Sunday, September 8, 2013

Giving up our possessions: Proper 18c 2013

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 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? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

This is one of the hard sayings of Jesus.  It is not something that we really want to hear from Jesus.  The Lord of Love shouldn't say things about hating, we think.  Maybe someone got mixed up and inserted it by mistake.  But scholars think that because it is such a hard saying that it is most likely to be the original words of Jesus.  

But what does that mean for the likes of us?  What are we supposed to do if we are to be followers of the Carpenter?   Does that me we have to hate our parents?  Does it mean that we must hate life in order to be a disciple?  And what does the rest of the passage mean about building a tower or going to war?  And must I give everything to the Salvation Army to be a disciple? 

When passages are so difficult to understand, I often look a the collect for the day:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy;

All of these passages talk about trusting in God.  And that is what I think that Jesus came to teach us how to do.  Throughout the history of Israel the people who had received God's mercy and liberation were always wanting more.  They whined about the manna in the desert; they wanted a king like the other nations; they strayed from God's commands when he gave them land.  They would not trust that God was enough.  They wanted more.  They figured ways to manipulate Mosaic law so they would not have to live into mercy that God held out to them.

Jesus preached a radical way of living.  It was not business as usual.  It was a way of living that stood up to the commerce of his day.  It thumbed its nose to Imperialistic economics, the crushing 'Rome first' concepts of that were present in the First Century Middle Eastern societies that had been taken over first by Greek and then Roman dominions.  Jesus taught a way of living that we would today call a minimalist way of effecting the society.  He wanted Jews to understand that Rome did not offer the people of his day anymore than American or western economics are offering people today--an empty way of living within the universe.

I entered the convent in the early 1970 when everything was changing for religious life following
Vatican II.  I entered an old order that had been founded in the early 16th century that was struggling with the Church of Europe following the Lutheran split in northern Europe.  We were being encouraged to 'return to the charisms of our founders' and so I learned much about the spirit that underpinned that community of women who had spread all over the world for the sake of teaching young women of Christ.  It was a heady time in the Roman Catholic Church.  It was an exciting time to be a Christian--a new one at that. But at the same time the post-Vatican II reaction curtailed that excitement.  About 30 years ago they were told to go back to what they were. And yet today--some 40 years later that order of women have found themselves unable to carry on the ministry that that community provided for the larger church because they were unable to meet the needs of a world and a Church that has
become more intensely self-conscious and self-centered.  It was not the fault of those sisters--it was the fault of a hierarchy that could not see far enough into the future to know that you couldn't stuff that energy back into 15th century wine skins.  When I left the community I did not know that the training I had received would serve me so well in the future.  But the training I had received was not in administration, or theology, or pastoral care.  It had been in prayer and I will forever be thankful for those women who gave me the time to know my God in the simplicity of poverty, chastity and obedience.  And even though while I was in the community I had access to  more things as a person who had avowed poverty, I learned that they did not have to dominate my life.

This morning I attended a congregation of my denomination that does not have a building.  Forced by the schism and the legal proceedings that have rent our Church they have been forced to think of what it means to be Church in ways that don't face many congregations.  They know that they are no longer the congregation of refugees that were forced by the schism out of their own congregations.  They are now  a community of people who are making worship, service, and education available to those who are excited by the Gospel.  They are the new wine of this new diocese.  They will soon be looking to find a new digs.  They have outgrown their present place.  They are no longer looking at 'getting back their building' in some legal proceeding.  They are looking at what does it mean to be Church in the 21st century.  It may mean Church in a strip mall, a school gym, rented space where they can live into the divestment that they have had to endure.  It has liberated them to be about the Gospel rather than just hearing it. 

In many ways they have turned away from the buildings that their fore-bearers built.  They are 'hating their parents' not with the emotion of adolescents  but have seen that the old ways of being Church--the stone church image--doesn't make the message of Jesus real in their time and place.  Only the love and reaching out they are doing in the community makes their faith palpable.  In a matter of 5 years they have become a new creation---a group of people who are committed to  letting people know that the love of God is alive and well in their mid-cities community.  A group of their
young people did a mission trip in OK after one of the tornadoes.  Those kids became dubbed the "the Jesus people" by the small community they went to serve.  This parish has been forced to be something new.  I do hope that they do not try to put themselves into old wine skins as my religious order tried to do 40 years ago.  I do hope that this wonderful spirit of putting away the old ways of doing Christianity will endure because it is exciting to be a part of.  

Granted there is something that I miss of the old Church--the quiet and stately liturgies with arcane music that speaks to me of being tied to something old and deep.  But it is not there that people are learning of Christ any longer.  They are coming to know Christ in the joy of doing for others, in the learning about how God is acting in their lives now and in the incredible holiness of learning how to live with the radical call to selflessness that Jesus proposed in Gospel passages like these.  They have 'gotten it' like often the disciples didn't in the Gospels. 

Sometimes we must lose it all in order to trust the providence of God.  We must start over to know the ancient story.  That was what Jesus was trying to teach his people over 2,000 years ago.  It is a message that we are still having to learn today.  I remember visiting a 7th century church in France that had been in constant use since before the time of Charlemagne.  It had some of its ancient mosaic ornamentation of its period.  It was a small place in the countryside of southern France, but there were signs on the bulletin board that told of the youth group, the woman's guild, the food pantry and the outreach of the parish.  It was not a museum that many of the churches in Parish had become.  They were a community of people who served their people in the love of Christ.  

I do not fear the demise of the Church.  The Spirit is alive and well if we allow ourselves to give away all our 'possessions' to see Christ at work in our faith.  The Eucharist is still the center of who we are.



George Waite said...

Church is boring. The music is boring. The activity is tedious. Why bother?
Save myself time, trouble and money.

Muthah+ said...

George, for many Church isn't boring. For those of us for whom the relationship with the Holy is the center of our lives. These days church doesn't have to be boring. You can find a place where the music will grab you, express your feelings. But church is the place where some folks find the Divine in life--the unspeakable touch with that which is so far beyond human and yet so intimate at the same time. For me there is no place I would rather be.