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Mark 8:27-38

                   Welcome, my friends, to “Take Up Your Cross Sunday.”

                  Aren’t you excited? Isn’t this exactly what you had planned on doing when you got in your cars and came to church this morning?

This is the day when you have to decide: Are you going to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

Now, normally, I can tell you that on a Sunday like today, this is not the focus of the sermons. Look at the front of your bulletin covers. Go ahead, look, look, look. It’s very pretty and should not be wasted. What does it say on the front of your bulletin cover but, “Who do you say that I am?” And so most of the time, when we hit this portion of the Gospel, Proper 19, what we decide to do is have a little chat with each of us about “who do you say that I am?” So that we can each name Jesus.

If we’re not focusing on that, then we like to focus on poor Peter. Peter, who is so quick to say, “You’re the Messiah! I know it!” – remember, this is the turning point of Mark’s Gospel. This is when it becomes open and public knowledge about who Jesus is and what he’s going to do – So we focus on Peter saying, “You’re the Messiah!” and Jesus saying, “Yes, and this is what it means to be the Messiah. I am going to be rejected. And I am going to be killed. And on the third day, I will be raised again.”

What does Peter do? He begins to rebuke Jesus – “No, Lord, you can’t go and do that!” And what does Jesus do, but he turns around and he rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan!”

We love to revel in that, don’t we? Don’t we love to revel in the times when Jesus says – to someone else, never to us – but to somebody else, “Get behind me, Satan!” Because then we don’t have to deal with the issue ourselves.

But the fact of the matter is, today is “Take Up Your Cross Sunday.” Today is the day when you have to decide: Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to follow Jesus? Not just a little bit. But all the way?

Now, most of the time, when people think about taking up their crosses and following Jesus, they think about difficult that is, how hard it is. And that’s what gets in the way of taking up that cross – really taking it up – because, you know, spit, I don’t want to do something that hard.

Does taking up your cross and following Jesus mean that you have to become a missionary and move to Sudan and live in a mud hut with no clean water, no running water, no electricity, and death and disease staring you in the face every moment of every day?

Does it mean that you get to stay in this country but you have to give up everything you own? Your homes – for which you worked so hard? Your jobs – that gave you the money to buy those homes? Your nice cars? Your nice clothes? Does it mean that you have to give up your retirement? Does it mean that you have to give up your kids’ college fund?

Because if that’s what it means to take up your cross, Lord, I’m not certain I’m going to go there with you. I’m not certain that that’s the kind of Christian I’m called to be. That must be the guy down the street. The one at whom you’re always yelling, “Get behind me, Satan!” That’s his problem, not mine.

It’s a hard thing to take up your cross and follow Jesus, especially when you read it in the New Revised Standard Version, which is the version of the Gospel we just read.

But I want to read it to you in a different translation, so see if it has any impact, if it makes any difference in your lives.

Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.

You are not in the driver’s seat; I am. Do not run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me, and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”[1]

This translation, my friends, is not actually a translation; it is a paraphrase of the Gospel. It was written by a theologian by the name of Eugene Peterson. He wrote this paraphrase – actually, the entire Bible; he’s now finished it – so that people who had never read the Bible, because it didn’t seem to matter to them, didn’t speak to them, and so that people who have read the Bible so much that everything in it is just old hat, been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt-while-I-was-at-it – so that both groups could hear the Gospel in a new way.[2] Both groups would be able to experience God in a new way. And both groups would be able to respond in a new way.

So instead of me asking you to take up your cross today, how about I simply ask you to do a little bit of self-sacrifice?

How about I ask you to let Jesus be the driver in your life?

Isn’t that just a little more palatable?

Isn’t that something that you are probably a little more willing to do?

Anybody?

Guess what?

It’s just as hard.

Because what Jesus is asking us to do is to put Jesus at the center of our lives – in everything we do.

You’ve heard the expression, “The devil is in the details”?

You know that one?

It’s wrong.

Discipleshipis in the details.

"Follow me," by Reynaldo.

Discipleship is in the details.

Everything you do in your life, every minute action, thought, decision, the details of our life – that’s where you need to be a disciple most.

