Proper 18, Year C, RCL, Track 1
Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
When I was young I didn’t fear the random types of violence we hear in the news. The events I was aware of and warned about seemed to be much more in my control. Gang violence, drive-by shootings, drinking and driving, and racing trains. If you kept your head and didn’t do stupid things, didn’t go into certain neighborhoods, and avoided certain crowds, you were likely to avoid most of these types of violence.
Ever since Columbine and 9/11, random violence seems to be increasing; especially gun violence. Over the last few weeks, we clearly understand that Texas is not immune to this disease that is spreading through the nation like cancer does a body. When we turn on the news we hear of people’s grief and anguish from the loved ones they lost or from the guilt they have because they survived. We hear people speak about their fear that they may be the next victim of random violence. One young woman after the recent shooting in San Antonio said every time she goes to the grocery or Walmart she now wonders if she will be next.
We live in a dynamic world full of life and prosperity, death and adversity. It is hard to know where God is in all this pain, suffering, and fear. We may wonder if this elusive God is the same God who is speaking to Jeremiah; a god who seems capricious, making the decision to destroy or give life based on how we make him feel; whether we follow his ways or not.
The understanding of a god, who looks and acts like the rest of us, who gets upset and violent like many of us, has changed over time. Even for the Hebrew people, over the centuries of the Old Testament, God becomes the compassionate and gracious God who is slow to anger. God becomes less human-like and more unexplainable; a being that is bigger than we can imagine, understand, or even know. And this leads to a problem. How do we begin to know an unknowable god?
Christ shows us who this unknowable God really is. Even though we are no longer bound to the law in the same way as before, we find life through Christ; through faith and love, forgiveness and repentance. We learn that God’s love is not conditional. We cannot make God hate us. We cannot change the way he loves us. He loves the sinner just as much as he loves the saint. He loves us just as he loves his Son.
God doesn’t turn his back on us. He is present with each of us all the time. Yet much like the oldest Hebrew teachings, we have to turn toward God to find God. We have to turn to the Lord to find the Lord. This act of turning is our free choice. We can choose to turn toward the Lord or not. We can join in the love that God has for us or we can reject this love and attempt to fill this void elsewhere.
I’m not sure why we find it so easy to turn from God’s love and try to fill this void in other ways. We can fill this void through the love we have for our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself; the objects and possessions we have. This is what Jesus is speaking about and why Jesus asks us to hate father and mother to hate all of our loved ones.
This shocking hyperbolic statement is meant to arouse our attention. Jesus, as well as his audience, knows that the loving relationships we have for the people in our lives are not bad or harmful but that we need to put our relationship with Christ first. We need to be willing to let go of these people if they are preventing us from following the Lord. We need to be willing to let go of these people if they prevent us from carrying the cross.
This does not mean we turn our back on them, disowning them. For God shows us the perfect example of being steadfast. We are to wait for that person to become a supporter of our efforts to carry the cross. We are to see the world the way God intends not through our own self-interested ways, but through the love and grace that abound in God’s love. A love that is found most clearly when we are carrying the cross.
Carrying the cross is a difficult thing. I’m sure we have all see the dramatic scenes in movies where Christ struggles in this effort, a physical effort t to heave the heavy wood toward Calvary. But I’m not sure we understand the reality of how painfully difficult this task really is. In some ways, Jesus started carrying the burden of the cross long before it was placed on his back. Through the rejection of people, some who even loved him, and through the lies and schemes to entrap him. No carrying the cross metaphoric or real in not easy but nonetheless Jesus asks us to carry the cross.
Carrying the cross may be different for each of us. Carrying the cross means moving forward with God’s plan. Moving from addiction to recovery. Moving from despair to hope. From a sense of loss or scarcity to abundance. From fear to confidence.
Many people in our nation, our state, our town are living in fear; fear that we will be the next victim of some violent act. Fear that we or someone we love will die at the hand of another. We are afraid of death.
This fear is not necessarily unavoidable even if the likelihood is small. And I think Jesus says we should be mindful of what we are doing and how we are making preparations. Jesus give us the examples of the king prepares for battle and the man prepares to build a tower. They are preparing to do something, preparing to accomplish the task at hand. This is about doing not try to do. Notice, in these examples, that these preparations are not being done out of fear but through confidence. The confidence that is expressed in the words of a great master from long, long ago. Yoda says, “do or do not. There is no try.”
To try is “to make an attempt or effort to do something.” Trying can be a good start when there is no certainty of outcome. To try is a good thing when doubts and fear linger. But in Christ we have certainty of hope in the life to come; in life everlasting. Certainty that in knowing Christ we will know God. Certainty that even if we stumble along the way we are given a fresh start.
The certainty we have in God is not reconciled only to the future or to the life to come but to us right here, right now. With confidence we go into the world carrying our cross, not expecting to be safe, shielded from harm. We are to carry the cross that left Paul writing from prison, tortured and beaten. We are to carry the cross that left the runaway slave, Onesimus, with a potential execution upon his return. We are to carry the Cross that led to Christ’s death and resurrection; for there is no resurrection without death.
All of this is a choice. We choose to please the Lord or not. To please the Lord, not because of retribution but because he loves us so much. We choose to go into the world fearing what will or is to come or we choose to go with confidence in the Lord, taking up the cross and knowing that Christ is with us every step of the way.
This is why Jesus says if your possessions are keeping you from putting the Lord first, then give them up. If your friends or family are keeping you from putting the Lord first, then give them up. But the Lord is always with you and will not give up on you. And through the Lord, you have nothing to fear even death itself.
1) Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back
2) Try: Lexio.com a collaboration between Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press