Giving up our lives

September 4, 2016

Bible Text: Luke 14:25-33 |

Blessings and curses, slavery, and hating our families --- This morning’s readings are challenging!  There is not one easy subject in the midst.  Nor should there be, because my friends, we have entered into the often difficult and usually always costly world of discipleship.

 

Deuteronomy recounts Moses’ final exhortation—his farewell address to the Israelites.  After their years of wandering, they are finally about to enter into the land promised them by God and Moses knows he will not be joining them.  And in these last words to them, Moses reminds the Israelites of their covenant with God.  He reminds them of the promises made and received, the choices they have before them, as well as the sure result of their choices.  Blessings and Curses---life and death.  Choosing life means loving the Lord and walking in his ways.  However, if they are led astray, if they choose to put other gods between themselves and the Lord then death will surely be their reward.

 

Choose life, Moses implores.  And yet, eventually, many of course choose poorly; they become complacent in their worship; they allow the gods of treasure, and power, and their own self-interests to rule their lives and eventually they find themselves exiled completely from all they know and love and value.  It is finally, only in Babylon, that they are able to regain a little perspective on what went wrong.

 

Then, over five hundred years after the Babylonian exile, Jesus tells those following him they must hate their families and give up all of their possessions in order to be his disciples.

 

Discipleship has never been easy.  It wasn’t in Moses’, or Jesus’ time, and it isn’t now.

 

True discipleship always requires sacrifice of some sort or another.  It always requires letting go of what the world, or the culture, or our egos, tell us is true in order to follow the real Truth.  It can mean letting go of our expectations and our goals; our plans for the future, and, yes, our worldly possessions as well.

 

However, discipleship is rarely about sacrificing everything all at once from the get go.  Rather, we are formed as disciples—it is an ongoing process of growth and becoming.

 

Yes, Jesus calls his followers to hard truths in today’s reading from Luke.  He is on the road to Jerusalem, on the way to the cross.  He will soon be faced with making his own dreadful choice between life and death and he wants to make it crystal clear to the crowd what being his disciple will entail.  He’s telling them,

 

“It won’t be easy—you will have to dedicate yourself to the enterprise fully.  It’s going to require giving up the foundation of who you believe yourself to be, and all that you hold dear.  Really, if you don’t feel up to it—now’s the time to opt out.”

 

We may not understand the same urgency today—Jesus’ Jerusalem and cross are a vast expanse of time distant from us.  And, as people for whom the story of the crucifixion ends not in death but in life, the call to discipleship may feel a little less harrowing. What is at stake for us here, now, in 2016?  What does sacrifice look like in our own lives?

 

As an illustration, I offer my husband Michael.

 

When Michael and I married 15 years ago, we married with full disclosure.  He knew about my persistent nudging from God and how my willingness to respond had waxed and waned—I was in a waning phase at the time, and felt pretty confident that God would probably forget about our earlier flirtations and leave me be.  So, we made plans: I found work in my field, we bought a house, Mike rose through the ranks at the shipyard; we took the girls on vacations and spoiled them at Christmas.  We exemplified middle class America.  Meanwhile, God, who, come to find out, had NOT forgotten, found a million little ways to remind me of our intimacy; God sparked and wheeled in my world until I finally gave in.

 

And life for my dear husband was upended.

The sacrifices Mike has made are legion, but one of the most poignant was the day we traded in the Acura for the Honda Civic.

 

The Acura TL exemplified everything Mike wanted in a car.  It was a beautiful, graphite grey, it had black leather interior, navigation, automatic everything, it was fast, and for Mike, it was a sure sign that he had ‘arrived’.  It was the giant checkmark in Mike’s cultural list of what successful male adulthood looked like.  He loved that car.  I loved that car!  It was comfortable and classy and still a little youthful.  But following God into this new way of discipleship was costly and we couldn’t justify the payment any longer.  So one day, we drove our beauty one last time to Hinshaw’s Acura and traded her in for a two-door, standard, Honda Civic.  Now, I would like to say that after we traded in the Acura we were filled with joy at our virtue and maturity, but the truth is, we both grieved the loss of what was even as we looked toward what was yet to be.

 

Looking back, the Acura was the smallest of concessions for Michael.  Before the journey to ordination was over, he would realize the loss of half our income and the loss of three years cohabitating with me.  You see, Michael stayed while I went away to seminary.  He continued to work, amassing all the overtime he could; he paid our bills, managed the family obligations, and even made the last journey to the veterinarian with one of our cats.  He held down the fort and held our family together.

 

If you were to ask Michael why he did these things, he wouldn’t say because he’s a disciple of Jesus Christ and he understands that discipleship is costly.  He’d say he did it because he loves me and he believed in my call…even if he didn’t always understand it.  It’s crazy, because even though Michael doesn’t consider himself a terribly faithful person, or a stellar disciple, his actions consistently prove otherwise.  Time and again he has sacrificed aspects of his life in faith that God was doing something beyond what we could fully know.  He may be a sometimes-reluctant disciple, but he is a disciple nonetheless.

 

As are all of you.  You signed on for discipleship at your baptisms and I see how you live it out every day.

 

In the last couple weeks St. John’s has been offering training for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd teachers; each day I’ve been greeted at work by the sound of voices and laughter, and enthusiasm from the atria as trainees learn how to share the kingdom of God with our children.  Just the other morning I encountered Cathy Allen as she was gathering up the wealth of backpacks and school supplies you so generously gave for our area children.  Mike and Michelle Behrens, as well as my husband the reluctant disciple, joined some of our youth on a weeklong pilgrimage around Puget Sound last month and together we encountered God through worship, fellowship and the work of other disciples.  A large group of disciples will be traveling to the Priory on Saturday to learn a new way to pray, AND, you are expressing a desire to share and learn through our upcoming small group dinners as well. The Stewardship and finance committees are beginning the hard work of crafting a budget for 2017—countless hours will be spent hashing out numbers, determining priorities, and discerning where God is calling St. John’s; meanwhile, the pile of donations for the yard sale is growing which speaks to the impressive manner with which you are parting with your possessions!

 

These are but a few of the ways we are working out our discipleship here at St. John’s.  It may not always feel as if that’s what we’re doing, nor may it look like it, but it is precisely what’s happening.  We are responding in our lives to God’s call upon us.  To Give, to Share, to Learn, to Care about one another enough to forfeit the hours of our days for the benefit of God’s kingdom.

 

And our program year doesn’t even begin until next week!

 

So pay attention in the weeks to come—see if any of the classes or opportunities to learn speak to you.  Listen to God’s voice as you decide how much of your resources you will share – how much of your life you are willing to release into the loving embrace of the Holy One.  What would it be like to stretch your comfort a bit?  How will you choose life today?

 

Discipleship is never easy, but our God promises life and blessings for all of us who would follow--even the most reluctant of disciples.

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