Today’s text (Luke 14:25-32) tells of the ‘large crowds’ that began to follow Jesus. I wonder why? Perhaps it was because they’d seen or heard of the miracles and were wanting either to experience them for themselves or at least to be entertained by them… Why do any one of us follow this way of Jesus? What do we get out of it – or at least what do we HOPE to get out of it?
Perhaps it’s a form of Escapism sparing us from noticing a world where there is so much abuse and greed and violence and suffering; like that ostrich with its head in the sand. Karl Marx criticized religion as being: ‘The opiate of the masses…’ something to anaesthetize us from facing & dealing with what’s happening all around us. Or perhaps it has to do with our yearning for ‘Peace’ – you know, as when Jesus looked into the face of the raging storm and said ‘Peace’ to comfort his terrified disciples[i]. While there may be elements of those I’m not so sure, because it seems to me that what Jesus does best – far from bringing us peace & tranquility – is bring us new worries and troubles that we wouldn’t ever even have thought about if we weren’t following him!
So why do we do it? It’s deeply significant that just as Jesus ministry seemed to be taking off – gathering some momentum – He does this PR nightmare! As they [ii] say: It’s a wonder that anybody followed Jesus after this tough teaching. And yet they did.
And look at us here this morning – we still follow. It’s unsettling that most of what causes us so much anguish, that fills our thoughts and prayers, are not what come up in the teaching of Jesus. Following Jesus seems less about getting help with our problems than about discipleship. That means walking with him down his way rather than asking for his help in making our way a bit easier to walk. It is too bad when the Gospel is presented as a solution to whatever we decide are our human problems. The truth is that the Jesus of the Bible creates problems we never had before we met Him! Jesus is come NOT in order for God to fulfil our plans, so much as by following Him, we may be used to fulfil God’s plans!
What Jesus said to that crowd in our reading today must have shocked them – and surely had the effect of making that great crowd considerably smaller! It seems that the temptation is ALWAYS to want to do the opposite of that – to try to make Christianity more popular somehow – lower the bar , water it down – so that people would want to come closer, get involved! We’re tempted to re-create it into some populist movement of self-gratification, something that it was never meant to be that! May we never be tempted to do that to make Christ’s teachings more palatable to our tastes! May we never lose sight of the very high bar that Jesus sets for us to be His followers. And may we never become tired of stretching up to reach that bar!
Over these last 5 months we’ve spoken a lot about the Immortal Diamond[iii] – within each and every one of us – a metaphor for our souls!!! That’s us in God’s image – us as God, in Christ has already made us to be! This is our truest possible self!
But the reality is that we allow ‘life’ to pack so much scale, so much congestion, so much of our ‘small’ or ego’ self around that we lose awareness of what’s most actual, within! When Jesus speaks of His Way as ‘costing’ us as we follow, perhaps it’s most essentially the cost of our reaching through all of what we have allowed to define us! It’s for us to face the pain associated with the shedding of all that outer dross, choosing not to be defined by what is actually just packaging, …to embrace what we know has been secured for us all within! …and then to live from out of that awareness!
But before we allow ourselves to believe Jesus’s demands are unrealistically too high, think about how – down through the ages – there have always been those who have taken Jesus at his word. By owning who they are, they have been emboldened to stand up for themselves and to face whatever injustices that were stealing the lives of others! I think of the Suffragettes of the early 20th Century standing up for the rights of women everywhere. I think of the Confessing Church of Nazi Germany resisting the dehumanizing Nazi machine. I think of that little group of Jesus’ Disciples… Margaret Meade’s famous words come to mind, that we should “…never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
While there will always be those for whom the cost of following will seem to be too high, I suspect that most of us will keeping doing so, keep coming along this way – however hesitantly at times. I suspect that we will keep following, keep listening, keep wrestling with the cost of our discipleship, keep walking with Jesus… And why? Well, Jesus told us why! Because we’ve been called! You know, in John 6:44 where he says that ‘no-one can come to Me unless My Father, God, calls them to do so”
CAN YOU HEAR IT? That’s us: We’ve been called! You are being called!
And so, may God continue to bless us all to keep answering that call for so far as we can, to continue walking this way of Jesus together, and continuing to discover whatever that means even as we go!
The song ‘Go Light Your World’ tells the Gospel story of us as disciples, discovering and rediscovering the beauty of what is already within each one of us, and of God’s call for us to share that wonder with all the world, however much it may seem initially to cost us…
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2019.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
[i] Mark 4:39
[ii] Grateful to the work of Will Willimon in his commentary on this passage for inspiring much of today’s meditation
[iii] Immortal Diamond, Richard Rohr (Jossey-Bass 2013)