Monday, September 9, 2013

It's Risky Business Walking Out Your Front Door

A sermon preached at St. Andrew's On-the Sound Episcopal Church in Wilmington, NC on September 8, 2013.  The text was Luke 14:25-33

I don’t believe in genies, or psychics, or fortune tellers.  I like fortune cookies, not because of the fortune, but because of the citrusy flavor, and I occasionally read my horoscope if I’m standing in line at Starbucks and need a good laugh. I’m a Cancer, by the way. And I believe that moments of clarity, the kind of clarity that grants us a vision of what our life could be…those moments don’t come as often as we’d like them too.  But I believe we are experiencing one of those moments this morning. 
            Sunday after Sunday we celebrate the Holy Eucharist and hear the Word of God broken open and revealed to us.  But how often do those words simply pass by? Archaic language and metaphors, stories about a far removed people in an ancient day, seemingly irrelevant to our modern day existence.  Though I adore the Holy Scriptures, even I’m guilty of sometimes daydreaming about the next episode of Breaking Bad or thinking about lunch even as the Lessons are being read.  It’s easy to do in a world where we are formed to focus on several tasks at once and to be attentive in 10 minute increments.  It’s easy to experience the hearing of the Word as just one more thing listened to during a long day of talk radio, Pizza Hut commercials, and Sunday night broadcast TV.
But this morning, these words are sharp, they’re edgy, and they have the power to cut through our inability to listen attentively: “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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Jesus, the incarnate God, the incarnation of pure love, is drawing a line in the sand.  If the word ‘hate’ seems a bit too harsh, Matthew’s telling of this story makes Jesus’ use of the word ‘hate’ a bit more plain: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me…” While it’s clear Jesus is not calling us to hatred, but rather to a higher form of love for Jesus and his mission, the translation we have received in Luke this morning paints an appropriately stark picture.
            The starkness, the power, the confrontational quality of the phrase “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother” is an opportunity for us to be stirred to reflection: are there things in this world that we love and desire more than obedience to and a relationship with Jesus?  Now, this isn’t necessarily a prescriptive text.  Jesus isn’t dictating what such an intense and superlative love will look like in each individual’s life.  There is no checklist for Christian discipleship that, once filled, will give us the satisfaction of being a radical disciple.  Only you can discover what a passionate love for God might lead you to do.  But this fact remains: every single one of us can take some time to evaluate precisely what it is we long for with the most passion.
            Passion.  A word the Church uses to describe the crucifixion of Jesus. Scenes from the Passion surround us this morning, hanging as carvings on the wall. And in a sense, crucifixion is what Jesus is calling us to.  Jesus’ question moves from, “Do you love me more than all else?” to finally, “Will you die for me?” Will you be willing to risk it all in the pursuit of Jesus?  Am I willing? Some of us have more to lose than others.  Some of us have family responsibilities that wouldn’t allow us to fly to the farthest corner of the world in order to preach this Gospel.  But all of us, in the situations and the contexts in which we find ourselves, are called to love Jesus and the life of discipleship more than all else, and be willing to lose things of great importance if it means remaining faithful to the Gospel. 
            As the school year begins, it’s hard for me not to think of those teenagers who have been so bullied in their schools that they have taken their own lives.  And I wonder, did any of their peers risk their reputations in order to stand next to the ones being bullied?  Was anyone willing to risk popularity in order to speak up, to speak out, to take a stand…to tell them that, no matter what words are said, that they are beloved children of God, beautiful to behold?  And, as a sidenote, if anyone in this place has felt the pain of bullying, or harassment, here me clearly: You are a beloved child of God, beautiful to behold. Jesus’ words may be ancient, but they are not archaic.  They are not so far removed that we can listen as distant observers.  In a very real sense, Jesus is meeting us in this very place, asking of us the same questions he asked his disciples and followers: “Will you love me above all else, a love that might even lead to your death?”
            Stories from World War II, during the Holocaust, tell of faithful Christians harboring Jewish refugees in their attics, their barns, and basements…actions that were guilty of treason and could have led to execution.  While not every situation we may find ourselves in will be so dire, those situations remind us that lives of discipleship are not just about a two-way relationship, “the disciple and Jesus”. Christian discipleship, when lived into and given precedence in the lives of believers, can be a force for good, a force for transformation, a real and honest source of change in the contexts in which it is lived out.  A recurring theme in the Gospel of Luke is that the Gospel has come to the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind…those forgotten by society, those deemed unworthy and unclean.  Luke’s Gospel understands that Christian discipleship, when embraced radically, will be reflected in the way Christian communities will transform the communities in which they are embedded.  This is reflected in the concluding statement of Jesus’ teaching this morning: “So therefore, none of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

            Ultimately there is no clear-cut answer to the question, “What is God calling me to do?” There is no easy solution to the ills of this war-torn, image obsessed, poverty stricken world.  But, hope abides.  Hope abides in you, my friends.  Hope abides because you have come to be fed at Jesus’ table, and you have been knit into the very fabric of Jesus Christ our Lord.  As one of our concluding prayers says, “We are living members of the Body of God’s Son, and heirs of God’s eternal kingdom.” Hope abides because Jesus Christ continues to be made alive in you, my brothers and sisters.  Alive, walking and talking as you carry his presence into your schools, your workplaces, your homes, your communities.  Are you ready to change the world? If so, the journey of discipleship, of loving Jesus above all else, waits for you to take a step.

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