setting our minds on things of God and not of man (Mark 8:33)

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( READING: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25 and Mark 8:31-38)

( READING: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25 and Mark 8:31-38)

In this Second Sunday of Lent, we are going to reflect on Jesus' saying in Mark 8:34-35 that is quoted below as follows, "If anyone would like to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his own cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it".

Following Jesus involves self-denial and taking up one's cross. Jesus himself showed us an example as recorded in the Bible as stated by St. Paul in his letter to Philippians, Philippians 2:5-10. Jesus obeyed God in carrying out the mission of salvation of human beings from sin. He became a human being, born of the Virgin Mary so as to identify with humanity. He had to die on the cross as a sacrifice to take away our sins. He died in our place so that we can get forgiveness from God and obtain eternal life in heaven. The change Jesus underwent was both physical and mental.


In these peace talks, we have been struggling to agree to change and reform our institutions of governance, security and economy to achieve a just and lasting peace in our country, South Sudan. Our country has plunged itself into internal conflict since 15th December 2013. But without changing our mindset, we shall not succeed to transform ourselves and our country. Only by setting our minds on things of God and not of man can we be transformed as individuals and a nation and thus ensure for ourselves and the coming generations a just and lasting peace.


There will be challenges on the way as Jesus said in Mark 8:31-38. He mentioned just three of them as follows:


1. His disciple, Peter, did not agree when Jesus announced that he was going to be arrested, tortured and killed on the cross as part of his mission of salvation. Peter said, "no." Jesus told Peter to get behind him, literally calling him 'Satan.' Perhaps Peter was concerned about his own interest more than the interest of God. In the same way, we will face opposition from our close friends when we want to change our minds and work for peace.


2. Personal interests may stand on our way as mentioned by Jesus (gaining the whole world at a cost of eternal life), Mark 8:35-36. What other people will say may bring us shame when we choose to follow Jesus, Mark 8:38. Jesus stated that he will also be ashamed of such people in the presence of his father on the last day, Day of Judgment.


2. Example of Abraham


God made a promise to Abraham to be a father of many nations as recorded in Genesis 17:4, "Behold my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations." The promise to Abraham was fulfilled many years later through the nation of Israel where Jesus was born. Abraham faced many challenges on the way of fulfilling the mission of God in his lifetime. He was very old and his wife, Sarah, was barren, Romans 4:19. St. Paul wrote about Abraham, "In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, 'so shall your offspring be'", Romans 4:18.


Abraham was able to overcome the challenges of old age and barrenness of his wife, Sarah, by faith in God. He gave glory to God as written by St. Paul, "No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised," Romans 4:20-21. Abraham believed in God even though he was a hundred years old when Sara, age ninety, gave birth to Isaac, , Genesis 21:5. Thus Abraham became the father of faith to all those who believe in God through Jesus Christ, Romans 4:22-24.


In a situation of hopelessness, Abraham is a good example to follow. He believed against hope as St. Paul wrote and God used him to start the nation of Israel from which Jesus, the saviour of the world was born. I do not know what difficult situation you may be in at present but God knows it. Have faith in God that one day it will be gone as you wait in hope and continue in carrying out his mission. But remember to give glory to God as Abraham did.


3.Personal testimony


When I was accepted in Rumbek Secondary School in 1973 after the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement of March 1972, I chose Science section (Maths). I wanted to enter Khartoum University and study engineering. I was inspired by an example of Ajuay Magot, now a professor of electrical engineering who was one class ahead of me. Some of his colleagues, like James Wani Igga, now Vice President of South Sudan, and others who chose to study in Science section (Biology) failed the subject and, therefore, were not accepted in Khartoum University. I, therefore, avoided the same route even though I was doing well in Biology and other Science subjects. When we sat for Sudan School Certificate examinations in 1976, I was accepted to Khartoum University. I completed my studies in civil engineering and graduated in May 1981. I was then employed by Norwegian Church Aid in August 1981 as a project engineer at its head office at Hillieu Village, Torit, Eastern Equatoria. I did my postgraduate studies in Loughborough University of Technology, UK in 1984/5 and got my second degree in construction engineering. However, the second civil war had broken out in Bor in May 1983 and spread to Eastern Equatoria in 1985 while I was still in UK.


However, I still wanted to pursue my engineering career and put into practice what I had learned from my post-graduate studies. Therefore, I returned to Torit in September 1985 and was appointed head of Engineering Department as all Norwegian staff were forced out from Torit due to insecurity. Thus it became difficult for NCA to continue to carry out its rural development programmes. Many people were displaced by the war and NCA moved its Head Office to Juba in April 1986. My engineering profession was no longer needed in those circumstances of insecurity and growing civil war.


Nevertheless, NCA retained me and re-assigned me to administrative functions until I rose in 1990 to the level of Deputy Director of Programme in Equatoria Region based in Juba under Jerome Gama Surur as Director. There were many internally displaced people (IDPs) from Eastern Equatoria in Juba. NCA was assigned to take care of them by the then government of Equatoria Region.


As I have narrated above, changing of my mindset came in two ways. The second civil war forced me to change my profession from engineering to administration or management while serving with NCA in Juba and from a layman to an ordained priest in 1989 in Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS), renamed ECSS&S in November 2013. Gradually and after theological training at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, UK in 1991/2 I served with NCA, SCC in Khartoum and ECS in Juba in different capacities but as an administrator, not an engineer. By December 2009, I was elected and consecrated as second Bishop of ECSS&S Rejaf Diocese where I am still serving. Thus I have denied my interest in engineering career in order to serve people as an administrator, priest and now Bishop as dictated by circumstances in my country and in response to the needs of the people.


I am sure you have similar stories to tell on how the challenges arising from the second civil war 1983-2005 and now the current conflict has affected each one of you. A lesson we can learn from Jesus, Paul and Abraham is that they obeyed God and fulfilled the missions assigned to them. Jesus became the Saviour of the world from sin. Abraham became a father in faith of many nations. St. Paul became an apostle to the gentiles and helped in spreading the gospel beyond his nation of Israel. In what way do you need to change your mind to serve God through serving other people? Or are you still having the same mindset and is pursuing your personal interest?


3. Conclusion


In this season of Lent, we are required as Christians to review our mindsets in order to serve the things of God rather than the things of man as Jesus told Peter in Mark 8:33, "Get behind me, Satan. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."


There will be people like Peter who will say no to us or obstruct the gospel like Paul when we decide to change from serving our own personal interest to serving God and other people. We should not ignore such people but try to assist them to join the mission of God like Jesus did to Peter and Paul.


Our mission here in Addis Ababa is to bring peace to South Sudan with the help of IGAD and its partners. We will face challenges in the process of peace making like Abraham and Sarah before us in their mission. Let us learn from their example to obey God wherever he has called us to carry out his mission in our time. In this way we shall not be carried away by our own interests and miss eternal life in heaven as Jesus warned us in Mark 8:35.


Romans 12:1-2 and closing prayer.




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