Some easy examples:

When you go to your local coffee shop – I don’t think there’s a Starbucks in town, is there? – so you go into your local coffee shop, if every single time you go in there, you get a disposable cup for your coffee, you need to stop and think again. Because by doing that, that little detail, you are telling God you do not care about God’s very good creation. Would it kill you to have your own go-cup that you brought with you?

If, when you’re driving through Aldie (a small town nearby) at … twenty … five … miles … per … hour … and not one tick above that, especially if “You’re not from around here, are you?” … you know when you come out of Aldie, and you get to speed up all the way to 40, if there’s somebody who is on your tail, just waiting for the lines in the road to change so that they can jump around you, would it kill you to let that person go around you? Because maybe they do have an emergency. Maybe there is some urgency in their life, of which you know nothing.

When you are in the grocery store, and the woman who is checking you out is obviously having a terrible day; her eyes are filled with tears. Discipleship means stopping and talking with the woman. It means holding up the entire rest of the line so that you can give pastoral care to somebody who actually needs it, so that you can give grace upon grace to someone who has not experienced grace.

When you are in that same line, and you have the little old lady who is taking forever to find her checkbook – never mind writing the bloody check – and you’re getting tense because you want to say, “Hurry it up!” … stop and think for a moment … that for this woman, this may be the most human contact that she has throughout the day, and by God, she’s not going to hurry it up.

When we stop and we think, in the details of our lives, about what Jesus would have us to do, that’s when we are the truest disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When we give grace to other people …

When we realize that just because you and I don’t agree on something doesn’t mean that we have to be enemies …

When we model a behavior of acceptance …

When we stop talking about them, as opposed to us – because there are no “us’s” and “them’s” in God’s very good creation …

Those little details … which I know do not sound like much, but I can guarantee you – if in the tiniest details of your life, you are stopping to be faithful, you are doing your best to be a disciple of Jesus, to do what Jesus did, which was to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, to give sight to the blind, and to make the mute speak, and the deaf hear, to make the lame leap for joy …

When you do what Jesus did, which was to welcome the unwelcome, to include the excluded, to love the unloved, to give hope to people whom have known no hope from generation to generation …

When you live your life that way, then you are truly a disciple of Jesus.

That’s what it means to take up your cross, so that in every moment of your life, you think about the impact you are having on God’s creation, the impact you are having on God’s people.

It’s the self-sacrifice of realizing that youme … you … and you we are not the center of the world. The world does not revolve around us.

When we take that moment to step back and to say, “What is it that Jesus would have me to do?” – whether I want to do it or not, that’s not the question – the question is, “What does Jesus want us to do?” – when we do that, then – then – we are truly being disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Then we are taking up our cross.

Then we are following Jesus.

You can’t simply believe that you follow Jesus by proclaiming, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! It’s not enough! Jesus has expectations that we are going to try and live Jesus’ way in this world.

So that we can indeed realize God’s dream for all of creation.

In this day and age, in this country, when we are so set on dividing each other, when we are so set on attacking each other, when we are not bothering to listen to each other, when we refuse to give grace to each, imagine the impact that we could have, if in the details of our lives, we were disciples of Jesus.

               If we stretched out our hand to someone who is different from us, who thinks differently, God forbid who votes differently, and said, “You are a beloved child of God.”

(Don’t be shaking our head! Don’t be shaking your head!)

Just because we don’t agree politically doesn’t mean that we are not beloved children of God, you and I both!

What kind of model could we set?

How would it change the world … if we focused on Jesus and what Jesus wants, and not on ourselves and what we want?

As I said, welcome to “Take Up Your Cross Sunday.”

Do I have any takers?

Amen.

Sermon preached on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, Year B, at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Middleburg, Va., 16 September 2012.


[1] The Message (Bible), article on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Message_(Bible)

 

[2] Ibid.

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So, do you hear it?

Do you hear that whoosh of a violent wind rush into this place, filling the entire sanctuary with its sound?

No?

Alas.

What about those tongues of fire? Tasting them yet?

No?

Well, I can take care of that.

Here.

