Welcome to Church and Ushers, Please Bolt the Doors

Sermon for Sunday, September 8th, 2013
Proper 18C
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21;  Luke 14: 25-33
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

“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…none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  

Seriously? This is how Jesus attracts followers?  And this is what I get to preach about on our first Sunday of the new program year?  Wow.  This is so not the way to be welcoming or to attract new members—scaring everyone away with talk of hating our families, carrying our crosses, and giving up all our possessions!

(To ushers: Are the doors back there locked!?)

But actually, this is a great passage to start our year with, because it’s a perfect example of how dangerous it can be to take a bit of scripture out of context, read it literally, and expect it to make sense. It just doesn’t.  Because despite all appearances to the contrary, this morning’s gospel bears a message that could not be more relevant to our lives or more full of promise for our future. It is, after all, the Good News.  So stay with me…

Because I know that on the face of it, it seems like Jesus has either gone totally around the bend or is in desperate need of some PR and marketing advice.  But the thing is, that unlike most of the churches where this gospel will be read this morning, Jesus is not concerned with increasing his numbers.  Not concerned with “average Sunday attendance.” Quite the contrary…

Some of you may remember that in our appointed readings of Luke’s gospel, we’re in a very carefully crafted, very long section of it called the “journey narrative.”  We’ve been exploring this section since June, and it opened like this, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to Jerusalem…”

All summer long, as we’ve walked the road to Jerusalem with Jesus in these readings, we’ve had to remember that while in our world we were enjoying the lazy hazy days of summer, Jesus has been walking to his death, to Golgotha, to the cross. And we’ve noticed all the while how urgently Jesus has wanted his followers to understand that nothing—absolutely and uncompromisingly nothing—is more important in their walk with him, than their commitment to the Great Commandment—the commandment to love the Lord their God with all of their hearts, and all of their minds, and all of their souls, and to love their neighbors as themselves.

And all summer long we’ve seen Jesus’ become increasingly demanding in setting the terms of discipleship.  Time and again he’s warned those who want to follow him that no heartfelt desires, no honorable obligations, no unavoidable distractions can get in their way.  He’s been painfully clear that nothing –not material security or family ties; cultural norms or personal safety; not even religious observance or tradition—can take priority over any living, breathing, child of God.  Nothing is more important than the imperative to love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love God’s people as we love ourselves.

Now what we may not have noticed week after week as we’ve read Luke’s gospel, is that all along this road to Jerusalem, Luke has been telling us that the crowds following Jesus are getting bigger and bigger!

“When the crowds were increasing…” he begins one passage.  “…the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another…” he tells us in another.  And today we’re told explicitly that, “large crowds were traveling with” Jesus.  So Jesus really isn’t  about increasing his numbers.  Jesus is more concerned with the commitment of his followers than he is the number of them.

See, Jesus is laying a foundation for the metaphorical “tower” we heard about in this reading.  He has no intention of beginning such an undertaking without assuring himself it will be completed by hard working, committed disciples. He has no intention of being the king in today’s story, who has to make peace with his enemy.  Not when the enemy he’s come to defeat is the very power of hatred and evil and death itself.  Jesus has no intention of being just another failed, so-called messiah, who goes the way of other failed messiahs.

No. Jesus is not about to die for nothing.  And that is very good news indeed.

The good news for us is that Jesus is God’s own self — the human embodiment of God’s burning, passionate, merciful and divine love.  The good news for us is that this king is the King and he’s going to win the battle. The good news for us is that this messiah is the Messiah, and he’s going to save our sorry souls with his love.

And we know all of this only because among the thousands and thousands in the crowds that followed him on that road to Jerusalem there were a few crazy, committed disciples who ran out of fear but came back full of faith– and kept on building the tower that would become the church.  God’s church.  Christ’s church.  Our church.

And the challenge for us, the invitation to us, is to follow in the footsteps of those crazy committed disciples who ran in fear and returned in faith to keep building Christ’s church.

So, while I really don’t want to scare you away on our first Sunday back together ( and I promise not to lock the doors) I do want to challenge you.  I want to challenge you, as our gospel challenges all of us, to make a commitment as followers of Christ:

~To  make a commitment to living in such a way that joyfully reflects God’s gracious generosity.

~To make a commitment to actively participating in the life and ministry of Christ’s church.

~To make a commitment to nurturing and deepening your spiritual lives and your relationship with God.

In short, make a commitment to loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, and all of your mind, and all of your soul, and to loving your neighbor as yourself.

Because in this is God’s delight.  In this is the joy of perfect freedom.  In this is life itself.  Amen.

 

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