This summer has gone by far too quickly. I’ve missed you people, and have stopped whatever I was doing to bring you to mind and pray for you every Sunday at 10:00 am, no matter where I was or whom I was with. Whenever I could, I would find a place to worship on Sunday morning. Several Sundays were spent at our wilderness cabin on East Thurlow Island where I would make time for a private and personal meditation—or, one time with my wife, Cathy, another time with a Nova Scotian visitor, a Catholic, and still another time with an American visitor , an Episcopalian. We were a church of two. “Where two or three are gathered in my name.”
I also found myself at several music events this summer, mostly folk and traditional music, but some blues and rock concerts too. Often I would hear a call from the stage: “Give it up for the band! Come on, I can’t hear you. Give it up!” The audience would clap and cheer more loudly as the host or MC would call out--“I can’t hear you! Give it up!”
“Give it up” at a music event is a call for applause. It is a call for recognition and submission to acknowledge something of value, something excellent, like the wonderful music being provided through the efforts of the talented musicians. Give it up. It is a call for relinquishing any misgivings, any hesitation, and all withholding of enthusiasm. Give it up! Give it all you got! That’s the call. Give it up!
That is exactly what Jesus is saying when he addresses the people in the large crowd that is following him in our reading today from Luke’s gospel. “Give it up!”
But what he is calling them to give up is more than their marginal enthusiasm, isn’t it? What he is calling them to give up is “everything.” He begins with family—read it again—…and he turned to them and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters: yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (v. 15). That’s pretty severe. That’s truly radical. He goes on: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
I’m sure the people in the crowd—the large crowd—are pretty confused over what Jesus is saying. “What can he possibly mean—Carry the cross….? We, hearers of these of these words today, we know what he means. The crowd to whom he is speaking, they have no idea what he is talking about. Even with our knowledge of the whole story we too are probably confused and bewildered. “Jesus wants me to hate my family!” Is that true?
Jesus spells out in no uncertain terms what is at stake when we follow him. He uses strong language, even bizarre language, to spell out the cost of discipleship. What we have to “Give up.” He is using exaggeration – hyperbole, as a device. He’s winnowing out the crowd —sorting them out. There are a lot of people there. He’s vey popular. He’s on his way to Jerusalem going through Galilee. He has just healed a woman who was crippled for eighteen years. His earlier healings and exorcisms are well known. The news of his power has spread. He’s followed by curious onlookers, “groupies”, hangers-on--those caught up in the trend. Jesus knows that just hanging around him will not be enough, so he clearly states the cost of discipleship. What you have to give up—everything.
Jesus knows the cost. He is heading toward Jerusalem. The cross looms.
In 1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German preacher and theologian, published a book which he titled, Nachfolge in his German language—"Following.” In English the title has been translated to: The Cost of Discipleship. The book centers on an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Bonhoeffer spells out what he believes it means to follow Christ. It was published just as the Nazi party was rising and gaining strength. The church in Germany was strongly positioned among those who benefited from Hitler’s rise to power through his doctrine of National Socialism, a “Germany First” policy. Germany had been humiliated after the First World War. Pride in the nation, pride in the culture, pride in the church. It all fit together. The church was complicit in the open hostility and persecution of Jews, and of other races, the sterilization of special needs people, and the persecution of homosexuals. Bonhoeffer spoke openly and boldly against the Nazification of the church. He and other like-minded and committed Christians started an alternative “Confessional Church” – a church that confessed Christ and preached a doctrine of love not hate. He developed a seminary. He ultimately died for his efforts. His was a high cost. He was hanged in a prison under Hitler’s personal order in April of 1945, just days before the war ended. On the night before he died, he celebrated Communion with his fellow inmates. He lived the love and inclusion of Christ to the end. The cost of discipleship. Give it up!
As Bonhoeffer knew, the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus is not cheap. It is costly. It is a grace that follows repentance. A turning around of old established comfortable ways.
It requires a turning to face the light, the love, a turning away from convenient patterns and long held convictions. It requires a submission to the radical love that pours down with the Holy Spirit, permitting the Spirit to work within. Cost involves sacrifice and perhaps even a penalty. Cost—giving it up—requires initiative, effort, and resources.
Jesus calls us to be his disciples. The word disciple is rooted in the word discipline. Discipling is a process. Discipling does not happen overnight. It takes time. It may take false starts—there are mistakes made along the way. Discipling, discipleship, is a process of growth in our faith journeys to live within the fullness of our humanity and dare to begin to live into the holiness and love that we are created to be—an “image and likeness” of God—that holiness that resides in each one of us—that coughing, gurgling, life affirming, squirming, sticky and slimy life that emerges from the birth canal —that is where we all begin. That essence. We all begin life by grace, totally dependant on the attention, devotion, love and commitment of other outside agents—a mother, a father, a family, a community.
Facing Jesus’ call to live that God-given life through our own nurturing as people of God is truly a challenge. The cost—the giving it up, the discipleship is going to require overcoming our fears and doubts about being loved and loving ourselves and others, to love our neighbour—in joy, in the spirit of love, in hope and peace. It is a process which begins in prayer, in devotion and in allowing God’s healing and love to enter. It is not something that is done outside of God’s grace. It is a giving it up to grace.
