Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sermon; Proper 8C; Luke 9:51-62

In the Wednesday Word I wrote about both my affinity and fear of water.  I like being near lakes and oceans.  I am mesmerized by waterfalls.  But I also won't swim in anything without an edge or that is not heated to 82 degrees.  And I will not, in any circumstances, ever go whitewater rafting.

This reflection on water was generated by my daughter who let me know she had stopped at Multnomah Falls on her way to visit her grandparents to have lunch and hike to the top.  That got me thinking about waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and oceans and how I like to be near those things.  Not only how I like to be near them, but how I have a healthy respect (some say paranoia) for being in and around them.  I always wear a life vest when in a boat.  I refuse to go whitewater rafting because that's not how I want to die.  I never run willy nilly into the ocean.  I like being around water, but I also don't want to relinquish control to the point where I'm at the mercy of the river, lake, or ocean.

As it turns out, I was one step ahead of the Sunday lectionary.

Today's gospel is the turning point for Jesus in Luke.  From here on out Jesus is determined to go to Jerusalem because “the days drew near for him to be taken up.”  What we are presented with from now on is a theological travel narrative.  Like the car chase scene in Bullitt or the island-hopping scenes of Hawaii Five-O where what you see doesn't match up to the actual route or scenery, the travels of Jesus to Jerusalem are less about the route and geography than they are about theology.  This is why Luke is a gospel and not a tour guide.  This is why some geographical locations don't make sense, because Luke is concerned with theology and not geography.

The theological point Luke is making is that discipleship is costly.  Jesus is now heading to Jerusalem to confront the powers of this world, endure his Passion, and eventually ascend to the Father.  The mission of Christ to restore all people to unity in God and making them/us heirs of the kingdom was not without cost.  Jesus tells his disciples several times in several places that he will be handed over to various leaders and crucified.  He also tells his disciples and others that if you want to follow him, you must take up your cross.

If you want to follow Jesus, it will lead to Jerusalem.  If you want to follow Jesus, you will be mocked.  If you want to follow Jesus, you may be persecuted.  If you want to follow Jesus you will be asked to give up those habits and desires that separate you from God.  This understanding of discipleship, and this understanding of commitment to God, is at the heart of the gospel passage today.

Cyril of Alexandria addresses the first would-be disciple by pointing out the man's apparent selfish, and self-serving, attitude.  Notice, he says, that Jesus doesn't call this person to follow him, the person announces he will follow.  Cyril writes that the man had seen the great works of Jesus and wanted to be counted as a disciple/apostle to reap the rewards without experiencing any of the cost.  Part of the cost of discipleship is knowing you will lose the comforts that even foxes and birds enjoy.

In discussing the last two who were called by Jesus but delayed following – one to bury his father and one to say farewell – Basil the Great, Cyril, and Cyprian all point out that discipleship requires us to forsake any human obligation no matter how noble.  The first and greatest commandment is this:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength.  Once we have made the commitment to follow Christ, our turning back to worldly concerns only serves to keep us in place rather than moving toward the goal.  As Cyprian said, “Remember Lot's wife.”

The heart of today's gospel is the idea of commitment.  How committed are we to following Christ?  How committed are we to a life of discipleship?  Do we love God with every fiber of our being?  Are we willing to go to Jerusalem and sacrifice ourselves for the love of God?

And right about here is where the connection between God and water comes together.  I like being around water.  I like being around God.  I like the calm, peaceful presence water can emit.  I like the calm, peaceful presence emitted by being in a holy space.  I like witnessing the power of the ocean and of waterfalls.  I like witnessing the power of God in so many different ways.  I like the feeling of being washed clean, and I like the ritual of baptism.

But I also like enjoying these things and participating in these things from a safe distance where I’m not always challenged or not always in fear for my life.  You will never find me in an open-water swim.  You will never find me sailing solo to Hawaii.  I have no plans to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  If I get to close to water, or give up my need for control around water, I just might die.

And that, unfortunately, also describes my relationship with God.  I often feel as if I'm participating from a safe distance.  I still want to be involved in worldly things, refusing to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.  I still want to have some semblance of control, fearing that I just might die if I give it all up.

But that is the point of the life of Christ – that we give it all up for God, dying to the cares and pulls of this world, only to be raised to new life.

I love water.  I love God.  Too often, though, I am unwilling to let go of my need for control and jump in with both feet.

Maybe that's the point of discipleship – that we're supposed to let go, jump in with both feet, and understand that discipleship isn't an individual endeavor.  Because until we give up control, until we jump in with both feet, until we are willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus to Jerusalem, the question remains:  How committed are we really to becoming disciples of Christ?



spookyrach | 5:46 PM, June 29, 2016  

I feel the same about water. Suddenly jumping in with both feet takes on a whole new feel. Yikes!

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