XIII Pentecost 8 September 2019
Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
What a week, right? Right about this time last week were literally battening down the hatches with our Boy Scout Troop, getting ready for what was promising to be some real weather. But Monday came, and then Tuesday, and even Wednesday came and we were a little wet, but pretty much ready to get back into the saddle unscathed. We watched with shock and sadness what the storm had done in the Bahamas, but resolved to move our relief in being spared storm damage to providing actual tangible relief to our neighbors across the water. Throughout late last week, I began to notice an odd sentiment, though. I noticed it first in myself, and then I found it present in most of my conversations: a strange sort of disappointment for lack of a better word at having gone through so many steps of preparation without having the Payoff (?) of a storm. If that sounds absurd to you, you’re absolutely right, but I bet you had similar conversations too. I know I felt absurd when I thought that way.
But we all kind of get it too, don’t we. It takes some real time, effort, and resources to be prepared for a big hurricane. Regardless of whether the storm comes or not, we have to add up what all that water, bread, snacks, junk food, beer and wine cost us. And when we don’t get the full brunt of a big storm we forget that the real virtue behind the cost is prudence; being prepared is a good thing. Especially because we live in the tropics in Florida, and hurricanes are a thing here so having extra stuff around for the rest of the season isn’t too bad.
Thus, we, just like our brief little parables from the Gospel lesson this morning, have counted the cost of building our towers of water bottles; and have taken account of how many were in our brigade of helpers in keeping the parish safe. Prudence, it would seem, is at the heart of what Jesus was telling about the building of a lookout tower or the wise king fielding an appropriately-sized army in a campaign. But, you probably noticed some other text around those little stories. And its that other text that takes prudence to a whole new level beyond just having good accounting practices.
Look at how Jesus starts this lesson: by saying something that almost seems impossible given what most of of us think about Jesus. He says:
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
That’s intense! And while there is some interpretive nuance here, I dare say that nuance does not let Jesus followers off the hook any less, when we get down to brass tacks. When Jesus says ‘hate,’ there is no getting around the fact that the Biblical Greek uses the root word that means ‘hate.’ We actually see it when we use big words like ‘misanthropy;’ that little fragment in there “misa” and or “miso” really does mean “hate.” But to clarify, that phrase and wording didn’t mean the same thing back in Jesus’ time as it does now; Jesus is not elevating that teenage right of passage of screaming, “I hate you, mom,” and slamming the door. Rather, we are seeing an ancient turn of phrase that might ring out more like, “Whoever is not willing to lay aside their relationship with family to follow me, cannot be my disciple.” The original meaning is stripped of aggression and intense negative emotion, but Jesus is still staking a huge claim on the preferences of his followers: his work, his news, his life, is first.
Certainly those first crowds were likely as befuddled as we have been at this teaching.”But I love my dad, mom, wife, children, and whoever,” they might have said. Jesus’ original audience would not have had the benefit of hindsight for that next sentence: that
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
I mean, who said anything about a cross, Jesus? We were just talking about reorienting our affections and critiquing kinship roles and now we are talking about a Roman torture devices? And even though it seems kind of out of place, that’s the verse that lets us know when Jesus and his evangelist Luke have got us right where they want us. For his original audience, that statement of bearing the cross would come to make sense after the passion. For us, the whole lesson hinges on that verse. Because Christ has saved us from the burden of sin and death by nature of the Cross of Good Friday, his kingdom has truly taken root in our own. A couple Bible Scholars I have been listening to lately call this sort of thing the “upside-down” values of God’s redemptive kingdom and they are all over the place in Luke and Acts. Jesus placing this comment about the cross where he did in this teaching helps us to understand that the kind of relationship that God wants from us is the kind where Christ really is first, because of the promise of salvation.
So, you might be mulling this over in the pew this morning, or maybe as you’re listening to this on our website. (Quick shout to the folks listening on the web you should join us on a Sunday by the way.) Is Fr. David telling me to leave my family behind, and maybe even give up my possessions to follow Jesus? The answer is, maybe (?) not exactly; and I confess that this text has some real bite that causes me to reflect on what sort of purchase Christ’s call has on my life. What I am saying at least is that Jesus’ call on all our lives is such that all of the things that bring us comfort, even the best things in the world, must be put into proper perspective. We ought to be moving towards the love of Christ as our first love; and all other people and things are for us to love better with the heart of the Crucified Savior. As we bear our crosses as Jesus’ disciples, I would say it is truly possible to love our families to the fullest extent that God has for us and for them. In bearing our cross and counting the cost, we even come to see that our possessions are really his stuff anyway, and that loving Christ more might even mean that we love our stuff less. It certainly helps to make room in our hearts (and our garages) for things that have some eternal staying power.
As I close, I want you to consider that this sort of thing is hard now and has always been a challenge. We need only to look at the Epistle lesson to see that being a disciple of Christ, carrying that cross and following him makes for interesting and unexpected situations. Look at how Paul, knowing personally and full well the upside down values of the kingdom, encourages the slave owner Philemon to welcome his slave Onesimus as a brother, indeed to welcome him as Paul the Apostle himself. That’s the cruciform love of Jesus happening right in front of us, renewing human relationships to be based on God’s real love and not some other broken means.
So I think that leaves us with a challenge this morning. Here we are on what we call Rally Sunday, and we all ought to be thinking and praying seriously about each of our ministries here at this great parish. As you pray this morning, ask God to lead you to something that will draw you closer to him through serving his son and your neighbor. Take seriously the call to humbly take up the cross and follow the Christ in this fall season. Ask God to send his grace to be with us as we seek to love Christ more dearly, that all other loves in our lives would be led by his own. In this, we will surely continue to build this upside down, glorious, beautiful kingdom of God.
To Christ be all glory, from age to age. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church