“Give It Your All”
September 4, 2016 – Year C – 16th Sunday after Pentecost (Season of Creation)
“You oughta warn people,” a friend said. The pair were drinking coffee late one night after an angry, frightening meeting. We were on the board of what we hoped would become a home for abused children. A house had been leased but the neighbours were hardly inclined to hospitality. The meeting with the neighbourhood had been angry. Over cups of coffee we wondered why we bothered. “If it was up to me,” he said, “I’d shelve the whole project and walk away from it. Problem is,” he chuckled, “I don’t know how to walk away from Christ. You oughta warn people,” he said, “how much it’s gonna cost ‘em to be a Christian.”
The friend had not grown up in the church. He first walked into an Anglican Church because they had lunch Wednesdays during Lent and the church was next to his law office. He came for a bowl of soup, and here he was investing his time, money and legal skills to secure a home for abused children, and as a reward, enduring abuse himself. “You oughta warn people,” he said.
The cost of discipleship is complete surrender to Jesus and a willingness to put God first, above all else. But why does Jesus choose such harsh volatile rhetoric to make this point? Perhaps it is because he noticed what we all know deep down – that family-of-origin issues can mess up all of our best plans for authentic living. Family power dynamics are subtle and even dangerous, largely because they happen on a subconscious level. Add to that the societal expectation of family harmony, and you have a recipe for dysfunction.
Jesus is all about truth-telling and todays gospel text is some of his best material. He speaks the hardest truth of all – that even the people we are closest to us can hold us back from achieving our best potential.
The writer of todays gospel uses a common idiom suggesting it is not how we feel about our families and lives, but rather how we reorganize our lives and what we have ourselves focused on in our identity as Christ’s people that matters. So whether we love or hate our families really is of little consequence, but how we act on those feelings – now that is where Jesus has something to say. We are being challenged to put God’s way of extravagant love – radical justice – unceasing compassion; ahead of bitterness, anger, loyalty, or convenience towards one’s family. Our new identity is as a follower of Christ’s way.
Likely you are now saying to yourself, but Laura – family is what is most important to me. And I get you. Family is important. But not to the extent that we make our family into a God. I watch some folk twist and turn their lives into such contortions seeking to put family first, that there is no time, energy, or opportunity to serve God with joy and abandon. I see children hauled kilometers upon kilometers to hockey games, ballet practices, and music lessons – leaving no time for any spiritual practices. It is these same children who lack the resources and spiritual depth to counter the temptations of peers and society. They barely know their families outside of the hockey rink, ballet studio or musical academy. Their experience of God is limited to swearing. And putting the needs of others first does not even reach consciousness.
A young woman, active in our United Church Young Adult Ministries Council some years ago, told her minister that when she became active in a large city’s fellowship group for single adults becoming more and more involved through that group in ministries with the homeless, dispossessed, and impoverished, she discovered within herself a longing for the God she had never known. As she tried to share her seeking and journey with her parents, they shrugged it off with complete distain for her activities. Not only did they scoff at her compassion for the voiceless and the powerless, they also ridiculed the way she now spent her weekends and Sunday mornings. She said that it was as if she herself had become a mirror which was held up to her family. They could not bear what they saw of their own empty lives, and so they turned on her instead.
The sayings on the cost of discipleship are addressed to the large crowds following Jesus. He was on the road to Jerusalem, aware of mounting tension, and travelling with many who did not realize the implications of following him on that path. The saying about “carrying your cross” reminds us that both the story teller and listeners know the outcome of the story and are aware of what this might mean for those who choose to be his disciples.
Jesus’ followers are told they must hate their family if they want to come with him. The Greek word that is translated as “hate” is miseo. It does not carry a sense of anger or hostility but rather is an indication of priority. If a choice has to be made between discipleship and possessions, Jesus‘ followers must be prepared to let their attachments go. Like the examples of the tower-builder and the king going to war, the saying about family is about considering the demands of discipleship before making the commitment. Jesus wants those who would journey with him to give heart and soul to the enterprise.
So, what does giving our heart and soul to Jesus look like for us today? Is it tithing our time as well as our money? That would mean we commit at least 10% of our time to doing the outreach, visiting, and mission of Christ. Phone calls to the ill and hurting, letters of comfort, serving on committees and council, sharing skills in concrete ways are all opportunities to put Jesus first. Knitting prayer shawls, taking time in prayer and meditation, helping Pat out in Sunday School, singing in the choir, assisting in Care Facility services, and giving time assisting our refugee family are all ways of carrying Christ’s cross.
Our lection ends with the strong statement: “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” I think what Jesus was saying was that possessions cannot become more important than our faith and our willingness to do everything we can faithfully serving him. Such possessions include family.
You folk have been hearing way too much about my upcoming move. But – today I want to tell you about how much stuff I have that I didn’t really realize. I live by the one in, one out policy. So, if I buy or receive 1 item, I give away 1 item. However, as I have been sorting and packing, I have been astounded by how much extra stuff I don’t regularly use. Now that I am actually packing, I am taking a look at each item and saying to myself, “Do I use it regularly? Do I love it? Do I have a place to store it?” If I can answer ‘Yes’ to all three questions, then it gets packed. If not, it is put in the Care Closet bag. So far I believe I have made 12 big trips to the Care Closet! And Jesus says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
We have explored a scripture text that is challenging. It calls into question our values, priorities and commitments. How we spend our energy, time and resources are probed. Our very faith and how we live it out is queried. Before us is a large cross that we are challenged to carry. For some of us, it feels mighty uncomfortable. Our family and friends circle around us, and we wonder what place they are to have in our lives. Should they be front and centre as they are now, or should Christ be the one who is very central.
I leave you with difficult challenges to ponder. May God grant you wisdom in your discernment. May Christ guide you in picking up his cross. May the Holy Spirit prod you to act courageously. Amen.