Try these. (Hot Tamales® cinnamon candies)

Put them on your tongue, and chew.

Tongues of fire, anyone?

• • •

Today, my friends, is the Feast of Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who will testify on Jesus’ behalf, who will guide us into all truth, who will speak whatever he hears from God the Father and God the Son, who will declare to us the things that are to come.

This is the day when we eagerly acknowledge the power of the Spirit in our lives. It is the day when we especially pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, come!” – as though the Spirit isn’t present with us every moment of our lives! I mean, when we’re calling on the Holy Spirit, where exactly do we think the Holy Spirit is?! Jesus said he would send the Spirit, the Acts of the Apostles tells us the Risen Lord did just that … so why, pray tell, do we keep asking for the Holy Spirit to show up?

And what, pray tell, do we think the Holy Spirit is going to do when she gets here?

Make a big whooshing sound, like in the upper room so long ago?

Set our tongues on fire?

(Need another Hot Tamale?)

I can tell you one thing:

If you pray for the Holy Spirit to show up, you had better be prepared for what happens next.

Because the Holy Spirit is not some … some … wimpy little ghost that floats around, barely making her presence known.

No, my friends, the Spirit, is sent to us by God the Father (I know, I know, the Creed says the Spirit comes from both the Father and the Son, but read today’s Gospel again, and you’ll see that Jesus says quite firmly that the Spirit comes from the Father … the line in the Creed is the result of a council in Toledo in the 7th century … but that’s another story). And the reason God the Father sends us the Spirit?

To set us on fire … so that we can set the world on fire!

• • •

When I was a child, my mother used to warn me: “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.”

The same is true with the Holy Spirit. Be careful, my friends … be very careful about asking the Holy Spirit to show up in your lives, to give you a sign, to lead you to that new place you so desperately wish to go.

Because you just might get exactly what you ask for … and then what?

What are you going to do with all this power she gives you?

Are you going to change the world?

I certainly hope so!

I certainly hope and pray that you go out and change the world … each and every one of you.

Because that’s what Pentecost is all about …

It’s about grabbing hold of the Spirit that is grabbing hold of us and going for the rides of our lives!

Remember last week, when I said that love is dangerous and scandalous and radical?

Well, who do you think makes love so dangerous, so scandalous, so radical?

Who do you think gives us the ability to love like that?

The Holy Spirit, that’s who!

We are Christians.

We are followers of … disciples of … the Risen Lord.

The Risen Lord never told us to sit back and rest on our laurels. The Risen Lord never said, “OK, now you’ve been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, marked as mine forever, sealed by the Spirit, so go rest!

No!

The Risen Lord told us to go out into the world and change it!

That’s why we have the Spirit!

So we can change the world!

The Spirit is the one who inspires us … who literally gives us the breath of life that we need to take on the barroom brawl that is the world today and turn it into the world that can be, the world the God desires for us.

You see injustice in the world? Do something about it! Work for justice.

You see want in the world? Do something about it! Feed the hungry! Give water to the thirsty! Clothe the naked! Give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute! You! Yes, you! Make the lame leap for joy!

We have been empowered, emboldened, by the Spirit. We asked for it, and we got it.

Now we have to do something with it!

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the retired primate of Cape Town, South Africa, has a prayer that sums up everything we need to know about the Holy Spirit working in our lives:

Disturb us, O Lord,

when we are too well-pleased with ourselves

when our dreams have come true

because we dreamed too little,

because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord,

when with the abundance of things we possess,

we have lost our thirst for the water of life

when, having fallen in love with time,

we have ceased to dream of eternity

and in our efforts to build a new earth,

we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord,

to dare more boldly,

to venture into wider seas

where storms show Thy mastery,

where losing sight of land,

we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons

of our hopes and invited the brave to follow. Amen.[1] 

I am telling you … you had better be careful … very careful … when you pray for the Holy Spirit to show up in your life.

Because the odds are, you are going to get exactly what you asked for …

And then you’ll have to do something with it.

You know … something simple … like changing the world!

Amen.

Sermon preached for the Feast of Pentecost, 26 May 2012, Year B, Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.



