I didn’t choose the Gospel lesson for today. I can think of a lot of scriptures that are more welcoming for the Sunday we kick off our Fall schedule – like Jesus welcoming the children or healing the blind, or feeding the 5,000. And I could have just picked one of those stories for today’s Gospel. But as I wrestled with the texts assigned by the lectionary for today, I discovered that they have an important message for us today about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Now I recognize that after reading today’s Gospel, it would be fair to ask: “Really? Following Jesus means hating our mothers and our fathers? What happened to The 10 commandments? Especially #4 Honor your Father and Mother?
We’ll get there. But first a little context about the Gospel lesson: Jesus is in what an outside observer would say was the height of his ministry. He’s healed the sick, the blind and the lame. He’s cast out demons and restored lepers to community. He’s taught God’s word – and people came from miles around to listen. He feeds them out of nothing – two fish and 5 loaves – more than 5000 of them at a time. He really knows how to stretch a meal. Clearly, Jesus is at the top of the charts – and he doesn’t even have a guitar.
But then he tells this crowd about what discipleship means... and it doesn’t sound easy. It doesn’t sound glamorous. It doesn’t sound like a sunny day in the park feeding the crowd. It sounds too hard. It sounds unrealistic. It sounds impossible.
Fast forward just a few months. Jesus enters Jerusalem. Again, there are crowds. They are shouting with joy, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But, by the end of the week, those same crowds are shouting, “Crucify him!” And the only ones left, standing with Jesus, are a few women weeping with his mom.
Following Jesus was too hard – even for the disciples.
Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Three days later comes God’s great surprise: Jesus is alive! But even the disciples didn’t believe it at first. They didn’t really “get it” until a stranger - who turns out to be Jesus - opens the scripture to two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, explaining to them how Jesus was indeed the Messiah and how the prophecies were fulfilled. It was only then that they were able to see Jesus and to begin to understand that Jesus was calling them – and us – into a way of life that is not the way of the world.
You see, the way of the world in Jesus’ day valued family, status, and possessions. These are all good things. But discipleship means putting God and the way of Jesus first – above father, mother, spouse and children, above your possessions, your stuff, your status, your life. It’s not about shunning the 4th commandment which says, honor your father and mother. It’s about keeping the first commandment – love God – first. And not just academically – not just in your head. Discipleship is about living out the way of Jesus – and not the way of the world - in your life.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul is also lifting up the way of Jesus instead of the way of the world. Paul implores Philemon, a fellow Christian, to treat his former run-away slave, Onesimus, who has become a Christian and a friend to Paul, in the same way that Philemon would treat Paul. It was a big request. Slavery in Paul’s day was not the kind of slavery that we had in this country. Slavery was not based on race. Someone could be enslaved for not paying a debt – or be taken as a slave as one of the spoils of war. But still – there was a huge difference in status between a former slave and the slave owner – and the slave owner was not likely to overlook that -- especially since Onesimus was a runaway slave who had not yet “earned” his release.
But Paul is so confident that Philemon will do the right thing, and will abide by the way of Christ rather than the way of the world, that he sends Onesimus back to Philemon with his letter so that Philemon can welcome him back as a brother instead of as a slave.
We don’t know how Philemon responded. But what we do know is this: Jesus is still calling ordinary people – like you and me – into discipleship. Jesus is still inviting you to love God and live your life focused on the way of Jesus rather than the way of the world.
Because the way of the world hurts people. Moses calls it the choice between life and death. He warns the people back in his day “choose life by loving and living in the way of the Lord.” The other choice is death.
Brené Brown, the academic whose honest Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability swept her into fame, writes, “Ten years after I got sober, my breakdown spiritual awakening started. In addition to not drinking, I had just quit sugar and bread for the first time. I thought I was going to come out of my skin. I sat across from my therapist, Diana, and said, “You need to give me something for my anxiety. I can’t take it. There’s nothing to take the edge off anymore. I’m freaking out.”
Diana calmly replied, “What do you want me to give you?”
Infuriated by her calmness, I said, “I don’t know! Medicine. Something for the anxiety! I’m like a turtle without a shell. I have NO SHELL! No booze, no muffins, nothing! I’m a turtle without a shell in a briar patch. Everything in the briar patch is poking me and jabbing me. It hurts.”
She said, “Maybe we should talk about getting out of the briar patch?”
I was pissed. “Get out of the… briar patch? That’s your advice? Instead of giving me a new shell, you want me to live somewhere less prickly? Seriously?”
Diana said, “You don’t need to find a different place to live. Maybe we could just think about a different way to live. One that doesn’t require that heavy shell.”
Brene Brown doesn’t pretend that she has “made it.” She is still honest about the challenges in her life to living well. She quotes another author, Mary Karr, also a recovering alcoholic, “What keeps you sober is love and connection to something bigger than yourself.”
That’s what Jesus wants for you too. Jesus offers us love, a relationship with God and a way of life that is much bigger than yourself. So what does this look like for us? Maybe something like this…
Joe and Amanda met at a friend’s wedding. They began dating and it didn’t take long before they were seeing each other every day. Clearly they were in love. They seemed like the perfect couple.
But there was a problem. Our country had just gone to war in Iraq and Joe was a Marine, Special forces. He invited Amanda to his apartment for dinner. He told her that he had a confession to make. She said: “Your married, right?”
No, he laughed. But then he became serious, saying,“But I am committed to serving out my term as a Marine. I just got the call. It will be at least three years… maybe five. I don’t know when – or if I’ll be back. I’m going to a dangerous place and I do dangerous things. Then
he took her hand and said, “I love you. But we just met and three years is a long time. And it might be longer. I don’t expect you to wait – especially because there’s no guarantee that I’m coming back.
The next morning, as he got ready to board the plane, he saw her. She shouted from the gate. “I’m in. I’ll wait.” It’s a love story.
That’s what Jesus is inviting you into – a love story. For the cost of discipleship is love. Jesus is all in for you. Discipleship is about responding, in love, and living your life focused on the way of Jesus rather than the way of the world. Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith Lilac Way Lutheran Church
September 8, 2019