September 4: The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, September 4, was preached as a response to Luke 14.25-33. The manuscript for the sermon is below.

Everyone wants to go to the march.
No one wants to go to the meetings.
I think I first saw that
in a tweet from my friend Ethan.
That’s the lament and warning that Jesus gives today.
As he continues on the road to Jerusalem,
on the way to the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection,
a crowd gathers with Jesus.
Think the triumphal entry,
especially Andrew Lloyd Webber style,
“Hosannah, hey-sannah
Hey JC, JC won’t you smile at me?
You’re alright by me.
Won’t you fight for me?
Won’t you die for me?”

The crowds in Jesus Christ Superstar
and the crowds in Luke today are following Jesus.
It’s not clear, though,
that they know what that means.
Jesus uses this passage to make it clear
what being his disciple,
walking with him and behind him
Whoever does not…cannot be my disciple.

Lost in cultural context,
even though the words are accurate,
is the direction to hate one’s family.
This is not to feel the emotional dislike that we hear
when shouting “I hate you!”
Rather, this is to turn one’s back,
to leave behind attachments
that get in the way of following Jesus.
Jesus knows he’s going to the cross,
and warns the crowd the following him
leads there too.
He’s not preparing them for minor inconveniences.
There was not Western Christian hegemony
when Jesus was speaking.
Crosses were one thing, and one thing only:
death and torture for breaking the law.
Are you going to lay the foundation for a tower
if you can’t afford to build the whole thing?
Would you prepare to go to war
if you knew you didn’t have the resources to win?
Do you think you’re ready to follow me
when this is the only endpoint?

Jesus wants would-be disciples to know
just how difficult following him will be.
It can cost relationships.
It can lead to jail time –
even as not-persecuted as Christians are
in the United States.
Everyone wants to go to the march.
No one wants to go to the meetings.
Following Jesus with our best intentions
necessitates taking time to count the cost
and see if we’re willing and able
to follow through.
Everyone wants to go to the march.
No one wants to go to the meetings.

Demonstrating in public
especially for those of us who lived through
or have a nostalgia for what we didn’t experience
demonstrating against Vietnam
can be exciting.
Whether it’s demonstrating against police violence
or for gun reform
it’s like joining the parade around Jesus
because there are a lot of people doing it
even if our hearts do support the cause.
As we’ve engaged in anti-racism work
people have asked why we aren’t
Doing something.
Asked why we’re reading texts on racism
why we’re learning about our privilege
or why we haven’t just put the Tulalip Tribes’
preferred land-acknowledgement language on the bulletin
and been done with it
it’s because we have to do the work.

Following Jesus and working for justice
aren’t weekend warriorships of protests
and counting arrests for civil disobedience
as badges of honor.
Changing policy takes networking and relationship building.
Passing legislation is a slog
that takes organizing and growing movements
one by one.
Growing into the full stature and likeness of Christ
is looking at the end of the road
and only seeing the Cross.
It’s seeing death to self
and seeing the new order that God has initiated
by coming to live among us in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus’ warnings and parables about counting the cost
are great news.
Jesus is asking those who join the crowd
who hop in the parade
who march with signs
if they’re committed –
or have the resources! –
to follow him to the end.
You don’t immediately go from
baptism to tossed into the Colosseum with lions,
and we don’t walk this journey alone.
Before we’re baptized and confirmed
ideally there is preparation by the Church
for how to live as part of the church
following Jesus along the way.
At St. Hilda St. Patrick that’s 6-8 weeks
of reading scripture,
and reading outside texts
to learn about what we believe
and this Jesus we follow.
We might all go through it together
with confirmation candidates
just to get a refresher!

In warning would-be disciples to count the costs
Jesus knows that he’ll be sending a helper and advocate
to get them through the journey.
We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism
and marked as Christ’s own forever.
At Confirmation the bishop asks
Strengthen, O Lord, your servants with your Holy Spirit;
empower them for your service;
and sustain them all the days of their lives.

Everyone wants to go to the march.
No one wants to go to the meetings.
As the summer winds down,
our meetings will be winding back up.
Bible study has continued
and continues
for us to grow as Jesus disciples
by studying his teachings and persons.
Anti-racism group will be resuming
and land acknowledgement work is starting again
if slowly.
We’ve done some cost counting
and now we’re ready to do something.
But the doing something
isn’t glamorous and won’t make the news.
It’s building relationships
with the NAACP and the local tribe
it’s asking people who’ve been working
“How do we help change these systems?”
Dying to self, counting the cost of discipleship,
is letting go of our egos
and any potential need we have
to be the saviors with all the new answers.
Showing up here week by week
getting Bread for the journey
might not be entertaining
and won’t always stir up a warm feeling.
But God is faithful and shows up when we do.
When we live in God’s reign at hand
we see the cross between us and there
as we long and work for it to be realized.
We’ve been to the marches
now with God’s help
let’s go to the meetings. Amen.

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