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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 4, 2016

Once there was a show on television called Let’s Make a Deal. It was about giving up something to get something. The host would give you $500 and you would make a choice about whether you wanted door number one or door number two. Behind one door was what my mother used to call a booby prize, which was something like a donkey led by one of the show’s pretty models. Then the other door was the grand prize – the favorite one was a new car. In this example, the people didn’t know what they would get. But there was another show on television called “Truth or Consequences” I don’t remember much about the show, but I know that you told the truth or you got some consequences. People knew what was coming in this show.

Today’s gospel lesson could be called “Truth and Consequences”. Jesus is going to Jerusalem and he has a large crowd following him. They have been attracted by the miracles and the message of reversal – the raising up of the marginalized that has been prominent in Luke. They are in a party mood. They are following this Messiah to Jerusalem in the hopes that he will change things for them in the immediate future.

Jesus is interested in letting them know the truth and the consequences that come with following him. His statements are harsh, not at all what we expect to hear from a Jesus who is loving and inclusive and compassionate. Jesus doesn’t tell them what they will get when they become disciples, but what they must give up. This passage is no advertisement that would ever appear on a bus to promote Christianity.

Jesus is telling them these things because he wants them to make a decision about whether they can be disciples or not. Discipleship has to be a freely made choice. It is not something you drift into by being in Jesus’ crowd. You don’t absorb it by osmosis. You sit down and calculate the cost, just like you would calculate the cost of building a tower in your field to see predators or thieves coming. You sit down and calculate the cost as you would if you were a king with a heavily outnumbered army – do you go to war or sue for peace. The choice is a hard one and it takes a lot of thought and prayer.

Jesus gives us three risky things that may happen to us if we choose to become disciples. First, we must hate our nearest and dearest relatives. What does this mean, as Jesus advocates loving God and neighbor, especially your family, elsewhere in Luke? This message flies in the face of all we know about him. But he has also said he has come to bring division between family members. Jesus uses hyperbole to get his message across with the word “hate”, but the Greek word is a word for detachment, not so severe, but still a hard demand, to detach from your family if they try to stop you from being a disciple through their words or deeds. Family is very important to Jesus, but he has said that his mother and his brothers are the ones who hear the word of God and do it. He is creating a new family for those who pursue the kingdom of God and letting everyone know that if you become a disciple, your priority has to be Jesus and his teachings, even if it flies in the face of social convention.

We are also told that we must pick up our cross and follow him. Now Jesus’ hearers don’t know what that means because Jerusalem hasn’t happened yet, but they know that the cross is a symbol for death. Resurrection is beyond their scope. So now they are hearing that to be followers of Jesus, they must be somehow involved with an instrument of torture and death used by Rome to kill people who did not stay in the appropriate box when dealing with the authorities. It is their signal that the kingdom life Jesus is promoting is likely to bring them into confrontation with those  who run their society, not only the Romans but their own religious leaders as well..

Giving up our possessions is the third things we must do.

No matter how few possessions one has, no one wants to be told to give them up. Jesus’ disciples had been out on the road with no possessions dependent on the hospitality of others and had successfully returned from that mission, but the rich young ruler went away from Jesus very sad because he had many possessions he was unable to give up.

Jesus has given us the truth about the consequences of following him, and they are harsh truths to hear. What might we be called to do?

What if we are gay and we come out in order to claim our true identities as children of God. We may lose family, friends, church, much that we hold dear to live in the kingdom, which includes all people just as they are. We might have to give up a certain kind of relationship we have with a family member. Perhaps we have always let them get away with anything and we can’t do that anymore. Perhaps we have always been dependent on them to take care of us and it is necessary to manage our own meaning and purpose with God’s help. Perhaps we put our foot down over favoritism involving our children. All of these tensions may mean we give up family members at least for a while.

