25 Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and Jesus turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether there is enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when a foundation has been laid and the builder is not able to finish the building, all who see it will begin to ridicule the builder, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, the king sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God our provider,
You have given us all we need.
You care for us, you feed us, you shelter us,
And you call us to follow.
Help us to set down those things we’re carrying
That would prevent us from following
As closely as we could.
Make us bold as we pick up and carry the cross.
Give us courage to join in the work to which you call us.
I’m a bad packer.
I’m terrible at knowing what I should and should not take on a trip. I am an exemplary over-packer. I will take like 2 more pair of shoes than I actually need. I tend to pack clothes for every eventuality. I take extras…just in case. I strive to be prepared, which, I feel like, is great, but so often, like, 98% of the time, I end up never needing all the things I packed.
It’s interesting that this is so true of me, because in Junior High and High School, when I was in Boy Scouts, I was actually pretty decent at packing and knowing what were necessities and what I could live without. Especially on backpacking trips. Seriously, there is no quicker way to get me to shed items from what I intend to pack than by telling me whatever I do pack I have to carry on my back.
Backpacking teaches you real quick what is absolutely essential and what you really can do without.
How about you, church? Are you an over-packer, or do you travel light?
Do you try and prepare for every eventuality? Or do you take the time to discern what is absolutely essential and needful right now in this moment?
To hear Jesus tell it, we not only need to travel light, we need to get rid of everything and only pick up and carry the cross. Our gospel this morning continues on in this litany of challenging words and stories that we hear so often from the Gospel of Luke. “If you don’t hate your parents, hate your siblings, hate even life itself, you can’t be my disciple…give up all your possessions…carry the cross and follow.”
Well that just sounds impossible, if I’m honest.
But, I think Jesus’ point is well-taken, at least for this over-packer. There are so many things I’m tempted to load myself up with, and what I usually choose to hold onto and carry are not the things that serve me in a deeper walk of discipleship with Jesus.
Are you with me?
We are so tempted to hold onto and carry so many things that neither serve us nor serve the Gospel. and if given the choice, we will choose to be weighed down by those things instead of what will serve us in walking more closely to the heart of God.
“Hate family…hate your life…” It’s hyperbole from Jesus, but what happens when those relationships and the habits or patterns in your life that you set up as idols, what happens when those become stumbling blocks to following Jesus? The call to discipleship is one of sacrifice, it is a call to give up, it is a call to lighten your load, to unburden yourself, to carry the cross…and to die. To die to ways of living that put yourself at odds with others, to die to selfishness and self-serving patterns of behavior, to die to habits and practices that promote and proliferate the exploitation and oppression of other people.
And I think we should be honest about that.
The call to discipleship, the call to follow Jesus, is a call to die. To carry the cross and to die with Christ. And in giving up, to gain…in losing, to save. This has always been the promise, and it has always been the call. We, the church, have just not always been upfront about that, because it sounds a little off-putting and we’d rather preach happy sermons instead. And, look, I get it, I like happy sermons, too, but if Jesus isn’t guarding his words, I don’t think we should either. And besides, the truth seems to be such an awfully hard thing to come by these days, isn’t a measured dose of honesty refreshing?
What are you clinging to that is preventing you from fully and completely following Jesus in the path of discipleship?
Because discipleship, dear church, is costly. Following Jesus means giving up that which would hold us back or prevent us from doing so. Jesus’ use of hyperbole and the word “hate” is to make the point that everything that is not in service of furthering the reign and dominion of God must be cast aside if we are to truly follow Jesus.
What do you cling to that prevents you from living as you are called by God as a disciple?
Many of us hold tightly to our grudges or biases or our opinions about other people. We prefer to think of God as having our own views and opinions about others, rather than seeking to perceive others as God does. We try to make God fit into our worldview, rather than trying to shape our perceptions to match God’s. And I think the reason we do this is because to try and view the world and other people as God does is downright scandalous to us. How is possible that God could love them? How is it possible that they are just as accepted and beloved by God as I am?
Church, we want God to adapt to and match our opinions and biases because that leaves us feeling comfortable. And truthfully, I think we like our grudges and opinions and prejudices and biases. It’s easier to think that God likes all the same people we do, and dislikes all the same people we prefer to have nothing to do with. It’s easier to feel that way than to wrestle with the idea that we ourselves might be wrong. And so we tell ourselves a story—and it is a lie—to make ourselves feel better about holding on to a grudge or bias or perceived slight.
What else are you holding tightly to that prevents you from following Jesus?
I know when we started using these feminist translations of the Psalms from the Reverend Doctor Wil Gafney at Brite Divinity at TCU, I know plenty of us were more than a little thrown off. But I wonder if hearing these Psalms in this way this summer opened you up at all to an understanding of God that may be different than one you had before. These are faithful translations, and I know for me, they’ve expanded my understanding about who God is, the characters and qualities God possesses, and the nature of God. God as mother, God as protector, God as defender, mother hen, nurturing provider, ardent defender… I’ve been stretched, but I’ve been expanded, as well.
As we turn our gaze toward our future at New Hope, these discerning questions about what is needful and what we’re clinging tightly to are necessary for us to ask as a church. Bishop Mike Rinehart, of our Gulf Coast Synod, has said that every church in these post-pandemic times, every church is a mission development or redevelopment. And church, I’ve resisted that for a long time. I resisted the notion that we, along with every church, needed to think of ourselves as in redevelopment because it’s incredibly difficult. I’ve been to redevelopment training and I have very close colleagues that are redevelopment pastors, and church, it is hard. It is not for the faint of heart, and it is difficult work. I resisted this idea because honestly, I wasn’t sure if I had the energy in me for a redevelopment. After 2+ years of a pandemic and fighting so hard through that, I wasn’t sure if I had it in me for such another heavy lift. And honestly, I’m still not sure.
But I have made peace with this idea. I think Bishop Mike is right, every church is a mission redevelopment in these times. And that means we have to ask these discerning questions.
Who are we for? What’s our purpose? For whom do we exist? What’s God calling us to at this moment? And what are we clinging to that might be holding us back from living fully as the people and disciples that God is calling us to be?
And church, our responses to these questions will necessarily be different than what New Hope has done for that past 47 years. It just will.
Last week, I gave y’all a bunch of invitations to invite your neighbors to our “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday of worship and service next week. And some of y’all…a lot of y’all…took me seriously and at least took them home so I didn’t see if you put them in your recycle bin or not…but some of y’all really did take me seriously. A couple of y’all asked me for another stack. “Pastor Chris, do you have any more of the invitations, I think I can do more…” “Pastor Chris, I went ahead and invited the administrators and teachers at Armstrong, I hope that’s ok…”
Church, these are the ones who get it. These are the folks we need to be following as we head into this future. Our future is one of invitation, it’s evangelism, it’s outreach, it’s existing for and with our neighbors. It’s turned and focused outward, more than it’s focused inward.
So pack light, church.
Don’t be surprised when people show up because you invited them. Don’t be surprised when the Holy Spirit moves and calls this church to bigger and greater things.
Pack light so you have room for all the abundant stories and gifts of all those who are captivated by what God is doing here and want to join you and participate in this goodness.
Watch and see what God does.
Set down what you’re carrying around and join in.