I can actually think of a long list of reasons why I would not want to follow Jesus, and today’s Gospel is at the top of that list. This Gospel sounds terrible to me. In fact I sent a text message to my esteemed colleague that read something like: I no longer want to be a preacher, because the Gospel is hard. Every. Time.
Seriously – If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife, his children, his brothers and sisters – yes even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
‘Ok no problem, I’m out.’ Is my response.
I’m not interested in hating any of those people. I’m not actually very interested in hating anyone.
And yet, there is something at the end of the passage that we hear today that sort of hooks me. Like bait – just as I’m walking away there is this line that makes me turn my head just to hear a little bit clearer.
“Therefore none of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all of your possessions.”
So, what are the possessions that I carry that hold me back from being a disciple? And what has been a part of my formation that I can no longer take with me if I am going to follow Jesus? What do I carry with me that prevents me from building up the kingdom of God? Because there are more than a few things about me that do not jive with Gods beautiful vision of the world.
There are assumptions that I hold about me and my place in the world, or the place that I would like to have in the world, that are more about an easy life than one that has me carrying any crosses.
Which honestly sounds terrible.
I have read the end of this story, standing up against the evil powers of this world, does not end well for Jesus.
Giving up people and things that I love does not sound all that interesting. And Jesus just says, Look I just want you to have the whole picture here. You don’t want to start something and not be able to finish it. You need to know what I might demand of you if you follow me.
And you know, Jesus is right. There is a high cost of following him. The building up of God’s vision for the world is hard work and involves standing up for what we know is right, no matter who is on the other side of it.
And I think about the people who are in the St. Brigids community and how much it continues to demand of me to work towards building a community that is open and affirming and welcoming. I think about how completely in love with them I am. I think about the nights that I stay awake worrying about one of them or replying to messages that have arrived asking some question or another. And I think about the soccer and the football games that I miss because of it or how stretched I feel sometimes; how tricky it can be to be in worship with my children who sometimes get bored of the silence or want to go home right away after the service rather than stay for coffee or who, now that they are teenagers don’t want to come very often at all.
And I think about how worth it that all feels because of the beautiful community that is forming. And I think that I am already making this sacrifice.
I have already had to lay aside some of what I love so that I can be available to the kingdom of God that is being formed among those people.
I think about what we have to lay aside in order to come to the table that is at the centre of our worship and a reminder of Jesus last words. So that we come having been forgiven and at peace to stand or to kneel beside people that we both know well and have only just met at the table. Beside those who are like us and those with whom we have nothing in common – except the need for bread and wine.
I think about the honesty with which we have to lay ourselves open if we are to be true in our confessions each week – about where we have left some of our discipleship work undone and have not loved everyone as we know we should or are capable of.
You know, we are given a number of things in our formation from tiny humans to adults. We are born with an openness to all that life and love have to offer and as we grow we learn about wants and needs and beliefs and who is in and who is not, we learn about sharing or not about expectations and interests and about love, where it is found and where it is not. And maybe not all of the things that we learn in our formations are good for us or are rooted in the love of God.
Maybe some of those possessions need to be released so that we can be open again to the love that surrounds us and that wants more for the world than we are presently giving it.
There is a book that I am taken with at the moment called, Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, by Richard Beck. And the following quote is from the first chapter:
There are forces adversarial to love and grace in the world, and I don’t care all the much if you think those forces are due to Beelzebub, a dark tendency of human psychology, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If God is love and if love is at the heart of the kingdom of God, that love is a heroic act of resistance in a world governed by hate, violence, and indifference (p. 11)
So that if we think of evil as the opposite of love, it might be that Jesus is trying to get us to let go of. All that opposes love – so whatever assumptions that you may have grown up with, or picked up at school or wherever, that did not allow you to see yourself as fully beloved or any think that you have been dragging around with you that encouraged a divide between you and the person next to you or that encouraged a way of the world that assumed that you somehow deserve less than someone else. Anything that we carry with us that moves us away from the love that God has for the whole of creation and towards indifference or hatred or violence towards ourselves or someone else.
I think that is what Jesus is trying to get us to hear.
Sometimes in the building up of the kingdom of God, we have to sacrifice or let go of things that we love or wish that we could do, so that the kingdom of God does not look at all like a gated community that houses only a few but is a place for everyone.
And it can be hard and sound painful – and completely and totally worth it. So that all, even those of us who think we might be unworthy, are able to find a place and feel the love that God bestows on all of creation: gay or straight, trans or cis, male or female, rich or poor, partnered or single – all of us have a place at God’s table.
Sometimes, on the surface, following Jesus sounds like a terrible idea. Sometimes in the past and even still today, we get following Jesus completely wrong and have to go back and try again.
But if we work towards the building up of a kingdom of Love and away from the evil that can have us holding on too tightly to that which separates us and encourages a separation and division between us, generally speaking following Jesus is the best thing we can do for the world.