Sunday, September 4, 2016

Worth Every Penny & Every Second: a sermon Year C Proper 18 2016

“Worth Every Penny & Every Second”
Year C Proper 18, 4 September 2016
St. Mary’s Episcopal, Colonial Beach, Virginia

Luke 14:25-33
25 Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
At the end of June I took the time and effort to do something selfish, just for me. I did bring my wife, but mostly so I could go. I try not to do that too often, but I wanted to be part of something I really felt like I would adore. I was right. I did.
Growing up in Newport News, and graduating High School in the late 80s, a local boy made it big. Bruce Hornsby was from Williamsburg and got onto the national music charts with a song, That’s Just The Way It Is. Loved the song, loved the whole album. Even more, it was with a bit of pride that he was from just a few miles away from my house and was making it to the big time.
Jumping ahead to 2016, I saw on Facebook that Bruce Hornsby, still in Williamsburg by the way, was going to sponsor his own music festival called Funhouse Fest and it was to be right next to Merchant’s Walk in Colonial Williamsburg. He had a great line-up with a bluegrass night, a rock and roll night, and a jazz night. Because he is so musically fluid, refusing to be put into a single genre, I knew it would be a great few days. So I got my tickets, tried to convince a bunch of friends to join in the fun. My wife and I knew it would be three days of this would be too much for the kids to handle, so we got tickets for the whole thing just for us, and got single day passes for them to see the Rock and Roll night. That was the Saturday and had the most acts in the line-up. In fact, Bruce Hornsby was closing with two full albums in order as they were sold. And the close of the night was going to be the album that made him famous.
Now I had done my job as a father, training up my daughters in the way they should go. And part of that was introducing them to the classics, my classics anyway, including That’s Just The Way It Is. After sitting and listening to hours of music, my youngest daughter was leaning against me on our blanket when that song came on. She knows it and really likes it. Now Bruce had toured with the Grateful Dead and knows how to put on a show. And jam he did, taking a three-minute pop song and stretching it into a 15-minute concert jam. It was amazing.
As the applause were dying down, my youngest daughter looked up at me, and said, “THAT WAS WORTH EVERY PENNY AND EVERY SECOND!”
You see, I had told her she was going to love it, and after all the hours and all the music, what I had promised came true. You see, my daughter had faith that what I had told her to expect would be. And when it happened, it meant more to me than the concert itself. I loved that she loved it. She was right. It was worth every penny to me. It was easy for her to say, though, she did not have to pay the price. But you see, I did, and her sheer joy meant the world to me.
So what does that have to do with Jesus? The text today is admittedly one of the harder ones to preach on in the Lectionary. Do you think it is accidental that this one coincided with the end of the summer when attendance might be light, and the preacher might get away with skirting the issues? [smile]
All that being said, I think that the hard part for us is not the intent but the rhetoric Jesus uses. He is making a statement using hyperbole. We do it especially well here in the South. We exaggerate to make a point. In isolation it sounds impossible. Who hates their mother? Even those that say they hate their mother deep down, at some level, love their mother? How could Jesus say this?
All of these stories in the Gospel reading are about counting the costs. It is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace. Jesus is calling us to Costly Grace. If you follow Jesus, that needs to be #1 in your life. If you build a tower, you make sure you can finish. If you wage a battle, you make sure you can win. Jesus talks about hating to make the point that this can have no equals. The cost is everything, but the gain is more. It is worth every penny, and every second, as my daughter would say. It is not that we love those in our lives any less, but that we “seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Sound familiar?
It is like when I first had a baby. I did not know that I could love anyone or anything so much. It was beyond my comprehension because I had nothing to compare it to. But then I had another child. Did my love for my oldest lessen? No way. I just learned that I had the capacity to love even more.
Now let’s add Jesus to the mix, and what do we get? The more and more I drive into the Kingdom of God, the more I see that I am a better husband, and father, and person. I “hate” them in comparison to the Kingdom, but remember this is from the same guy who says we must love our enemies. If we are supposed to love our enemies, how could we possibly see that we are supposed to hate anyone, especially those that are closest to us. We just need to see things in context. Compared with God, who resides in first place, anyone or anything is secondary.
This is where the book of Philemon (yes, the entire book of all 21 verses) is used in our Lectionary readings for the day. This is where the rubber hits the road. In this very short letter, Paul brings up the issue of Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus. Paul reminds Philemon the role that Paul has played in his life, bringing the Gospel of Jesus into his life and the wealth of joy and meaning that this brings. In light of this recognition, he asks that Philemon not only not be punitive to Onesimus, but even more. Paul says that he should welcome Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother, a free and welcome brother in Christ. Paul even says that Philemon feels he is owed anything that Paul himself will pay it. Not Onesimus, but Paul himself.
Philemon is asked to do what Jesus himself demands of his followers, and Paul asks of his convert Philemon. Count up the cost. A slave had no rights. He was chattel, property, and anything that happened to a slave was at the will or whim of the owner. Runaways could be branded or tattooed on their foreheads with the letters “FUG,” short for fugitivas, runaway. Joints or bones could have been broken so that running away was impossible in the short term or drastically hindered in the long. But Philemon is asked to put his money and business behind his relationship to Christ. And Paul does the same, letting Philemon know that he will pay any expense that is owed. Money is nothing compared to their relationship to Christ, and their mutual relationship in Christ. And Onesimus is now added to the mix, and Philemon is asked to treat him the same way he would treat Paul.
Paul is asking a lot of him. Jesus is asking a lot of every one of us. Everything. That is the cost. Every single bit.
But the promise that we have to take on faith, is that it is worth every penny and every second. And we will only know when we come to the end. Like Moses at the burning bush, he was promised that all would take place and he would know it was true when he came back to worship God on the holy mountain. Like Moses, we are asked to go a long way before we see if the promises will come true.
So think about it. What is keeping you from committing wholly to Christ? Whatever it is, the promise is greater than any temporary gain. All are welcome. All are called. But even Jesus said few would make it on the narrow path.
This morning I had to get up a bit earlier than normal to make it here on time from Richmond. Now, deciding to do the service from my living room was not an option. Getting up later, was not an option. Having half the gas in my car to make it was not an option. Driving only to Fredericksburg was not an option. I had to fully commit to make it where I wanted to go. It was an all or nothing proposition. I had to fully commit. The same it is in our walk with Christ. How many times do we not make sure we have taken care of our spiritual needs to do what we have to do this day? How many times do we think that we can get around to it later? How many times do we plan to take it in steps, when Jesus calls us to “Come, follow me.” He does not mean later, or when we get around to it. He means here. He means now. But do not worry, Jesus promises, it is worth every penny and every second. Thanks be to God.
Lord, we believe. Help our disbelief. May we be true to your invitation, and may we entrust all the blessings of this life into your caring hands, so that we may relish in the richness and fullness of our lives in your Grace. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. This sermon was worth every penny and every second it took for me to read it.


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Blessings, Rock