[1] Adapted from an original prayer by Sir Francis Drake. Via http://godspace.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/disturb-us-o-lord-a-prayer-by-desmond-tutu-4/

 

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Philippians 4:1-9

OK, it is true confession time:

How many of you have something that Steve Jobs created? … How many of you have something that Steve Jobs created?  iTunes? An iPod? An iPhone? An iMac? A MacBook? An iPad?

Isn’t it amazing how ubiquitous those little things are?

In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company that he had co-founded with Steve Wozniak, the company that had fired him, and within a few years of his return, our world was a different place.

First he gave us the iPod, that magical little device that carried thousands of our songs.

Two years after that, he gave us iTunes, the fastest, cheapest way and most legal way to buy those songs.

Then he gave us the iMac, the first personal computer that was not steel gray. Then he gave us the iBook. And then the MacBook. And then iPhone. And then MacBook Air. And then the iPad.

In 10 years, one decade, Steve Jobs changed the world.

You know how he did it? He managed to change the world by refusing to settle. He would not settle for seeing things as they were and asking, “Why?” Steve Jobs dreamed of the way things could be and he asked, “Why not?”[1]

“Why not?”

Now whether you are a Mac person or not – and here is my true confession: I am – you have to admit that Steve Jobs, who died last Wednesday, changed the world. He did so because he always, always, was striving for the “Why not?” He was always striving for the pure, for the pleasing, and for the commendable, and whatever he dreamed, he made happen.

In many ways, Steve Jobs emulated what the Apostle Paul charges us with this morning in his love letter to the Philippians:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

                   Now, I know that when we are listening to Paul’s instructions, they can be somewhat Pollyanish, they can seem like they are some over-the-moon optimism that completely, completely divorces us from the reality that is our lives.

Because when we take a good hard look at our lives right now, when we take an honest look at our lives right now, we know that life is not all that great.

To quote Jim Wallis from his God’s Politics blog on Friday:

“Tomorrow, almost 14 million Americans will still be unemployed.

“Tomorrow, the homes of more than 2,500 new U.S. families will enter foreclosure.

“Tomorrow, one in seven U.S. households still will not know where their next meal is coming from.

“Tomorrow, one in four American children under the age of six will still be living below the poverty line.

“Tomorrow, three billion people around the globe will still be living on less than $2.50 a day.

“Tomorrow, 400 million children will still lack access to clean water.

“Tomorrow, 300 children under the age of five will die in the Horn of Africa because of famine.”[2]

When you paint a portrait of the world with those numbers, the situation seems bleak.

And it seems very nearly impossible to find, much less name, that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable. It seems even more impossible to find any excellence.

Quite frankly, when we use those numbers to paint the portrait of the world, most of us think that the world has already gone to hell in a handbasket. And that there’s not much that we can do about it.

And yet …

And yet … there is Paul, writing to us from prison, from a Roman prison, in chains, facing death and still demanding that we look for that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and excellent.

Paul writes these instructions because Paul knew that all things come of God, and therefore, all things are good. Paul knew that each and every one of us comes from God, and therefore, each and every one of us is a beloved child of God.

Paul was looking at the world with God’s eyes, not with human eyes. He was not trying to advocate the “power of positive thinking.” He was not trying to get us to go with a “technique and persuasion”[3] that was Pollyanish. Instead, what he was doing was trying to show us how to fill ourselves with God so that we could go out into the world and take God’s life with us into that world. He didn’t want us to be a bunch of Pollyanas paying no attention to the truth! He was not trying to get us to turn a blind eye to the needs of the world! Or to make us pretend that there’s really nothing wrong, because “I’ve got mine and I don’t really care if other people got theirs.”

Paul is trying to get us up off our duffs and get us to go out into the world with God’s life in us and share God’s life with the world.[4]

Paul wants us to change the world.

To stop looking at things as they are and crying out, “Why, Lord, why???” and to start dreaming of things as they can be and saying, “Why not?!”

Why not?!

Why not focus on the good things and the holy things, the things that come from God and are blessed by God?

