Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 15 Proper 18


Our son Jody was a freshman at Warren Wilson College
when I got the phone call.
He was taking a religion class,
studying Jesus and the gospels.

Now don’t jump to conclusions
that he was striving to follow in my footsteps.
At that point in our son’s life
he was far more interested in disproving religion,
showing me the myriad ways I had been brainwashed.

“I just read something in Luke’s gospel
that I don’t think you are going to like.”
“Really? What is that?”

“Well, Mom, you are always saying we need to look to Jesus
as an example of how to live our lives, right?”
“True,” I respond (though I know he is setting me up).

“Well, Mom, right here in Luke, Chapter 14,
Jesus says I need to hate my mother.
In fact, Jesus says if I don’t hate father and mother,
wife and children, brother and sister,
I can’t be his disciple.
So, what do you think about that, Mom!!???”

There are some very difficult passages in the Bible
and this is one of them.
First of all,
with any difficult passage
we need to look at the big picture first.
We need to try to understand the meaning
beyond a single sentence or phrase.
What is Jesus telling this crowd of people who are traveling with him?

Jesus is saying, it is in no way easy to be my disciple.
You don’t get to just come along for the ride.
You can’t be a Jesus groupie
and just tag along without making your own commitment,
without making some changes
in how you live your life.
It’s not just about Sunday, folks.

There is a cost.

What are the requirements to be a disciple?

If we read Luke’s gospel,
the first requirement is to “hate” our parents and families.
We have to understand though
that the way we use the word “hate” today
and the way it was used in the middle east in the first century
are different.

We pack an emotional wallop into the word “hate.”
In Jesus’ time that word meant “to do without.”

Jesus is saying that if we want to be his disciple
we have to be willing to do without
mother, father, wife, children, brother, sister…
We must trust that much in God.
Disciples are called to put God as the first priority.
We know that
But we also know that is very, very, very difficult.

Jesus uses this example of doing without our families
To wake us up to how difficult discipleship really is.

However, we also cannot read this passage in Luke’s gospel
as permission to neglect or ignore our families.
We don’t get to put ourselves
as the number one priority either.
Discipleship calls us to love God
with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind.
To love God first but to love others as well.

Jesus follows this shocking statement about hating our families
with two parables
that help clarify what he is saying to the crowd, and to us.

The first parable tells us
that no one starts to build a tower
without planning on what it will cost.
After all, he says,
what kind of crazy person would start building something
he can’t finish?

This was the second OUCH for me in today’s gospel!
Being that my husband Tom and I are in the midst
of remodeling a small house
and most nights,
one or the other of us is lying awake,
worrying about how we will afford to finish this project.
We didn’t plan very well on what our “tower” would cost!
(Don’t you hate it when Jesus gets personal!!??!)

There is a tinge of irony in Jesus’ voice here.
He is well aware how often we begin projects, commitments, life changes…
without really thinking them through,
without the commitment to follow to the end.

Jesus is saying,
You have to look at the big picture of what discipleship costs.
And, indeed, there is a cost.

The second parable is even larger in scope.
Jesus tells us that no good king would lead his troops into battle
If he thought they would be outnumbered, slaughtered.
The leader must turn to other means to achieve peace--
To diplomacy, to working out a solution in a different way.
No good king.
Jesus is telling us that God has no desire for us to fail in our discipleship—
But God’s ways may not be the way we imagine.

Jesus is saying,
be wise.
Realize the cost of following me.
Don’t start on this path without recognizing it may lead places
you never imagined or dreamed.

And then our gospel passage closes this morning
with the “ouch-iest” passage of all:
None of you can become my disciple
If you do not give up all your possessions.

Jesus did not ask us to tithe here—
To give up just 10% of our possessions—
Jesus asks us to give up ALL our possessions.

Our possessions are all the worldly things that give us security—
and once again—we have heard it multiple times in Luke’s gospel—
Jesus says, let go!
Don’t let what you own
own you.
Don’t be possessed
by your possessions.
Let go.

So this is a very difficult gospel reading this morning.
My son was right.
We all need to really think
about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

I want to tell you about someone
who did think long and hard
about the cost of discipleship.
His name is John Wesley.

John Wesley lived in the 1700’s.
And some of you may know him
as the founder of the Methodist Church.
Now I must tell you
that Wesley was an Episcopalian—an Anglican—
until the day he died.
He did start a religious movement,
which eventually—after Wesley’s death—
grew into a new denomination.

Wesley was born into an educated and fairly affluent family,
a family of privilege.
That was his norm—
just as it is the norm for many of us.

Through his study of the gospel,
Wesley began to realize he needed to make some choices.
He carefully examined how he was living his life.
One day when he entered his house,
Arms full of some paintings he had bought to decorate his walls,
He suddenly saw that his own housekeeper had not even enough money
For a winter coat.
Wesley was shocked at his own blindness.
He began to take living the gospel seriously.
He knew he needed to let go, to relinquish possessions,
to strive for justice and peace,
to respect the dignity of every human being.
To begin to fully live into his baptismal covenant.

In 1731, John Wesley records that his salary for the year was thirty pounds.
So John Wesley carefully calculates
That he needs 28 of those 30 pounds to just survive,
To pay his bills for food and shelter and basic clothing.
So Wesley manages to live on 28 pounds that year
And he gives away the remaining two pounds.
We don’t know if he gave those 2 pounds to the church
Or to the poor
Or if he bought food for the hungry and gave that away.
All we know is that John Wesley gave two pounds for God’s work.

Four years into his ministry,
Wesley is earning 120 pounds.
Life is getting better.
More people are asking Wesley to come and preach
And paying him to do so.

Wesley had calculated he needed 28 pounds for his living expenses.
So he lived on those 28 pounds
and gave away 92 pounds.

Eventually, John Wesley became one of the best known,
most sought after preachers in history.
One source I read said,
by the end of his ministry, if we calculate inflation,
Wesley made the modern day equivalent
of $ 1.4 million dollars in one year—
and he lived on the modern day equivalent of $ 30,000.

John Wesley gave away over one million dollars that year.
I wonder what I would do,
what I would give away, what I would keep,
if I made $ 1.4 million dollars?

Wesley never changed the amount—that 28 pounds—he needed to live on.
He kept that same standard of living
and gave away all the rest.

The cost of discipleship.

Wesley understood—and he gave willingly and joyfully—
Because he realized to follow Jesus
It can never be about one person or even about one person’s family.
To follow Jesus is to care about a community—
That community can be a church, a city or the world—
To care and to use our blessings, our abundance,
to bless others,
as much as we possibly can.

Wesley fought for social justice—
for prison reform, for the abolition of slavery.
He was often at odds with church policy
but he gave anyway.
Wesley saw being baptized as the call to do good of every possible sort,
to inspire love at whatever the personal cost.

Wesley challenged himself—and others—
to really struggle with what it means to participate in God’s kingdom.
Not the kingdom that is to come,
but the kingdom that is here, that is right now.

Because in truth,
that is the only kingdom we can knowingly hope to affect.

Following Jesus is costly—
Both for our bank accounts
And for how we choose to live our lives.

We are in that large crowd that is traveling with Jesus—
And today, in Luke’s gospel,
Jesus has turned and looked us in the eye and asked:

“Are you really willing to pay the price?”

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