The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (June 21, 2020)

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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“. . . I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will loves it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Let’s be honest, if these words did not have Jesus’ name on them, we would consider them the ridiculous demands of an evil person – possibly the leader of some crazy cult.

A few years ago, a young woman who had an appointment with me arrived a little early and was shown into my office to wait while I finished up a meeting down the hall.  As I came into my office she turned from the wall where she had been examining my diplomas and certificates.  She pointed at one of them and said, “What is ‘Spiritual Direction’?”

I fumbled around for an answer and finally said something like, “People come in to see me and I listen to them talk about their life, sort of like going to a counselor but, instead of whatever therapist might say, a spiritual director tries to help people find where God is in their life.”

“That’s funny,” she said, “I should think it would be more important for them to figure out where they are in God’s life.”  (I was tempted to take the diploma off the wall and give it to her – with my name scratched out and hers written in.) Things change when we turn the question around.  Instead of thinking, “What is God doing to make my life better, more whole, more spiritual, etc.”  what if we were to wonder, “What am I doing to involve myself in the work and will of God in the world today?”

Seen in this light, the scary things Jesus said make perfect sense.  If you are going to go with Jesus, you have to be ready to go all the way.  If you are going to go with Jesus, you have to be prepared to choose the Kingdom of God over your neighbors and your family and most especially over yourself. It is not an easy choice to make.  Indeed, in both the Gospel and in Romans, it is a choice that is compared to death.  Matthew says“. . . those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” and Paul writes, “(we) were baptized into his death . . .” and “. . . our old self was crucified with him . . .” and “. . . if we have been united with him in a death like his . . .”

Yes, following Jesus is not so much about finding where God is in our life; it is more about finding those places where we are called to be in God’s life, what we are called to do in the Kingdom of God. Ultimately – the hard, crazy, scary things Jesus says in this text are still hard, but maybe not so crazy or scary after all.

They are not crazy because they tell us a true thing about life, a thing that everyone needs to learn in order to be truly and completely human. That thing is this, “It’s not about you.” 

It’s not about you and how many people like you, it’s not about you and your wonderful family, it’s not about you and your successful and prosperous life; it’s just not. 

No, it’s not about you -it’s about God. It’s about God and God’s love for the entire world, the whole creation.  From the hairs of our heads and the lives of sparrows to the fate of the earth and the future of the human race, it’s all about God and God’s will and God’s way and our place in that grand movement into God’s promised tomorrow.  We are called to be a part of the new heaven and the new earth God is actively creating now. And it is a very hard thing to hear, and a very difficult thing to do.

In these days of argumentation and dispute about Covid-19, and masks, and social distancing, and Black Lives Matter, and Blue Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter, and, and, and . . . we all find ourselves more and more pulled into deciding who our true group is, and then standing with our political, social, communal, religious, ethnic, racial group over against all those other groups: and Jesus says – “NO! You must let go of all that and cling to the cross.” This act of saying no and grabbing onto the cross is the most difficult thing Christ calls us to do, and we must do it every day, all day long.

Once, when I was maybe five or six years old, my grandfather tried to teach me how to prepare a bundle of tobacco leaves for market.  The adults in my family spent several months in the fall doing this.  It was a very hands-on, time consuming, traditional craft.  The farmer took a handful of cured leaves, arranged the stems evenly, then wrapped a leaf around the top, binding the whole thing together. Every time I tried it quickly fell apart.  After what seemed to me an eternity but, since I was a little kid, was probably only 10 or 15 minutes, I threw my leaves down in disgust and whined, “Come on Grandpa, show me the easy way!”  Grandpa looked at me, chuckled a bit, picked up the leaves, and drew me into his arms, “I’m sorry to tell you this Son, but there just ain’t no easy way.”

In today’s gospel lesson, we hear Jesus say the same thing, “Child of God, I know you want to follow me, and I have to tell you a difficult truth; there is no easy way.  There is only this way, the way of the cross.” And while the way he invites us to follow, the way of putting God in Christ above all, is hard it does not have to be scary. It is not scary because it contains within it the promise of resurrection, the promise that we too will be a part of the new thing God is doing

“. . . those who lose their life will find it,” Matthew 10:39 

 “. . . we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6: 5

Amen and amen.

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