Lectionary Reflection for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
September 4, 2016
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, Deuteronomy 30:19
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27
Mama said there’d be days like this. She didn’t say anything about weeks, or months, or even years and decades, but that’s the way life goes. So it goes with discipleship, too. The truth of the matter is this: neither life nor discipleship is a guaranteed picnic, cakewalk, or pie-in-the-sky supper club. Life and discipleship both require sacrifice, hard work, disappointment, and letting go. On the flipside, however, choosing real life and being an “all-in” disciple yield blessings, joy, and wonders that make anything less pale in comparison.
One important point that both the Old Testament lesson and the gospel make is that we have choice. God is not holding us at heavenly gunpoint demanding that we choose life, nor is Jesus kidnapping us and supergluing a cross to our backs. God chooses us, loves us, saves us from ourselves, and is ever with us (even when we’re behaving like absolute ingrates), but God also never, ever, like some divine puppeteer, forces us to move a muscle.
Discipleship is difficult. This is fact. But think about it; don’t most things in life that are worth anything require real, lasting commitment? Parenting is a lifetime commitment. Olympic gold medals take years of rigorous training and sacrifice. Marriage works only when partners stick together through thick and thin. Work done well requires elbow grease and mental floss. Building a house takes skill, care, and careful planning.
This is what Jesus is talking about when he turns and addresses the crowds who are following him. He knows what they are signing on for, even though they didn’t have a clue, and he knows we disciples can’t do this following thing on our own. We rely on Jesus–on his model of how to live, how to die, and how to rise to new life–as our focal point and north star. Yes, we are wise to count the cost and know what we are undertaking. We don’t dare follow Jesus blithely or with our eyes closed.
We also better not follow Jesus with a lot of baggage. Give up all your possessions, Jesus says. Perhaps he’s talking about not only what we think we possess but also that which possesses us and prevents us from seeing him and being yoked with him. When we admit our inability to love ourselves and others, to see the face of Christ in every person, and to give prodigally of our time, talent, and treasure, then we start to make some progress.
Dear friends, we are called to lay down our fear, our anxiety, our inadequacies, our loathing, the —isms to which we cling. Then, and only then, are we free to follow and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s not about us or our ability to “do” anything. It’s about turning our face toward Jesus and going willingly where he goes. Then, and only then, are we truly free to choose life and carry on.
Consider singing Psalm 1 today. There are several versions from which to choose. Here’s Kim Hill’s version. The Sons of Korah also have a version here. Another version is available from The Psalms Project here. The metrical psalms version is found here.
Consider inviting people to name and lay down the baggage that keeps them from following Jesus. Can they lay that baggage at the foot of the cross and fix their eyes on the Lord?
What does it mean to be set free? Explore the story of Onesimus and talk about what it means to escape and then return not to slavery but to freedom–as a beloved brother (or sister) as Paul writes to Philemon. How might this translate to 21st century life? If you want to stretch the metaphor, consider exploring human trafficking as modern day slavery and what it means to be set free from that life.
In this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus says, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” For a keen visual children’s sermon, assemble a variety of bags and luggage. Label them with various labels for some “unusual” possessions like “anger” or “hate” or “fear” and “greed.” You get the picture–anything that separates us from Jesus. Have them sitting in a large pile near where you usually conduct your time with children. Tell children that you are a disciple and you’re going on a journey with Jesus, so you have to get all your “stuff” and go. Have the children hand you one bag at a time. Invite them to tell you what label or tag is on each bag. You should end up with your vision completely obstructed by your load. Tell the children that you are ready to go! But wait…something’s wrong. Ask them what it is. One of them may notice that you can’t see where you’re going. It’s tough to follow Jesus when we’re loaded down with so much “stuff.” Lay all your bags down with the children’s help, so that you can now see Jesus. Put a simple cross around your neck and tell them that NOW you are finally ready to go. Finish with a brief prayer.
Photos: Akuppa John Wigham, Stewart Black, S Blezard, Creative Commons