Sunday, September 05, 2010

Pentecost 15C

“You cannot be my disciple if you own any possessions.”

This passage from Luke’s gospel is one that no one takes literally. Even the most ardent, fundamentalist who insists on the literal, word-for-word Truth (capital “T”) of the bible finds a way to weasel out of this passage.

I’ve heard some folks say that this passage only applies to those who let their money and their possessions get in the way of their relationship with God; those whose wealth is hurting them spiritually.

This is often followed by a declaration that this doesn’t apply THEM, because their money is not an idol. They could EASILY give it up if their wealth was hurting their relationship with God. And, of course, in this area, they were without sin.

But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. He’s talking about the cost of following him. He’s warning those who might be his followers of what might happen them if they walk away from their old lives and jump feet first into their new lives. It was as if he was pushing them away, turning on the crowd of would-be disciples, pleading with them not to enter into a contract for which there is no escape clause. He’s asking if they REALLY know what they’d be getting themselves into if they dropped everything and followed him.

It’s said that the crowds were much smaller after Jesus said these things. And it’s no wonder. This is a Jesus we don’t like. A Jesus who demands too much. A Jesus who seems more interested in our discomfort than in soothing our anxious souls.

To some it may seem like Bait and Switch. We’re introduced to a Jesus who preaches good news, who burden is easy and whose yoke is light. We want a Jesus who takes our pain and our sin away, not a Jesus who takes our stuff away.

We want a Jesus we can add to our carefully constructed lives; who sprinkles spiritual spice to a cozy existence; who blesses us conditionally; and, at the end, welcomes us into the heavenly realm.

But that’s not the Jesus of the bible. The Jesus of the bible makes absurd demands on us. He can’t control his anger. He asks that we shed ourselves of worldly pleasure, and cast our eyes towards our death. If we take Jesus at face-value, then everyone here cannot be a disciple Jesus, and we might as well pack things up, and go home.

And we know from a deeper reading of the bible that we do not take Jesus at face value. Jesus had a way of making a point by pushing it to the extreme.

He said that no one can be his disciple if they owned anything. Well, we know that Peter owned a house. In the Book of Acts, and early church leader named Lydia had a business selling purple cloth, which meant that she was anything but poor. Even Jesus owned stuff, if only a robe and a pair of sandals. After all, just how far was this “You can’t own anything and be Jesus’ disciple” thing go?

The Jesus in Luke’s gospel appears to have a potent hatred of rich people. That’s probably because Luke’s message about Jesus had a strong political edge. Luke’s Jesus was making a strong contrast between the rich and powerful, and the poor and oppressed.

“You cannot be my disciples if you own any possessions,” was political code for, “My kingdom turns everything on its head. Those who have been shut out of official religion will find a place in my family. Those who’ve been oppressed by Caesar’s forces and their puppets in Jerusalem have a home in God’s kingdom. Those who can’t afford to worship at the Temple, can access God through me, the new and everlasting Temple. You cannot be my disciple if you are part of the world’s self-serving regime.

“God’s power is in the weakness of serving. True religion reaches out in love. God’s kingdom gives without asking for anything in return. So be warned: if you follow me, people in power will hate you the same way they hate me. And whatever happens to me will happen to you.”

I can see why the crowds got smaller. Who’d want THAT in their lives?

And Jesus was right. We know the stories of the early Christians who were tortured and murdered for their beliefs. Every one of Jesus’ disciples were executed, none died peacefully on their death beds. They ALL died horrible deaths.

And today, Christians are being tortured and executed as we speak, just for being Christian.

We here, today, in Lethbridge, have it easy. At least we’re not being tortured and murdered for our beliefs.

But I think what is happening to Christians is more insidious. Quieter. Under the radar.

Our Christian witness become more about middle-class respectability rather than following the poor man from Nazareth. Our Christian lives look like everyone else’s, letting other competing activities distract us from living out our Christian faith. Most of our energies go to tension reducing activities rather than reaching out in Jesus’ name because its easier to fall into a comfortable chair than to rise and meet the world’s great needs.

But the good news is there for anyone with ears to hear. The good news is that the power to transform our lives and the world is not our own. This passage is not meant to condemn us, this passage is meant to mold us and shape us into the person that God wants us to be. This passage is God’s hands creating a new person and a new world. In the alternate reading from Jeremiah the prophet said:

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

We are clay in the potter’s hands. You may be a insufferably self-centered, but one day you won’t be. You may look at the poor with abject disgust, but one day your heart will break at the sight of the hungry. You may worry more about the appearance of a good, clean, middle-class lifestyle, but one day, you will see that life is more about serving than on looking good on the outside.

I know this because the Word of the Lord is at work within you, molding and shaping you into the person that God created you to be.

And may this be so among US. Amen.


Blogger My Muse and Me said...

Just found your blog. Look forward to reading more.

8:14 PM  

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