This disciplining process is one that leads to deeper spirituality, unity, and life of Christian witness, a life as God’s own people. All of us. God’s “image and likeness.” But, fully in the hands of the Almighty One.
Jesus gives us two examples in our reading: A man who plans to build a tower. And, a King who plans to go to war. He ends these stories with a statement: “So therefore none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Give it up!
Possessions are not only material—our most valued things. Possessions are also attitudes and prejudices, our convictions about what we have been accepting as right and wrong. Our petty jealousies, our denigrations, our stereotypes, our prejudices and hatreds—and more.
What we are called to do as followers of Jesus is to place ourselves on the potter’s wheel, just as Jeremiah places the clay on the wheel in our Old Testament reading. “So I went to the potter’s house and there he was working on the wheel.” The clay, that’s us, humanity, humankind, God’s people, that is what’s on the wheel.
Let’s go to the potter’s shed. Let’s see the dirt, look at the goo and muck that is truly what we all are and where we all began. Let us submit. Let us confess. Let us accept ourselves and our limitations, our limits. Will we allow the potter to fashion us into vessels worthy to carry Jesus’ message? The challenging message. Let us submit ourselves to the hands of the great potter to fashion us into the jars and pitchers that we are intended to be. Let us be open to grace and allow that grace to fill us. Give it up to the creative, skilled and refined imagination of the great potter, our Almighty God of Love.
Our church, our denomination is facing some very challenging issues. Other churches have faced the same-sex issues earlier. Finally, our church is trying to move forward without suffering the consequences that others have experienced. The hope is that a decision can be reached that preserves that unity that we all so desire.
I believe that this goal is reachable, however it will require grace. A grace that will require us to “Give it up!” Let me share a personal story.
As many of know, before I entered the ministry I was and educator in the public-school system. For the majority of my professional life in the schools, I worked with “at-risk” youth as a principal of an Alternative School.
My job was to help teens who were stuck for a variety of behavioral reasons, and move them forward to become effective adults. The school had an enrollment of 125 students and a staff of close to 25 people. The staff were committed and worked well beyond their job descriptions. Finding the right people to do this work was my challenge as the leader of that school.
Anna came for the interview with excellent credentials. She had worked with youth in summer programs. She had begun a degree in English, Theatre and Psychology. She had worked in community theatre with kids. She had even worked as a professional clown. I hired her.
She began to work and blended well with the staff.
At the end of the year the school had a tradition of holding a one-on -one interview with the principal. It was an opportunity to review the year and to look ahead.
When I sat down with Anna, we looked at her successful interactions with students and staff. We also debriefed some that were less so. When I asked her what she would like to do the following year she said. “ I want to be more honest.” I asked her to explain.
“I am a lesbian.” she said. I have been hiding that fact from everyone and I’d like to “come out.” We discussed this matter and agreed that her” coming out” would not meet the needs of her mandate at the school. The students would not accept her because of their immaturity , their needs and prejudices.
I must admit that I had a problem with this revelation. Within in me there was a sense of discomfort and revulsion. Perhaps it came form my Mennonite background. Perhaps it came from growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, at a time when sex and human sexuality were taboo subjects, where people were jailed and vilified for certain practices and driven underground. Perhaps it came from my own fears and insecurities. I don’t know. I know that I wished that she was not a lesbian because our relationship was now more complicated and I had to accept her as my valued collogue and collaborator in our mutual effort to help kids. I was conflicted.
We continued to work well together for a couple of years. I retired and for some “mysterious” reason began to study theology at VST. I continued as a student through the summer. One day during the summer, Anna appeared in the hallway. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Oh I’ve been doing a lot of work with addiction and people through AA and there is a course that is being offered on Faith and Addiction that I wanted to take. So now Anna and I were schoolmates at VST.
During the summer the students would meet every Thursday for an ecumenical service—all denominations. This usually include a celebration of Communion because the Anglicans like to celebrate Eucharist as often as the can.
On one Thursday I was asked to help serve by offering the bread while the presider offered the cup.
Holding the bread in my hand, worshippers would rip a chunk and dip it into the wine. The line formed and people came forward. When Anna approached, I looked her in the eyes. I held out the bread and spoke the words of institution, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”
Her eyes filled with tears. So did mine. We both began to weep. I hugged her, still gripping the bread, tears flowing. I know that at that moment something was released within me. Something was given up. I carried on with my duties with a tear-streaked face.
Later, Anna and I debriefed. I shared my experience with her, my cautions and my full acceptance of her personhood, her new full and unqualified presence as my sister, my companion in Christ.
What had happened? I had been washed. Grace had been poured out; I believe. The potter had remolded the clay.
I could not hold on to my old values, my long-held, long -possessed beliefs, my “possessions” anymore. I was drawn into a new understanding, I was called, I believe to a clearer kind of discipleship.
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Give it up. Amen