Lose the Self - Follow Jesus

13 Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18

September 8, 2019

The Rev. Meg Lovejoy

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

As many of you know, we’ve started a small publicity campaign by purchasing a digital sign that is on display in Westlake on Sampson and McKinley Streets. It says, “God Loves You. No Exceptions. The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and our address.” We soon hope to purchase a banner with the same wording that will hang either on our sign by the road or on the board fence in front of the church. We want to make others know that they are welcome to join us in worship and we want them to know they are loved.

Well, after hearing the gospel for today, you have to wonder what kind of response we would have if our banner said “Who ever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Lk 14:26-27 Yeah, come join our church where you disrespect your parents and despise your family. I bet there would be very few interested in walking through our doors.

So why does Jesus say these words to those following him? Jesus has been gaining popularity and large crowds are following him. They are looking at him as the Messiah, the savior who has come to save them from their Roman oppressors. Then Jesus gives them one heck of a sermon telling them all the terrible things that will happen if they follow him. Jesus tells them you need to really think about this before you follow me and become my disciple. Look at the builder who measures twice and cuts once. That builder plans ahead and thinks about the process. Look at the leader who thinks about the cost of implementing an aggressive campaign. Is the money there to reshape the company? If not, would it be better to merge with our competitor?

What does Jesus mean when he tells us “whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple?” Jesus is telling us that we must lose the image of self, of ego, in order to follow him. Jesus understood that his followers would suffer at the hands of the Romans and some of the Jewish leaders who thought their way was the only way. When we go against what society is telling us what we need to do, we may suffer. Buy more, spend more, you need more, get a bigger house or a bigger car, more clothes, more possessions, more, more. Don’t increase minimum wage because it will make everything cost more. Don’t let those foreigners in because they are different, or poor, or uneducated. We can’t provide medical care for those who can’t afford to pay their own way. It’s fine to separate children from their parents if they cross into our country illegally. Oh, the list goes on and on and it’s hard to hear. Unfortunately, this is what Jesus tells us to do, “stop putting ourselves first and think about how we can help and do for others, before we do for ourselves.” So it is painful and it is difficult.

The words of Jeremiah give us hope. When we let go of our egos, we allow God to mold us like clay. Potters know that sometimes the clay just doesn’t do what they want it to do. Sometimes the pot collapses while it’s being formed. Sometimes the potter just isn’t pleased how the pot turns out, so the clay becomes a lump again, waiting to be reshaped. God may have to stop molding and say, ok, I need to start over on this one. But God doesn’t ever give up. The molding and remolding will continue for as long as it takes. We just have to allow the hands of the Master to do the work – give up our egos, turn toward love and away from greed, fear, anger, and hatred.

Civil rights leader and theologian, Howard Thurman, prayed Psalm 139 every day of his adult life and he died at the age of 82. Can you imagine praying the same psalm every single day for 60 plus years? When you really listen to the words, you get a glimpse of why this psalm meant so much to him. “Lord, you searched me out and you know me. You know my every move. You know my thoughts. You know everything there is to know about me and even then, Lord, you’ve got my back and you bless me. Your thoughts, Lord, are mysterious, wise, and profound. They are more numerous than all the grains of sand.” This psalm, too, provides hope. Hope in the fact that even though God knows us, really knows us, God still love us, is with us, and will continue to welcome us into his heavenly kingdom. God is patient and just waits for us to realize this.

In that hope and that knowledge of such love, we can and must follow the path Jesus has shown us. In that path, Jesus asks us to join him in confronting unjust social structures, even if that demand for justice and social change causes discomfort to our loved ones or ourselves.

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Amen. Prayer attributed to St. Francis, BCP p 833