Why not build on God’s holy foundations, so that we can make the world a better place – not the guy up the street, us, so that we can make the world a better place!

Why not make the “why not’s” of our dreams and make them come to fruition?!

This is our moment, my friends.

This is our time …

It is our time to stop the negative comments that pass for conversation in our lives and to start enunciating every good, God-blessed thing that we can find in each other.

It is our time to give grace, even when nobody’s giving grace back!

It is our time to work together for the common good, not for our gain, but for the common good!

This is our time to change the way things are, so that we can make them the way they can be.

Right now, when the world seems to be in such desperate straits, when our public conversation is so nasty that we don’t even want to expose our children to it, when our leaders cannot even go one day – one day, one, measly day – without denigrating people on the other side of the aisle, right now, this is our time, this is our opportunity to change the world.

It is not enough for us to simply say, “Well, this is wrong, and this is bad, and this is awful!”

It is not enough to denounce evil, because “denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good.”[5]

What we have to do is dream of the way things can be and say, “Why not?”

And then go make those things happen!

And we can do this. We can focus on even the tiniest of things, that are true, that are honorable, that are just and pure and pleasing and commendable. If we spent more time looking for what is excellent and worthy of any praise, and less time looking for what we can tear down, we could make the world a better place!

This is our call.

And now is our time.

Now, is anybody here going to be the next Steve Jobs?

Anybody?

I know I’m not.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t emulate him. That doesn’t mean that I can’t dream the way that Steve Jobs dreamed. That doesn’t mean that I can’t change the world.

We have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to dare to dream … as Paul dreamed … as Jobs dreamed.

And we have the ability to make those dreams come true.

Right now.

Why not?

Amen.

Sermon preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Burke, Va., on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23, Year A, 9 October 2011.



[1] Paraphrase of George Bernard Shaw, the Serpent to Eve, in Back To Methuselah.

[2] Jim Wallis, “Praying for peace and looking for Jesus at #Occupy Wall Street,” God’s Politics blog, http://blog.sojo.net/2011/10/06/praying-for-peace-and-looking-for-jesus-at-occupywallstreet/.

[3] paraphrase from William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia, http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/AEpPentecost17.htm

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good.” ~ Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, the story of the Rwandan genocide.

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Sometimes we are called to hate

Luke 14:26

It would be so much easier this morning if we were listening to Matthew’s Gospel, wouldn’t it? The Gospel where Jesus, pretty much in the same setting, says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”?

But we don’t have Matthew this morning, with its emphasis on love. No, we have Luke. And in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is not as gentle, not as nuanced, not as loving.

For in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says: “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 hate …

At best, when we hear Jesus say this, we cringe. At worst, we ignore him. Because hate is not something that we associate with Jesus.

When I work with children and youth, I always stop them from using the word hate. You know how kids can be: I hate … broccoli. Or I hate my teacher … or that TV show … or that song. Kids use the word hate all the time. And when they do, I stop them. “You can’t use that word,” I tell them. “Jesus doesn’t tell us to hate things, so you can’t hate. You can despise. You can even severely despise. But you cannot hate. God did not create us to hate. God created us in love to love,” I tell them.

Which is true.

We are created in God’s image, and that image is, first of all, one of love. We know that because we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God. And we know that because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so therefore we simply cannot be necessary to God. So God must have created us because God wanted us, God desired us. Which means God created us out of God’s love for us.

Which is why we simply can’t go around hating things, hating ideas, hating people. It simply is not how or why we were created.

But then we come to Luke’s version of Jesus’ saying, where Jesus is not gentle, not nuanced, not loving.

Jesus has just finished dining with a leader of the Pharisees, has just finished instructing the people to take the lower seat at the table, to feed the poor, the lame, the blind, the sick. Now he turns his back on that town and begins traveling, with “a large crowd following him.” And suddenly he turns to them and out of the blue says:

“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.”

What brought this on? Where did this come from?

Well, I’ll tell you: I think Jesus has had it.

I think he’s tired of explaining to people – high and low – what it means to be a disciple.

I think he’s tired of having large crowds follow him, without making any commitments.

