Sept 8th, judith jenkins
Some of Jesus' words this morning may sound a little harsh to us: Curious, I picked up The Message, a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson. Here is how these gospel words are paraphrased:
"One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, 'anyone who comes to me, but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters---yes, even ones' own self---can't be my disciple….
Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it?
Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can't be my disciple."
The two phrases that give emphasis to the meaning are: "to let go" and "to figure the cost."
Let's turn to the setting: Here was Jesus, walking along with all these people --- not just his small band of followers, but the gospel says "A CROWD." There were clearly a large number of people who were drawn to "this Jesus." His reputation had obviously preceded him.
So then, when Jesus spoke to the crowd that day, we might wonder why he didn't encourage those in the crowd-- those who were interested, and curious enough to follow him-- if they would like to sign up: to become part of his team: maybe even ask the name of their home village so he could send a disciples to each community, to organize them and to stay with them as their local leader.
After all, this is the way that the movement would grow! RIGHT?
Instead, Jesus surprised them with some rather disturbing words -- Words about "letting go" of all that was dearest to them and "counting the cost" -- in order to be a disciple - (or an apprentice of Christ, as some have put it.)
Jesus' advisory board might have said to him ---Hey, this is no way to grow your movement! In fact, this is a great way to kill our whole movement!"
OK---so let's be honest---- how did you respond this morning when the gospel was read?---to the idea of "letting go" of those people and those things that are dearest to you in order to follow Jesus?
I'm guessing that those who were with him were startled, to say the least! They probably had heard how loving Jesus was--how he had time for little children --how he stopped to heal the despised lepers -- to have dinner with the most disreputable people in towns and villages.
Instead -- Jesus hands them a very different image about what it means to be his follower! "If you intend to follow me, you'd better calculate very carefully to see if you're ready to pay the price."
So what is the price? The price we have to pay -- is to continually challenge ourselves to "let go" of anything that stands in our way of allowing ourselves to be transformed by God's love.
We can ask: With which are we most concerned: to be transformed daily by God's all-enveloping love: or with our own image that we've already spun, seeking affirmation in the eyes of others?
I think this is what Jesus was saying about counting the cost, which really meant letting go of how others see us, as well as clinging to an image of how others think we should be.
I love what Thomas Merton says about this constant concern of ours about our image, about what it takes to feel worthy:
God is asking me the unworthy, to forget my unworthinessss and that of my brothers, (and sisters), and dare to advance in the love which has redeemed and renewed us all in God's likeness. And then TO LAUGH, after all, at the preposterous idea of worthiness."
? Am I concerned about my image in the eyes of others? ---Think about how often that concern rules our lives!
Recently coming out of a restaurant, I noticed a young woman who was wearing a t-shirt with these words in large, bold letters: JUST LET ME BE ME: EVERYONE ELSE IS TAKEN."
I smiled to myself and thought -- good message! Then as I climbed into my car, I found myself thinking: Perhaps we might say: JUST LET ME -- BECOME THE REAL ME-- WHILE GOD AND I ARE WORKING ON IT!
Are we willing to stand up for those when they need our support even though we might be afraid of the disapproval of others? When we know that something is wrong, are we willing to let go of anything that would keep us from taking the stand that we know would be the right one?
The word for FAITH in new Testament Greek is a verb. It is not something we have; it is something we do- something we live. And that means "letting go," of those obstructions to our journey as a follower of Christ!
There still are -- pockets of resistance in me-- to God's kingdom and the Spirit -- places where there remain some unresolved reactions, and even some stubborn resistance to change my way of thinking.
It should be of concern to us all -- that the image of ourselves -- created for the benefit of everyone else, should ever warp the image of God already in us!
Brian Taylor in his book SETTING THE GOSPEL FREE, says this:
"When we stop our self-centered emotional 'fleeing' and grasping,' we can then enjoy who others are. Whether they are attractive, or repellant, angry or sweet, we can simply see them as they are….We don't have to see people as experiences that we want to either avoid of cling to."
Several weeks ago my ten year old grandson, Joshua, and I decided to rent and watch "42", the story of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, first African American to play Major League baseball.
The story of General Manager Branch Rickey's decision and subsequent battle to bring Jackie to play for the Dodgers was a powerful one. The story of Jackie and his battle to not lose his temper when he had good reason in the face of ugly prejudice, was an amazing story as well!
But the example that stood out for me - as "counting the cost", and of "letting go" --even of family and friends ---was the demonstration by Pee Wee Reese! Pee Wee stood up for Jackie when the Philies' manager, was disgracefully heckling Jackie with language that you can well imagine was difficult for any African American to stomach!
However, it was when Pee Wee received a letter from home that he was sorely tempted to give in himself. The letter, as he described it to Mr. Rickey, told him that when the Dodgers played in Cincinnati, which was right next door to Louisville, Kentucky, home to Pee Wee's family and friends --- it would not be wise for him to play in a game while Jackie was still on the team!
"They are calling me a carpet bagger", Pee Wee reported.
Rickey then showed Pee Wee the many files of letters that Jackie and his family had received -- letters which were grossly worse!!!! Pee Wee wondered out loud if Jackie had seen the letters.
"Of course he saw them," responded Rickey and they called him far worse! They threatened his life and the life of his family -- yet he's still here"!
At the beginning of the game that day in 1948, in Cincinnati, Pee Wee walked over to Jackie on the field, clapped him on the shoulder, and wished him good luck -- this in front of all the fans. Then…he said "THANK YOU!"
JACKIE TURNED TO PEE WEE AND EXCLAIMED WITH GREAT CONFUSION…."WHY ARE YOU THANKING ME?"
I'm thanking you, responded Pee Wee, "because today my family is all here from Louisville, up there in the stands; and I am able to demonstrate to my family --WHO I AM!"
Then Pee Wee put his arm around Jackie's shoulder saying:…"Maybe, we should all wear the number 42, next game, and then they wouldn’t be able to tell us apart!
Pee Wee had to count the cost -- and what a witness he was when he made his stand that day! He knew in his heart what was right, but he had to "let go of his family and friends that --what they thought he should do and who he should be.
What does it mean to each of us in our daily lives to be willing to let go of anything or anyone that stands in the way of our being a follower (an apprentice) to Christ?
AND THEN TO TAKE A STAND WHERE IT COUNTS!!!! amen