Preached on 4 September 2016 at St. John Episcopal Church, Snohomish
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, Year C
“You coulda gone all day without saying that.” I can just hear my dad’s voice saying that in response to something someone said that maybe put a damper on the high spirits of the day. Something true, but perhaps unkind or unnecessary or uncomfortable. Something like “well, back to work tomorrow” at the end of a vacation.
That was kind of how I felt reading today’s gospel. You know, Jesus, you coulda gone all day without saying that. We were all feeling so good about following you and the kingdom coming and all that. And then you had to bring up taking up crosses and hating our families and selling everything we own if we want to be your disciple. And I think he means it.
So, if that’s true, it’s more than uncomfortable. Why would anyone want to become his disciple? Well, if you’re hoping I’m going to say he didn’t really mean it or soften it in some way, I’m sorry. I may, however help you explore your own answer to the question, why you want to be his disciple.
Before we dive into the gospel, let’s start with Moses in Deuteronomy. “Choose life!” he says. This is his final discourse before the Israelites cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. He has just told them that they will, in fact, go astray and that God will hand them over to their enemies and they will be exiled in a foreign land (which we know will be Babylon) and then they will be returned to the land.
Choose life. Moses sets before them blessing or curse; life and well-being or death and adversity. Loving God, walking in the ways God has taught them, and they will have life and be blessed. Turn their hearts away from God, stray from God’s ways and they will be cursed; not because God is capriciously punishing them, but because following God’s teaching is a good way to live and helps one through even in adversity.
Maybe that’s what Jesus is talking about – choosing life; choosing life in Christ over absolutely everything else.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will sacrifice his life on a cross in order to demonstrate God’s love. We tend to hear what he is saying about carrying the cross through that lens. We associate sacrifice with suffering and death; with losing something dear to us. So let’s talk a little about sacrifice.
First of all, not all suffering or loss is sacrifice. And not all sacrifice is suffering and loss. Sacrifice is about offering something of oneself for the benefit of something greater. Think about your own life choices. What sacrifices have you made for your own future good (for example for your education or career or so you can provide for your retirement)? You have probably made sacrifices for the good of your family – parents and grandparents make many sacrifices for their children, and spouses make sacrifices for one another.
What sacrifices have you made for your community, your colleagues; or your field or profession? Maybe you have made sacrifices for the safety and/or freedom of vulnerable people.
Sacrifice is about giving more priority to something greater, something bigger than ourselves over our own security, safety, and comfort now. Rather than losing,
Sacrifice is life-giving. It leads to an increased sense of purpose, of life, of joy.
I think that describes what we often mean when we speak of sacrifice. But really, sacrifice is more than making choices.
Sacrifice means, literally, to make holy;
set aside for God.
Jesus is talking about sacrifice in relationship to discipleship. If you don’t hate your family and even your life, he says, you cannot be my disciple.
If you don’t carry your cross and follow, you cannot be my disciple. To be my disciple, you must give up everything you own.
He talks about counting the cost. But let’s not think that becoming Jesus’ disciple is a human project, another self-help program. Discipleship and multi-tasking don’t go well together. It’s not the Crop Walk or a 5K charity run that you fit in to your weekend if you have time; it’s not another activity to add to your already-too-long to-do list, your already-too-full calendar, your already-too-busy life.
No, following Jesus requires single-mindedness; singleness of heart, as one of our post-communion prayer says. If we look closely at what Jesus is saying, we find that following Jesus is not about what we do, it’s about who we are. It’s a matter of identity.
The people Jesus is talking to derive their identity from their family and their connections more than from their occupation or vocation as is often the case in our culture. So, when Jesus says they must hate father and mother, sister and brother, and so on, Jesus is telling them to set all that aside and find their identity in him. That’s pretty scary.
He calls them to be made holy; to sacrifice their whole lives – set their lives aside for God.
In just a few minutes, we will come this table. We will offer ourselves, our lives, our bodies and souls to God. And we will be nourished by the holy food and drink of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine; a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. And we’ll do it again next week and the week after that and the week after that.
Jesus’ words are hard. Why would we want to be his disciple?
Why do we come back to his table week after week after week?
Perhaps Moses says it best, we Choose Life!