What about carrying the cross. How does that fit in our world today? Carrying the cross is about suffering and we must accept the suffering the world dishes out and give up the security of the world’s answers to suffering – money, alcohol, drugs, food, infidelity, any number of things. We may not all have a Calvary, but we all have Golgothas (John P. Burgess), when we think we can’t possibly survive one more day. This is part of the world’s suffering that we accept because the kingdom has not yet fully come.

And our possessions. Does Jesus really want us to give away everything and become dependent on others when we could earn a living ourselves. That doesn’t sound like Jesus or like the early church in which we have the example of Philemon, who was a respected servant of the church and obviously a man of wealth. But we must give up some things we hold on to tightly. Can we give up our anxiety and let God fill the hole within us. Can we give up our anger and resentment, which keeps us focused on other people and away from God? Can we give up jealousy and treat everyone as an equal no matter what their social status is.

We may not be asked to separate from our families or carry the cross to its ultimate conclusion in Jerusalem or give up everything we own, but discipleship is still a risky choice to make because we have to be willing to do those things in order to follow Jesus.

It doesn’t seem like there is good news in this gospel, but there is. The good news is that we will be given a new meaning and a new purpose. When we resolutely turn away from worldly values to kingdom values, we will be given new life – a life of including the marginalized, of letting the oppressed go  free and of proclaiming the time of the Lord’s favor. Carrying the cross is about doing what Jesus did, and that means living a righteous life (Karoline Lewis), which gives us the joy of a rich relationship with God. We are given a new community too, the community of the church, the community so obviously shown in Philemon. And we are given possessions: love, strength, compassion, goodness, the fruits of the spirit, that we are able to use in Jesus’ mission. Finally, we are promised eternal life with God.

Discipleship is a hard choice. It is a risky choice. But in the end it is a joyful choice, one that fills our hearts and sends us forth to do as Jesus did, to take our part in bringing in the kingdom. This is surely good news.

Amen.

     -- Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:

Once there was a show on television called Let’s Make a Deal. It was about giving up something to get something. The host would give you $500 and you would make a choice about whether you wanted door number one or door number two. Behind one door was what my mother used to call a booby prize, which was something like a donkey led by one of the show’s pretty models. Then the other door was the grand prize – the favorite one was a new car. In this example, the people didn’t know what they would get. But there was another show on television called “Truth or Consequences” I don’t remember much about the show, but I know that you told the truth or you got some consequences. People knew what was coming in this show.

Today’s gospel lesson could be called “Truth and Consequences”. Jesus is going to Jerusalem and he has a large crowd following him. They have been attracted by the miracles and the message of reversal – the raising up of the marginalized that has been prominent in Luke. They are in a party mood. They are following this Messiah to Jerusalem in the hopes that he will change things for them in the immediate future.

Jesus is interested in letting them know the truth and the consequences that come with following him. His statements are harsh, not at all what we expect to hear from a Jesus who is loving and inclusive and compassionate. Jesus doesn’t tell them what they will get when they become disciples, but what they must give up. This passage is no advertisement that would ever appear on a bus to promote Christianity.

Jesus is telling them these things because he wants them to make a decision about whether they can be disciples or not. Discipleship has to be a freely made choice. It is not something you drift into by being in Jesus’ crowd. You don’t absorb it by osmosis. You sit down and calculate the cost, just like you would calculate the cost of building a tower in your field to see predators or thieves coming. You sit down and calculate the cost as you would if you were a king with a heavily outnumbered army – do you go to war or sue for peace. The choice is a hard one and it takes a lot of thought and prayer.

Jesus gives us three risky things that may happen to us if we choose to become disciples. First, we must hate our nearest and dearest relatives. What does this mean, as Jesus advocates loving God and neighbor, especially your family, elsewhere in Luke? This message flies in the face of all we know about him. But he has also said he has come to bring division between family members. Jesus uses hyperbole to get his message across with the word “hate”, but the Greek word is a word for detachment, not so severe, but still a hard demand, to detach from your family if they try to stop you from being a disciple through their words or deeds. Family is very important to Jesus, but he has said that his mother and his brothers are the ones who hear the word of God and do it. He is creating a new family for those who pursue the kingdom of God and letting everyone know that if you become a disciple, your priority has to be Jesus and his teachings, even if it flies in the face of social convention.

