Sep. 8, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Tue, Sep 10, 2019 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18C)

September 8, 2019

Harsh as it sounded just now, our gospel continues from last week with Jesus’ teaching on priorities, and where we place the needs of our souls in that list of priorities. Yet to hear Jesus’ say we are unable to be his disciples unless we ‘hate’ mother and father, sister and brother, and so on, feels in direct contrast to his gospel of love. The word hate here doesn’t connote ‘feelings’ though, it’s not about an emotion of hate at all, rather about how we act and think of one thing as more important than another. This reading refers to placing people and possessions in order after what is most important; faithfully following the Holy One. Last week Mother Ann spoke of Augustine’s realization that he and fellow Christians had put too much trust in the material things that fall victim to moths and rust. That “our hearts are simply restless until we humble ourselves before ultimate Reality, and really see…Until we turn and acknowledge whose we are, and from there begin figuring out who we are…connecting with the eternal goodness in life, and finally then we find the power and the energy we’ve spent a lifetime seeking.”

I thought about this on my backpacking trips, and as some of you know about the only thing that bothers me about solo backpacking is the fear of bears or ‘large cats’ as they say. I’ll venture we all have had fears of an awful death, yet we take precautions and eventually have to choose to go out anyway or to let the fear of death keep us from what is life-giving. It gets to me most at night in my tent, and so I pray. (It’s all those signs they have that say what to do if you encounter one of them, each ending, “You cannot outrun a bear.” “You cannot outrun a cougar!”) Reading today’s gospel made me recognize some of what Jesus was talking about. In a time of fear, it wasn’t my possessions or loved ones that saved me, it was trusting God even if the worst thing might happen. Sure, sometimes I’d lie there and think about them knowing I loved them if I died, who would have to empty out my study or my closet. Yet before and after those kinds of thoughts, I prayed for God to take care of them, (and me) to hold them in the palm of his hand, that Christ surround them with all the love I’d not be there to shower them with. What more could we want for those who are dear to us, than a loving Savior?

During my sabbatical I took a couple of backpack trips, some classes, some travel, and a couple planned pilgrimage walks, and as I reflect on it, I realize the whole time away was a pilgrimage. I carefully packed for each; my knapsack for the Camino Ingles, my one little carry-on suitcase for 5 weeks in England and Spain, or even my full backpack for hiking British Columbia’s coastal Juan de Fuca trail. I had to do it quietly and reflectively. I couldn’t prioritize my choices amidst television background or while on the phone. Our pilgrim steps are dramatically affected by what we chose to carry or leave out! For the Camino walk I took one spare shirt, a raincoat, each day’s food, water, my maps, and a first aid kit. Barest essentials, and I carried nothing without weighing it, counting cost. To these I added my journal with all of your prayerful messages in it. Along the way I soon added the pilgrim’s shell which marks you as ‘one of them,’ though even without it people knew immediately. In a sense, what Jesus says about carrying the cross and following him is more akin to this mini example than to the over-used (and wrong) characterization as bearing unfair burdens, of bearing “crosses” as martyrs. It’s not about suffering illness, a lousy job, losses we grieve, or unexpected things befalling us as our ‘lot in life.’ It is what we do voluntarily as followers of Jesus Christ, it is choosing a life which bears the recognizable sign that you are a disciple of the one who preached extravagant love and was put to death on the cross, and your commitment includes following him into death and into resurrection. This is our deliberate sacrifice, exposure to possible risk and ridicule, in order to follow Jesus as our way of life.

The Camino Ingles began in England with a walk from one coast of Cornwall to the other, and across the waterway at low tide to St. Michael’s Mount. After that to Spain and walking to Santiago. It was a pilgrimage to some powerful destinations, but in all I found it was simply more about walking with God, praying in conversation with our Lord at my side, open to whatever ‘we’ encountered. My phone was off completely, so no family or friends (or even parishioners!) could reach me. Extra possessions were out of reach other than what was on my back. Those were what mattered. It changed how I felt in my own skin—and it was different from a backpack trip in the mountains or a stroll along Front Street. It was a time of internal and external intention, and pretty much everyone who saw me knew that was what I was doing. “Good Camino!” people said to me, and pilgrims always greeting each other with the Spanish version, “Buen Camino!” No matter what their language of origin, it was pilgrim recognizing pilgrim, like a spiritual fist-bump. I found there was something different about being known as a Christian pilgrim instead of as any other tourist. Asking for and receiving help got easier until each instance shone like a bright blessing. I stopped hurrying to a make up miles and listened for God speaking when people stopped to talk. Many were envious of doing it, or shared their own Camino stories, some had walked it many times. Each and every one said it changed a person for the better. Indeed!

Today, Jesus explains at length about counting the cost and figuring whether you have what is needed to for your mission. We do this for other things, why not for our faith? For the Camino I poured over internet blogs, Google Earth, and carried two different maps on each section—no chance I was going to get lost! (Right.) Jesus tells us to consider what we’re committing to, but never says we’ll know. He doesn’t promise it will go as we planned. Climbing over stiles of ancient stone or well-worn wood I crossed one lovely pasture after another. It was idyllic, until I got to some that were treacherous or falling apart. Crossing pastures, I expected, but being chased by a herd of rather quick-on-their-feet cows was not! Up close a herd of cattle coming at you feels a little scary, until I learned they usually did this for their keeper who always came with a handful of treats to toss to the ones who came up fastest. (Who knew?!) I soon learned not all of the paths and passages are as noted in the guidebooks and more than once found myself scrambling into the wrong field, which meant going around the long way each time. Although I had counted the cost, carried only what I needed, estimated my chances of managing the trek, it was still filled with surprises. Instead of frustration, it prepared me to make the choice to walk with our Lord each day, each step, and as I went to trust the kindness of strangers, to receive the hospitality of hostels and angels, to venture places where instead of alone I felt Christ was with me.

I mentioned the pilgrim’s shell people tie to their knapsacks or walking sticks. There are also small signs with a stylized shell to point you on your way, some hidden in shrubs, on shop walls, even on freeway ramps! You watch for that shell to guide you, praying you don’t miss one and have to backtrack too often. It was much the way we watch for God’s presence when we feel unsure in our life’s direction. The shell is the symbol of St. James and there are various legends about why this is so. The one I believe is this; The Apostle James is said to have carried a scallop shell along his way, using it essentially as his beggar’s bowl since he took very little with him, as was Jesus’ instructions to them. He knew he could ask for a small shell-full of food or water (This one holds less than a quarter cup)—knowing that even the poorest person he encountered could know the blessing of giving to a pilgrim. He knew that giving was part of the faith he carried with him to Spain, and that to experience it opened the giver’s heart and created a bond between giver and receiver. To choose to be a disciple means there is a cost and it is not to be taken lightly or just on Sunday—but to walk with him is to know you are never far from him, that he is present in that person helping to fill your shell or to walk with you on your earthly pilgrimage.

You all gave me a great deal more of yourselves and your prayers, far more than a small shell-full, and time and time again I was filled with prayers of gratitude for you. I felt as if I were traveling alongside the Christ within you – each step of the way.


© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

View lectionary readings: