Following Christ is Risky
Proper 15, Year C, RCL, Track 1
Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56
By faith, we follow our Lord Jesus Christ. By faith, we take in the stories of those who came before us. By faith, we see their faith lived out in living color as they made mistakes; as they took part in miraculous works of God; as they tried to be the most faithful people they could be. In our minds we see them walking across the Red Sea on dry land. We see them at the wall of Jericho when it falls, and we see person after person saved by their faith in the Lord, our Lord.
Many of our Hebrew ancestors traveled by faith to the Promised Land. They died before they reached it. Generation after generation came up short of this goal. But this goal was not a prize to be had. The goal was for the people to walk in faith; often doing things that made no sense. Who are the people that can prance around a city for seven days and when they blow their horns the wall falls down? Who are the people who are put in a furnace and mocked by others, yet the flames dance around them and
hey are not consumed? Who are the people who can dip their staff or mantel into water and have it part for them? Who can wander through the desert for forty years or be tortured in prison and know that God is with them every step of the way? Who are these people? It is us. We are the people of faith. We are the ones who believe in a living God.
We can live our lives in a different way from the world around us. We can live with the freedom of knowing that we are doing God’s work in the world. We can give to the poor. We can care for the homeless. We can care for the people that the rest of our society doesn’t want to take care of. And in doing such things many in our society will think we are strange.
I’d imagine some of you may have seen the movie Evan Almighty. A story of a modern-day politician who is called by God to build an ark. His beard starts to grow and he can’t shave it off quick enough. Wood is delivered to his front yard, even though he didn’t order it. He becomes worn out by the people teasing him about his looks, and the commotion in his front yard. Eventually, he gives up trying to hide what is going on. He listens to the voice of God and begins building the ark. The people don’t stop teasing him, ridiculing him, or even trying to get him removed from office. He looks foolish, with his long hair, disheveled beard, patchwork coat; and the people don’t understand. It makes no sense to build an ark. I can only imagine that the real Noah had a similar response from the people in his community.
When we are doing the work of God in the world, we may look foolish, stupid, or insane to those without faith. But God usually doesn’t ask us to do such tremendously strange things as build an ark. Most of the time, what he asks of us is much simpler. Helping people who others believe don’t deserve to be helped. Assisting them with food, shelter, utilities, rent, or clothing. Just stopping for a moment to talk to a stranger in the post office. Stopping to talk to a stranger who has tears in their eyes. People close to us, our friends, family, and even some in this parish, may say, it is dangerous to talk to strangers, especially if they look different from me. Others might say, “You’re only enabling them.” “This is a waste of time, money, and resources.”
Giving freely to your neighbors is not seen as a cultural value. It may create division with people you know. Jesus never said following Him would be easy. He never said it would be culturally acceptable. In fact, he shows us the opposite to be true. Throughout his ministry, he was accused by the people who maintained social rules that he was breaking them. What he was doing was unacceptable. Following Jesus to the best of your abilities may cause division in your closest relationships. “Father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law."
People who say that following Jesus is easy, socially acceptable, or comes with no cost have not really looked at the example Jesus has set for us. Many times the community leaders try to trap and kill him; to stop him from doing God’s work. Even after Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, each of the disciples were crucified, stabbed, stoned, burned, boiled, or tortured to death with the exception of the one who committed suicide. We can go through the first 400 years of the church and see that many bishops and other Christians fell to similar fates.
Following Christ is not supposed to be easy, without risk, without pain. It can be dangerous, it can be deadly, it can consume all your time and resources, though it often does not do so. The time and place we live in is much safer than it was back then. Realistically we do not have to worry about being stoned, crucified, or boiled alive. But it doesn’t mean that we are without risk and risk often comes with fear.
Fear is one of the main reasons people don’t help their neighbors. We are afraid to stop and help. We are afraid of being taken advantage of. We are afraid to be associated with people who are different. Fear of being lost, being torched or being rejected by others was not an overwhelming obstacle for the great cloud of witnesses who came before us. These people, men, women, and children have been on the path before us, blazing the trail, facing much greater perils than we are ever likely to encounter. And we see that they were never alone. We, like them, have the same living God on the path with us, in our very presence. A God who died for us so that we might live.
Stepping out in faith and finding your niche in doing God’s work gives us a certain freedom and confidence, knowing that we need not fear what is to come. For through Christ we will not die but have eternal life. Through Christ, we will see the abundance that God has given us. And Through Christ, we can share this abundance with others without fear.
This is the peace of God that passes all understanding; the peace of God that the world does not recognize; a peace in which we learn how easy it is to truly please God. And after all, we are here to please God not the world.