The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Costs of Discipleship


Pentecost 16, Proper 18C


In the name of God.  Amen.

The gospel lesson we read today always seems to come around at the most inconvenient times.

Either in the last few Sundays of summer, or the first few Sundays of the new school year - when our minds aren’t quite “hunkered down” yet - we hear this challenging command from Jesus.

Today, we’re trying to kick off our new program year - just one week after the summer slow-down - welcoming people back from their vacations, commissioning one another for our ministries together, starting off together on the right foot.  This would be one of those times when it would be nice to hear one of the sweeter messages.  One of the easier, more uplifting ones.  Maybe, “Let the little children come unto me,” - something like that.

Instead, we get this: “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…”

Welcome back!

Instead of something easy or uplifting, we get “the cost of discipleship”.

It’s a shocking thing to hear - this business of hating your family and even your own life.  And I think it was meant to shock us.  Frankly, I don’t think Jesus was really calling us to hate anyone.  All of the evidence from everything else we hear from him says that that’s not what he was about.  But I do think he was trying to say something so surprising that it would jar us out of our complacency.  Jesus knew that following him would be a costly undertaking.  It should be costly.  It should be difficult.  He was leading a revolution - not just a shiny, happy, feel-good group of wanderers.

Most of us, in the church these days, don’t tend to spend a lot of time talking about “the cost of discipleship”.  It makes us a little uncomfortable.  We’re afraid that people don’t want to hear it.  So we make believe that being a Christian and being a member of a church should always be easy.  We make believe that being a Christian and being a member of a church should always be free.

But it’s just not true.  There are costs.  There is work involved.  It takes sacrifice to be a church.

Often the costs are literal - financial.  Just this week we had to replace the hot water heater in the church.  It seems that there aren’t many weeks that go by that we don’t have something like that happen - some expensive emergency that requires our action and spending some money to keep this place going.  Without the members of this church accepting the financial costs of discipleship in this community, it wouldn’t be long before this place crumbled around us.

But sometimes the costs are a little more hidden.  Being a disciple in this place takes time.  It takes energy.

Just ask anyone who stands up here in a few minutes to be commissioned for ministry.  There are times when the only reason we show up is because we’ve agreed to show up.

Sometimes we’re tired, or we’d rather be doing something else, or because of outside pressures and stresses our spirits seem weak or disengaged.

I’d bet you could ask anyone in this room who participates in the ministries of this parish - which is almost everyone in this room - and they’d tell you the same thing: sometimes it’s costly.

Sometimes we don’t want to read in church.  Or serve on the Altar Guild.  Or tend to the buildings and grounds.  Or go to Vestry meetings.  Or get up early to attend choir practice.  Or whatever else.

But we do it.

We do it because we’ve made a commitment to Christ and to this community.

We do it, because while it’s sometimes costly, it’s also sometimes rewarding.

That’s why we’re commissioning one another for ministry today: to remind each other of those others in this community who are doing the costly work of discipleship on our behalf; to thank them; to undergird them with our prayers for their work; and to be thanked and supported for all of the work that we all do.

The community that serves us and that we serve - this community that thanks us and that we thank - it is both the cost and the reward.

Last week I quoted Lillian Daniel, the author of When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough.  At another point in that same interview she says, “Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon. Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach.”

Community can be costly, but it’s also rewarding.  It’s where we get to practice all those things we think we believe.

But to act like there’s no cost is a lie.

We need to be reminded of Jesus’ difficult words about the cost of discipleship - perhaps even most of all on a day like today.

As we enter into a new year of ministry together, we’re wise to remember that there’s a cost.

We are here to support one another through those costs.  And celebrate with one another when it’s most rewarding.  That’s why we worship God in community.  It’s where the rubber meets the road.  It’s where the cost meets the reward.  Amen.

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