Can we say “yes”?

Pentecost 16 – 2016

Luke 14: 25-35

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who calls us out of our safety zone and takes us where we do not want to go. Amen.

Today at St Augustine’s six people will be baptised and four of those will then join six others in being confirmed. At the same time three young people will be admitted to Holy Communion. A confirmation is a great occasion in the life of a faith community. As adults and teens affirm the promises that were made for them in baptism, we are all challenged to reconsider our own baptism and confirmation and to think about how well those promises and commitments are lived out in our own lives. Do we “turn to Christ, repent of our sins, we reject false living and all that is unjust and renounce Satan and all that is evil?” On a daily basis do we make every effort to “love God with our whole heart and our neighbour as ourselves?”

In a Christian society these are not really such awesome commitments – believing in Jesus, recognising and being sorry for the times when we fall short, trying to ensure that those around us are treated fairly and renouncing evil come easily enough to most of us. We can even convince ourselves that we love God with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves. Being a Christian is a part of our self-identity, something that we accept as true without necessarily putting too much effort into it or spending too much time in reflection as to what it means. Most of us blend in with the world around us except that we probably attend church most Sundays and object to certain blatant misbehaviour. In a society that considers itself to be a Christian society, such commitments are not so far outside the norm that making them comes at any great cost.

I wonder if we would feel quite so self-assured if we were asked the questions implied in this morning’s gospel? Imagine, if you will, standing before your faith community and responding positively to ALL of the following questions:

Will you from this day forward commit yourselves to abandoning and hating your family?

Will you, if required, submit yourself to the horror of the cross?

Do you understand that if you want to follow Jesus that you must hate life itself?

Are you prepared to give up all your possessions?

If you start down this track are you prepared to see it through to the end?

I imagine that if these were the questions that were asked at our baptism and confirmation that not a few of us would reconsider our position. No wonder that most bibles entitle this section of the gospel “ the cost of discipleship.”

In the context of Luke’s gospel these statements are made at a time Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and death. In making these demands, Jesus will have been ensuring that the disciples knew what lay ahead and assuring himself that they would be up to the task. Jesus wants to be confident that those who claim to be his disciples will be able to follow through – that they will not be found wanting when the time comes, that they will not expose themselves and therefore his message to ridicule.

Jesus is well aware that the journey on which Jesus and his disciples are embarking will have serious consequences. Those who follow him will need to be prepared to give up more and more as they approach their goal of walking in his footsteps. After Jesus’ death, when the disciples take on his mantle, they will face the same opposition and the same obstacles. They will have to be ready to sacrifice everything – family, possessions and even life itself.

In the twenty-first century we do not literally walk in the shadow of the cross, but Jesus’ demands are no less terrifying and overwhelming. They are a reminder that discipleship is costly. It can mean that we stand out from the world around us, that we are subject to greater scrutiny than those who profess no faith, that we might be called to put Jesus before our personal comfort, security and even safety. At the same time, we do not know when we will be put to the test, when we will be required to stand firm for what we believe or when we be asked to lay down our life for the sake of the gospel.

In every age, there have been believers who have known these demands to be true for their own lives, those who have refused to compromise even though it meant giving up family, possessions and ultimately life for the gospel[1].

It is perhaps our failure to give ourselves wholly and completely that leaves the church so open to scrutiny in today’s world. It is perhaps our half-hearted response to Jesus’ demands that means that we are not taken seriously, that ensures that the world is less than impressed by our commitment.

Should it be required of us, are we ready to follow Jesus to the bitter end, or are we among those who have begun to build but who have not considered whether or not we have the materials to finish it?

These are serious questions. The future of the gospel may depend on our response.

*********************

Afterword:

I thought this powerful quote was worth sharing. Check out the site for the rest of the article.

“So maybe, just maybe, these harsh words about “cross-bearing” are a call to do what Simon of Cyrene did. Once he picked up the cross, it wasn’t clear to anyone how the day would end. It was only clear that his future was bound up with the future of the poor, unfortunate person who could no longer carry the weight of the cross[2]”.

 

[1] I think of all the saints and martyrs – particularly those of our own time whom I name over and over again – Dietrich Bonheoffer, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King not to mention the hundreds and thousands who have given their lives in the cause of justice and freedom.

[2] provokingthegospel.wordpress.com

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