The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18
September 4th, 2016
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Raise your hand if you’ve come here today because you’re interested in following Jesus?
How many of you dragged yourself out of bed this morning and put in the effort to dress yourself and maybe the members of your family, because you thought that an encounter with Jesus Christ in this church this morning was worth it?
Perhaps you did so because you felt like you needed to hear a good sermon.
I pray to God that you won’t be disappointed!
Perhaps you made the pilgrimage here because you needed to meet God in the sacrament of bread and wine…or maybe you needed to gather again with friends who have been away for the summer.
I fully expect for you to leave satisfied if that is why you have come.
Church can serve many functions, and often it serves different functions for people that make up the same community of faith.
The vast majority of folks come to church because they have glimpsed something special, or experienced something transcendent, and they want to touch it again…and maybe figure out how to hold onto it if they can.
All those many people who had followed Jesus out of the villages and upon the road to Jerusalem in today’s Gospel had similar expectations.
They came out to see something special…someone who was quickly gaining celebrity status.
Healer. Prophet. Miracle man.
Maybe this wandering Nazorean was even the Messiah that had been foretold and for which they had waited.
The man did things that no one had ever seen before.
And with style.
He brought a 12 year old girl back to life after her parents and friends were seen weeping over her lifeless body.
He taught in the synagogues with an authority that the chief priests and scribes had never obtained for themselves.
They say he could even walk on water, fill nets with fish, and multiply loaves in order to feed a multitude.
Imagine you were there…one of the many who had come out to hear him speak in the hopes of glimpsing the power of God incarnate for yourself.
One person in that sea of expectant people.
And then Jesus dropped the bomb.
Raise your hand if you hate your mom and dad!
Raise your hand if you came out today because you know that the path we walk together will first lead to suffering before it will lead to glory?
Who wants to die with me?
I can almost see the stunned faces of the crowd…perhaps a few even looked around as if to ask, “Did I come out to the wrong party?”
Most of those following Jesus at this point…and the text says it was a LOT of people…must have been shocked to hear Jesus talking about taking up crosses and hating family and counting the costs before heading out on this journey alongside him.
In a patriarchal culture in which your relationship with your father determined your inheritance, your profession, and your social circle…a call to prioritize carrying a cross and following a cross-bound stranger instead of the safety of family was not only radical, but downright crazy.
The once cohesive crowd probably started to fray at the edges as person after person drifted away and returned to those familiar structures in which they found comfort and solace.
Until there were just 12…just a small band who had so little to begin with that risking it all on the chance that this madness about crosses and counter-intuitive priorities might lead to more truth and more life was worth it to them.
It’s challenging to imagine how hard a decision that must have been, especially from this side of the resurrection and this side of Christendom.
We who got out of bed and came here today know that the sacrifices Jesus and those earliest disciples made were worth it and led to a movement that transformed our entire world.
And we also are painfully aware of how that movement got coopted and manipulated by those who could not abide the radical nature of Jesus’ call today and saw in the later church a way to control and reinforce the social patterns and norms that Jesus’ deemed unimportant in the face of the cross.
Was Jesus’ priority what we now know as family values?
Was it the goal of the Jesus movement to fashion a pseudo religious empire which could employ the language of the movement but fled from its actual heart and soul?
By no means!
But this is unfortunately what happened, and we now live in a generation in which the abuses of the past have made it hard for those who have never heard the Gospel to see it for what it truly is.
Thank God misuse and abuse are not the only story we know.
Thank God that faithful follower after faithful follower DID heed Jesus’ call today to count the costs, to take up their cross, and to prioritize the truth over all else in their day.
Thank God that a stubborn minority throughout the ages saw fit to truly give up their possessions and follow the one who had the strength to see beyond the crosses and the graves that must be encountered and experienced upon the road that leads to life.
My friends and fellow travelers, the resurrection that we have inherited is not a cheap one, but rather a resurrection fully aware of the cost it takes to experience life on the other side of the cross.
Because of generations who made up that faithful remnant, drawn from all races and all nations, the true and lasting Gospel has come to us today.
Our challenge is the same as the one they faced, and the same one that all those people in the crowd that surrounded Jesus faced as well: namely will we do it?
Will we take up our cross, knowing the costs of doing so, and follow where Christ has led?
It is a perilous journey, and one that cannot adequately be taken alone.
This is why we gather together…to gain strength for the journey, support when the burdens we face threaten to overwhelm us, and to remind ourselves that our individual stories do not exist in isolation, but are part of a much bigger and purposeful movement.
Let me be clear: taking up one’s cross is not about seeking out suffering, but rather it is about acknowledging that suffering is simply a part of the road we must walk together.
It is about facing that road fearlessly and together.
Counting the costs of the journey means being real about the challenges that face those who seek to follow the crucified Messiah into the new and everlasting life of resurrection.
Yes there will be ridicule. Yes there will be hardship. Yes there will be times when it seems like the weight of the world will overburden us forever.
That is why this life of discipleship takes courage, dedication, and above all, faith that the investment is worth the effort.
Maybe you are just now wondering if this is the life for you, and you are contemplating going home this afternoon and recommitting yourself to a life of discipleship.
Maybe you have been on the road for some time, and you need to be reminded that the hardships are not the end of the line, but merely a passing part of the journey.
Maybe you are asking yourself about what your ultimate priorities are in life, and wondering if participation in church will help you shed whatever possessions keep you from moving toward newness of life and freedom.
Wherever you are, and whatever your challenge may currently be, Jesus is inviting us all once more to get real about this whole endeavor called church and renew our commitment to walking the road together…fully aware of what it costs to say yes to such a journey.
Will you remain with him, not only on Sundays, but in the rest of the hours of your week, and keep your eyes open for the promises of which he speaks?
So many on the fringes of the crowd moved away from him after he uttered the words he says today…will we as well?
Real discipleship is hard…there is no getting around it.
But it is the way that leads to life.
And once you’ve tasted that life, nothing else will truly ever satisfy you again.
Count the costs. Take up your cross.
Decide to follow Jesus this day.