I think Jesus knows that far too many people in the crowd were just along for the ride, wanting to see what would happen next with this young, itinerant rabbi from Nazareth who preached a radical message of God’s love and hospitality.

Remember, these are people who have been waiting for a Messiah for centuries. They wanted another David. They wanted Israel and Judah restored. They wanted the Romans out, their glory restored, their freedom back. Not that they were planning on doing anything about it. That’s simply what they wanted. So when Jesus showed up in their neighborhood, they followed him, just in case anything happened.

And I think, by this point in his ministry, Jesus has had it. He’s fed up with the freeloaders.

So he lays it on the line for them:

The only way to be my disciple is to hate everything else.

Now, to be clear, the way Luke uses the word hate is somewhat … slightly … different from the way we use that same word these days. And here I’m not talking about how some people use the word hate, like the kids in Youth groups do when they say they hate broccoli, or that TV show, or that song.

I’m talking about the kind of hate that is visceral, and emotional, and comes deep anger … the kind of hate that is the result of irrational fear … the kind of hate that nine years ago this Saturday flew into the Twin Towers in New York, slammed into the Pentagon, and brought down a plane in the Pennsylvania countryside, killing nearly 3,000 people … the kind of hate that tears apart the lives of people all over the world today: Israelis and Palestinians, Afghans and Taliban, Shi’a and Sunni Iraqis, Sudanese Arabs and Sudanese blacks … the kind of hate that is used to threaten people of faith here and around the world …

That is not the “hate” that Luke is describing in today’s Gospel. What Luke is talking is the disruption of the family in first-century terms. Hate here means disconnecting from everything that has previously defined a person: family, friends, genetics …  As one commentator describes it, when Jesus says to hate your family, he means to turn your back on the old ways of life, the old world as people in those days understood it, so that the new ways, the “new world of God,” can come into being.

So, you see, Jesus looked back and he saw all those hangers-on, all those free-loaders who were just along for the ride, who were following him to see what would happen next, but who would do nothing to make that next thing happen … he saw them, and he cut loose.

If you want to follow me, he said, be prepared. Following me is not easy. It comes with a cost. You want to be my disciple?You want to love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength? You’re going to have to give up something. In fact, you’re going to have to give up a lot. Your family – which doesn’t want you to follow me. Your friends – who’d really rather have you come out and play with them. Your place in society … perhaps your job … your home … 

Because nothing – nothing! Jesus says – can come between you and God.

That’s what it means to follow me.

Not just traipsing across the countryside, waiting to see what happens next. Not just showing up when I preach, or coming to me when your need is great and you want to be healed.

No. You want to be one of my disciples? Jesus says.

Put God first. Every moment. Every day. In everything you do.

Jesus is being very clear: We are not created to be freeloaders in our faith. We are not created to simply follow along, so that we can see what happens next.

We are created to make the next thing happen.

We who are created in God’s image, out of God’s love, are the ones who are called to love in return. To feed the hungry and care for those in need … not “God on high,” not the “other guy around the corner” but us. It is up to us to make the next thing happen through our love … like your food pantry yesterday … and the Stop Hunger Now program this coming Saturday … and the FISH clothing bank this whole month.

We are the ones who are called to see the world’s needs about us, and do something about it, to change it … like this discussion that you are having about the possibility of nursery school here for that 40 percent of the children in this county who never have a chance to go to preschool.

This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ: We have to turn our backs on everything old, everything that defines us by society’s limited and often self-serving standards, so that everything new, everything that is God, can come into being.

And the only way that is going to happen is if we refuse to be the hangers-on and the freeloaders, just along for the ride, and instead actively decide to put God first … in every moment and every part of our lives.

Jesus is stunningly clear: Discipleship is not easy. Discipleship is not cheap. Being a disciple means that we have to be brave and stand up for what God wants, regardless of what society tells us.

And it means that sometimes, yes, we are going to have to hate, just as Jesus said – not in the visceral, evil way that we encounter so much in today’s world, but in the back-turning, decision-making, world-changing, radical way of which Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel.

Because that is the only way we can change the world.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, Year C, by The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley at Christ Church, Millwood, Va.

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