he was taking on himself the whole responsibility for his father’s suicide.  He missed the fact that his father had other friends, and other family members, who also could have supported him.  Also, the young man underestimated the power of depression.  When someone is suffering from the illness of depression, it can be so profound that it takes away the desire to live.


Sometimes, like that young man, you and I get caught in the net of regret because we take too much responsibility for a bad situation.  Sometimes we forget that many things are simply out of our control.  We’d rather think we could have done something.  And, it might seem strange, but I think we’d often rather see ourselves as responsible.  We’d rather dwell on what we might have done, than accept that some things are out of our control.  We like to think we’re in control.  We live in a world that praises us when we’re in control of every situation.  We applaud the individual who is captain of his fate.  We don’t like to admit that we’re not the masters of our destinies.


To return to the people who walked away from Jesus that day, back to their everyday lives: did they regret the decision not to follow him?  Were they caught in the net of regret?  It may have been thousands of years ago, but they weren’t all that different from you and me.  They may have had regrets, even painful regrets.


Jesus offers them, and us, a fresh start.  He offers release from the net of regret.  He urges us not to linger over past mistakes, but to move into new life: a life shining with God’s promise of unconditional love.  He’s very clear that when we choose to follow him, we’ll have to lose some things.  If we want to save our lives, we’ll lose them.  But when we lose our lives, we’ll find new life.  We’ll find the true life God intended for us from the very beginning.  We’ll find the peace that comes from knowing we are living into the lives for which God created us.






















Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 17