We are also told that we must pick up our cross and follow him. Now Jesus’ hearers don’t know what that means because Jerusalem hasn’t happened yet, but they know that the cross is a symbol for death. Resurrection is beyond their scope. So now they are hearing that to be followers of Jesus, they must be somehow involved with an instrument of torture and death used by Rome to kill people who did not stay in the appropriate box when dealing with the authorities. It is their signal that the kingdom life Jesus is promoting is likely to bring them into confrontation with those  who run their society, not only the Romans but their own religious leaders as well..

Giving up our possessions is the third things we must do.

No matter how few possessions one has, no one wants to be told to give them up. Jesus’ disciples had been out on the road with no possessions dependent on the hospitality of others and had successfully returned from that mission, but the rich young ruler went away from Jesus very sad because he had many possessions he was unable to give up.

Jesus has given us the truth about the consequences of following him, and they are harsh truths to hear. What might we be called to do?

What if we are gay and we come out in order to claim our true identities as children of God. We may lose family, friends, church, much that we hold dear to live in the kingdom, which includes all people just as they are. We might have to give up a certain kind of relationship we have with a family member. Perhaps we have always let them get away with anything and we can’t do that anymore. Perhaps we have always been dependent on them to take care of us and it is necessary to manage our own meaning and purpose with God’s help. Perhaps we put our foot down over favoritism involving our children. All of these tensions may mean we give up family members at least for a while.

What about carrying the cross. How does that fit in our world today? Carrying the cross is about suffering and we must accept the suffering the world dishes out and give up the security of the world’s answers to suffering – money, alcohol, drugs, food, infidelity, any number of things. We may not all have a Calvary, but we all have Golgothas (John P. Burgess), when we think we can’t possibly survive one more day. This is part of the world’s suffering that we accept because the kingdom has not yet fully come.

And our possessions. Does Jesus really want us to give away everything and become dependent on others when we could earn a living ourselves. That doesn’t sound like Jesus or like the early church in which we have the example of Philemon, who was a respected servant of the church and obviously a man of wealth. But we must give up some things we hold on to tightly. Can we give up our anxiety and let God fill the hole within us. Can we give up our anger and resentment, which keeps us focused on other people and away from God? Can we give up jealousy and treat everyone as an equal no matter what their social status is.

We may not be asked to separate from our families or carry the cross to its ultimate conclusion in Jerusalem or give up everything we own, but discipleship is still a risky choice to make because we have to be willing to do those things in order to follow Jesus.

It doesn’t seem like there is good news in this gospel, but there is. The good news is that we will be given a new meaning and a new purpose. When we resolutely turn away from worldly values to kingdom values, we will be given new life – a life of including the marginalized, of letting the oppressed go  free and of proclaiming the time of the Lord’s favor. Carrying the cross is about doing what Jesus did, and that means living a righteous life (Karoline Lewis), which gives us the joy of a rich relationship with God. We are given a new community too, the community of the church, the community so obviously shown in Philemon. And we are given possessions: love, strength, compassion, goodness, the fruits of the spirit, that we are able to use in Jesus’ mission. Finally, we are promised eternal life with God.

Discipleship is a hard choice. It is a risky choice. But in the end it is a joyful choice, one that fills our hearts and sends us forth to do as Jesus did, to take our part in bringing in the kingdom. This is surely good news.

Works Cited:
Feasting on the Gospels, Theological Perspective, Luke, vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 78
Linda Harrison, Response to Blog Post, Dear Working Preacher: Carrying the Cross by Karoline Lewis, August 28, 2016