Year C; Proper 18; 9.8.2019
The gospel lesson this morning gives us such troubling news that at 9:30 Family Eucharist, I had asked Mary Lee to invite people to hold hands for courage while she read it. Maybe I should have done that here.
Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and DOES NOT HATE…DOES NOT HATE father and mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and…even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Not only is this very hard news, Jesus goes on to say later, “…none of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Now, as a clutterer, collector and one who loves her “things,” I am most unnerved by the idea of forsaking my possessions if I really want to be a disciple of Jesus. I REALLY DO want to follow Jesus. But this teaching is scary and difficult for me. And it might be for many of us here.
I think holding hands with each other isn’t such a bad idea as together we live a life of faith and service for Jesus’ sake. It takes strength and courage. Holding hands with other followers of Jesus not only gives us strength and courage, it is a sign that we don’t go it alone – that we need one another to live into our faith day by day.
And we need to lean on each other as we “count the cost” of what it takes, how far we are ready to walk with Jesus. The idea of counting the cost, what it will take to follow Jesus, is a concept nearly impossible for children to comprehend. But personally, I don’t think it’s much easier for me.
Every now and then, my activism comes out in a Facebook post, making me feel “big” in my attempts to follow Jesus. Like I’m risking so much by “sharing” a statement of faith for all to see. Recently, I posted something that our presiding bishop, Michael Curry had posted and signed. I signed on, too saying, “I’m a Christian and I’m against Christian Nationalism;” a religious claim that diminishes all other religions in this country. Christian Nationalism is a distortion of all that Jesus taught – especially the self-sacrificing call to “take up your cross and follow him.”
A seminary classmate of mine responded to my statement of being against Christian Nationalism by complaining that “you all have your Christian priorities wrong. Jesus told us to go out and make Christians of all the nations.” I took his comments seriously. He is a friend. But I disagreed with him in my response and sided with Michael Curry. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called a Christianity that didn’t include self-sacrifice in our love of God and our neighbor “Cheap Grace.” There is no getting around the distortion some Christians have made to the faith that includes nothing of sacrifice.
So, I replied to him. But I wasn’t very brave, really. I wasn’t exactly taking up my cross, hating my family members, as Jesus said in the passage today – Gee! “Hate” is such a strong word, Jesus! However, scholars of Aramaic give us more information about the use of the word “hate” in this passage. Jesus didn’t mean it as an emotional, “I hate you!” He meant it as more of “…a turn away from, or a detach oneself from…” (Interpreters, Luke, p. 181, Fred B. Craddock).
Anyway, my reply to my classmate was personal. I told him that, as a person who follows Jesus, I had to live with myself and look at myself every morning. That I felt compelled to reject Christian Nationalism as a distortion of Christianity in order to live with myself. Not very brave. I didn’t really sacrifice anything to post that response to my friend.
But I do wonder what, down the road, might call me to renounce things that are dear to me in order to follow Jesus…in order to pick up my cross and follow him. I think I’m like the disciples who shouted in John’s gospel, “This is a difficult teaching, Jesus. Who can listen to it?”
Thankfully, we are not without examples of ordinary people being called by circumstances or by their faith who shine a light onto what it looks like to be a disciple. People who risked much for justice for their community and their neighbors. And people whose community of faith gave them strength and courage and stood with them hand-in-hand.
For this very reading in Luke’s gospel, the children’s book, “Rosa” was recommended by Christian Educators. It is a Caldicott award book written by Nikki Giovanni. It is the story of Rosa Parks, one of our national Civil Rights founders. She is even called the ‘mother of the Civil Rights Movement’ for her refusal to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
Mrs. Parks was an excellent seamstress and made her living by making clothes. She lived with her loving husband and elderly, frail mother in Montgomery. On December 1, 1955 she boarded a very crowded Montgomery city bus after work. She had her sewing bag and purse with her. After she boarded she saw that the back section, the segregated section labeled, “Colored” was full. But she spied a seat in the middle section of the bus where sometimes whites and blacks sit when it is crowded. She took her seat there.
Just after she sat down, she saw a man in a uniform and heard him shout at the black men sitting across from her in the middle section, “Give me those seats!”
He was the conductor. The men obliged, got up and moved. They didn’t want any trouble. But Mrs. Parks did not move. The man turned to her and shouted, “You better make it easy on yourself!” Mrs. Parks said to him quietly, “Why do you pick on us?”
The man said, “I’m going to call the police! You are breaking the law.” She knew she was breaking the law, but simply said, “Do what you must.”
She knew what she was doing. She knew what she was standing (sitting) for. She knew she could go to jail. But she felt brave and ready to stand against the unjust law. This was the cross that she picked up that day.
The man shouted again quite disrespectfully, “Auntie, are you going to move?”
She stayed put. The police arrested her and she went to jail.
Mrs. Parks had counted the cost – Jail time. Giving up caring for her ailing mother. Giving up house holding with her husband. Losing her job. She committed herself to this path in faith. Later, in her biography, she would say that her strength that day came from God. She credits the role of churches in the movement and the church community that sacrificed to sustain the Montgomery Bus Boycott for over a year. In that year, hundreds of black people in her church and in the community drew national legal attention to the inequality of segregation and the unjust segregation law.
Rosa Parks said, “The church was and is the foundation of our community. It became our strength, our refuge and our haven. We would pray, sing and meet in church. We would use Scriptures, testimonies and hymns to strengthen us against the hatred and violence going on around us.” The bus boycott ended with the Supreme Court declaring that public bus segregation was unconstitutional.
Jesus said to his followers, “Will you take up your cross and follow me?” Rosa Parks said, “Yes.”
How will we respond to Jesus when he says, “Will you come and follow me?”