Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Sep. 4, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Sep 4, 2022 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Sep. 4, 2022

“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.”

This is exactly why we say Jesus wouldn’t have made a very good parish priest—or even a good church Greeter! Can you imagine hearing those words as a greeter hands you a bulletin? 

In a time when so many people deal with combative or even toxic family members, grieving the loss of their estrangement and once civil and loving family gatherings, this reading disturbs or at least rattles us. Some have felt cut off because of what they think or believe, who they are, or the path they chose. We may have been taught from an early age not to hate, and yet we still experiences of that very thing. It feels ‘unchristian’ even, doesn’t it? Yet we have scores of biblical leaders, saints, and historic figures whose families disowned them, people who made a choice knowing it would estrange them, possibly for the rest of their lives. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Lucy, and more. They chose what they held in higher esteem, what they valued even more than family. This willing detachment is what Jesus is getting at, and the shock of his words calls our minds to critical thinking. The point is not to cultivate enmity for family or life. Jesus calls those who follow him to know there may be a high cost, and to place their faith above all else. 

Jesus makes his message accessible in the metaphor of working out the costs of building a tower before starting it. This is work we undertook here before each remodel, before the addition, and before paving the parking lot, and because of your ‘counting’ and being faithful in giving, we are debt free. Some things had to be ‘value engineered’ out or reduced, and we could do that because, knowing the cost, we could choose what bit was more important than another bit. What guided us was that we were building something for the body of Christ, the community we love and those yet to come, to gather in worship to the glory of God. To be his disciples we are making such choices about how we ‘build’ our lives.

Jesus says we are to take up our cross and follow him, above family and even life. When we face the possibility of impending death of a loved one or even your own, you likely examined your faith in God and what it may or may not mean. Is the cost of following our Lord and being a disciple worth staking our life on? Each will answer that question. I. Know I’ve seen a kind of divine assurance and strength in people who have made that choice, particularly when they are facing enormous obstacle or risk.

Biblical scholar Joel Marcus cites Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s words about going to death row in the Gulag, which is what taking up the cross came to mean for him. As a result of this imprisonment and the camps, he became an Eastern Orthodox Christian. He said,

From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you. At the threshold, you must say to yourself: My former life is over, I shall never return. I no longer have property. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious to me.” 

None of us are expecting imprisonment on death row, yet all of us will have a point at which we hold only that which is most precious to us. A time when the arms we reach for will be in the world to come. Jesus is inviting us to decide to live such a choice now, to count the cost as if planning ahead to build a tower or take on some enormous opposition. Add it up, he is saying. What comes first, what can be with you in this life and the next? 

Even as I proclaim and preach this gospel and try to follow as a disciple, I fall short of this teaching far more often than I succeed. Reflecting on this can be daunting or worrisome. Such sharp words certainly would have thinned out the crowd, so should we fall away knowing we may never attain such an undertaking? For me, those I love come to mind immediately, and the idea of putting them second to anything else begs credulity. And yet Jesus is calling us to do just that here, and I try hard to do so. What sets my troubled spirit to rest on solid ground is to know God’s love is even greater than mine, and we do not lose those we love. You’ve heard me say it baptisms and funerals; in the sacraments we are in God’s time, kairos—eternal time. Not in our chronos time of electronic calendars and contacts that sync across our various devices. It means that though we die we are alive in Christ, we receive Communion, baptize, marry and bury, with those who went before us and those yet to come. Having counted the cost and taken up the cross and followed him, we are together in the body of Christ, and with those we love, always. That is his promise of life eternal. 

Discipleship is lifelong practice and will not fit into a planner or two minutes of rushed prayers with our coffee. We are all being called to take this up, to follow, and we are the better for it even when it’s hard. Kelly Moody’s quarterly update from seminary (Sewanee School of Theology) arrived yesterday. I’ll share more in the weekly email. She ends her message requesting a number of specific prayers. The very last she asks of us is to pray for her “Continued courage to discern carefully and say yes, even when it’s costly.”

May we do pray and do likewise! 

Amen.

Joel Marcus cited by James Howell in Preaching Notions, Saturday, January 1, 2022

© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.