In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Comforter. Amen.
Have you ever gotten started on a project and realized it was going to be a lot more work than you thought at first?
Sometimes this happens on Christmas Eve around midnight when you’re trying to put together a bike to go under the tree and realize there are 59 pieces to put together, and 3 screws are missing. I recall after I’d been in seminary for a year and had only taken one course that I thought “They don’t give these degrees away. You have to really work hard to get one.”
Over and over, it seems we come to the realization that some job, or project or vocation is harder and takes more time than we bargained for. So we have a talk with ourselves and with our partner, or our priest, or therapist. We try to figure out if we have what it takes to move forward or if this is going to cost more than we are willing to pay. Are we going to rise to the challenge or do we say this is enough; I’m done? If I keep going, am I just being bullheaded, and if I stop, am I a quitter?
How to figure it all out?
I love those lyrics to Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler: You gotta know when to hold ‘em;
Know when to fold ‘em;
Know when to walk away
And know when to run . . .
Those of us who are churchy people call this DISCERNMENT. Real discernment is best done with others who can give us feedback. And we trust that the Holy, Life-giving Spirit of God will be present in discernment. When we pray for the newly baptized, we say “give them an inquiring and discerning heart . . .”
Sometimes the discernment process is formalized as it is for an Episcopalian trying to figure out if his or her vocation is as an ordained person or as a layperson. We have had such a group meeting here over the summer. The group ponders specific spiritual questions together to discern what the next step is for this person.
Before a church calls a new rector, the parish goes through a discernment process: Who are we now? Not just who have we been for the last decade.
What is the ministry God is calling us to do now? What sort of priest do we need now?
All of us have been through a discernment process when we were deciding if we should get married or take a new job or buy a house. Without discernment, the excitement of the moment sometimes leads us into trouble.
In today’s gospel, Jesus had some straight talk for the crowd that was traveling along on the road to Jerusalem with him.
Maybe some of the folks were just curious about him. Maybe some hoped he would perform some healing miracle. Maybe some were thinking he might liberate them from the Roman occupation. But you see, Jesus had been through his discernment process before he started his ministry. Remember those 40 days in the desert after the baptism? Jesus was aware that the price for his ministry would be steep, possibly even cost him his life. Jesus was saying that following him might cost these folks even their closest relationships, their possessions and maybe life itself. He warned them that following him might even break up the family.
Jews were big on family. Honor your father and your mother was one of the ten commandments. Jews were supposed to have special concern for those people who had no family–widows, orphans, and strangers in the land.
So when Jesus said that becoming his disciple could be so costly that it would take precedence over family,
he was trying to warn people about where the seriousness of discipleship.
After Jesus shook up his followers with talk about losing everything, he asks: Who starts building a tower without first reckoning the cost? What king starts a war without first figuring out if he can win it? The question is can you go the distance? Have you got what it takes?
Before you start college, have you got what it takes to graduate or are you just messing around and having fun? Before you run for president, can you do the job if you actually win? Before you hit send on a Tweet or email, can you picture the effect it might have on someone? Before you pass a law that says anyone can carry a gun anywhere, can you envision what might happen to people? Can you foresee what type of society we might become? If you take children away from their parents, can you imagine the trauma that separation will have on the family for the rest of their lives?
Jesus was asking his followers to be discerning, to think about the cost and consequences.
What are the consequences for any of us who presume to call ourselves Chrisitains? What do we mean when we call ourselves Chrisitian? There are a lot of people calling themselves Chrisitain who don’t seem to be reading the same Bible stories I am. Can you own that name when there are so many misinterpretations of that word means?
Discernment means we have to go beyond labels, prejudices. All Chrisitans are not homophobic. All Democrats are not crazy liberals. All Republicans are not arch conservatives.
Discernment means we have to see individuals, not labels. Jesus saw individuals. He ate with a tax collector who worked for the Romans and he ate with a Pharisee who kept the religious laws precisely. In Paul’s letter to Philemon, Paul asks the slave owner to welcome Onesimus back as a beloved brother in Christ. Paul asks Philomen to see beyond the categories of master and slave to a new relationship between two people equally beloved in Christ.
To fall in love with Jesus might take us places we never intended to go. We might have to rethink some of our assumptions about other people and ourselves. If we say we follow Jesus, we are required to be discerning about our own lives, our own motives, our own limitations.
If you say you follow Jesus and his God, what will that mean? What will be asked of you?
Who will you be? AMEN.