September 8, 2019
13th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Nice gospel text, huh?
Fortunately for us, there are all kinds of ways to sand down the rough edges. Christians have been doing it for centuries.
- It’s hyperbole, exaggerated speech, intended to shock an audience to get us to pay attention.
- Possessions and difficult family relationships was a first century problem.
- Jesus didn’t say this at all. Luke is sending us a message about what’s important to his interpretation of the gospel.
- Or one helpful piece of advice from another pastor: Look for nicer Bible verses for Rally Day. Save these hard passages for the Sundays that are smaller when only the hardcore folks show up, like the Sunday after Easter or when New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday.
But what if Jesus did say this AND he meant it.
If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we would be wise to consider the cost, which, we discover, is a cross.
Wendell Berry, a Southern writer, pacifist and environmental activist, says that the gospel is a burden. If we take the call to follow Jesus seriously, we’re continually stirred up—considering, planning, counting the cost—of the Christian life. You know the cliché’: The gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
- We ARE called to give away more than we think we can.
- We ARE called to step out of the consumption-accumulation cycle.
- We ARE called to speak with passion on behalf of the voiceless, the poor, the left-out, and the marginalized, and be considered silly, or naïve, or impractical, or dangerous for doing so.
- We WILL be divided from those who benefit from the way things are, from those who just don’t want to think about it, and from those who need us to keep spending and voting so they can be on top.
I can tell you that I find this really hard. I like being liked. So it’s hard to be in disagreement. I also really like feeling comfortable. Becausethere’s often no clear solutions to the injustice we face in this complex world, it’s easier just not to think about it. It’s so much easier just to go with the flow, than to consider the cost of stopping or making a plan to change the world. I like my stuff. I like to be able to order more stuff from my phone while I’m lying on the couch in my underwear.
I’m caught between two opposite. Because it’s impossible to give away all our possessions. AND I hate to say it out loud. but it’s impossible to set aside Jesus’ call to do so. At this edge is the faithful Christian life.
In “Through the Looking Glass,” Alice says, “There’s no use trying…one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Perhaps the gospel calls us to trust and practice impossible things. Maybe it starts for a half-hour a day before breakfast. Maybe it starts by revving up the program year to be a church that is considering how this community of Lutherans overthrows the powers and rulers of this world, how we sue for peace, how we save the planet, how we reconcile divisions, how we keep grounded in Love. Maybe the church is an agitated place of considered strategizing.
It sounds like a lot of work, unless we understand the biggest impossible thing: Christ is risen. When we die to one life, we are raised to a new one. When Jesus speaks his crazy and impossible words, he is speaking out of Easter life. He sees how chasing after the culture’s blessing ends up leading us away from the people God made us to be. He sees what unending consumption will do. Not only does it send all the wealth to Rome, but it destroys the creation itself. Jesus sees that a politics of fear never brings people together but perpetuates itself by creating enemies and nurturing hatred. Jesus sees the way we construct our most beloved relationships, so often built on assumptions or stereotype or out of our painful inner wounds, don’t bring us genuine community.
In dying to the burdens that are killing us anyway, we discover the life of resurrection and joy. Christ has already born the burden, ending the power of all those things that want to kill us, opening the tomb to life restored.
So maybe we do take Jesus literally today, and also on the day when he says, “With God all things are possible,” or “Your sins are forgiven. Go and be well.” Or on the day when he says, “Do not be afraid.” Or on that day when he says, “Know that I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Or when he says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In Richard Power’s masterful book, “The Overstory,” he says, “What we care for, we will grow to resemble, and what we resemble will hold us, when we are us no longer.”
By carrying the cross, practicing a life shaped by cross, we resemble little by little, practice by practice, Sunday school year by Sunday school year, almost imperceptibly, a the new creation, the old self left behind, and a new person rising up into an impossible life that goes on forever.
Until we are us no longer, but one with the Trinity, endless love.
You are, and will always be, marked with the cross of Christ forever.
Wendell Berry, “The Burden of the Gospels,” Christian Century, online, September 5, 2005, http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2005-09/burden-gospels?code=bQOPIerrhyWKVjKEPiWI&utm_campaign=44a4e20eec-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_09_11_08_32_COPY_02&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Christian+Century+Newsletter&utm_term=0_b00cd618da-44a4e20eec-82381019.
Lewis Carrroll, “The Adventures of Alice and Through the Looking Glass”, Bantam Classical Books, Reissue Edition, 2006.
Richard Powers, “The Overstory: A Novel,” W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.