Saturday, September 04, 2010

An Evangelical Nightmare: Pentecost 15 Proper 18C

Pentecost 15 Year C      Sept. 5, 2010     Fr. Benton Quest

Luke 14:25-33
I have noticed something about living in American society; we are a people of instant gratification. When we want something, we want it right away. We have 24-hour stores so we can get our heart’s desire at any hour. We have 24-hour restaurants so we can eat at any time. We have 24-hour gyms so we can workout whenever we want. Whatever we want, whenever we want it. We even have digital recording on our televisions so the television schedule can work around our schedule.

Anymore, you never hear someone on television say, “Please allow six to eight weeks for delivery.” No, now we can have things shipped all over the world with next-day delivery! And why send something by the post office when you can zip a note to someone by e-mail and it is there instantly? Even if you want to change your body, you can have plastic surgery and liposuction. Whatever our heart desires, we can have it instantly.

Now this speed is not necessarily a bad thing. But it certainly changes the way we look at the world. It has changed our expectations of the world. I even think it has changed our expectations of the church. I was told by former congregation member that she was leaving the congregation and joining a different one because they had seven different flavors of coffee and she could bring the coffee into the sanctuary. There may have been other reasons, but this was the one she related to us. She was leaving the congregation because she could get what everyone has come to expect. What you want, when you want it.

So with all this “have it your way” going on in society, Jesus’ words in today’s gospel may strike us as a bit harsh. What Jesus is saying is also something that most Evangelism committees are not going to want to spread. The church is supposed to be all about love and peace and getting along. That is how we are told to get people in the door, right? We give them love! Don’t put too many demands on people. Don’t ask too much of them. And make sure you have seven flavors of coffee. And better have some hot chocolate and tea just in case someone doesn’t want coffee. The usual feeling is that there is enough stress in life; we don’t want to make more for people if they come to church.

Now I am not at all against making people feel comfortable when they come to church, I personally kind of like it! But when the whole process of the church is to make people feel comfortable, then the church is missing something. And truthfully, we like to feel good and comfortable right? And we want our religion to help us be happy in the world, right? Well, unfortunately, this is just opposite what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. Jesus is telling us that being a Christian will bring us in opposition with our family, friends, and in-laws. Jesus is telling us that being a follower will probably NOT make us the most liked people in the world. Being a Christian means we will have to carry our cross just as Christ carried his cross. And sad truth, telling people they have to carry a cross is DEFINITELY NOT the way to go about attracting new members.

But this is the message that Jesus sets before us today. Jesus makes no bones about it: If we are his followers, we will be in opposition with the world. Jesus is telling us that being a disciple is not easy.

We could probably guess that there would be some difficulty if we just look at the word. The base of the word disciple is discipline. So being a disciple means we have to undergo a discipline. The two parables Jesus tells address just this fact. Following Christ will require a cost to us, the possible alienation from those we know and love. If we want to be a follower, we need to be aware of those costs.

I must say, sometimes the way Jesus states things gets me to scratching my head. In the parables he tells, it sounds as if no one should undertake being a disciple. In the first one, he advises against starting a project unless you can be sure you have the resources to complete it. In the second parable, Jesus warns us against taking on a project that appears to be certain to fail. In both of these situations, the listener is advised that it is better to not even start the project than to start it and have the project fail.

I think at this point the Evangelism committee and anyone who is trying to get volunteers is not so pleased with Jesus. If we take Jesus’ words to heart, then we will never do anything! Since we can’t be sure our outreach efforts will succeed, than according to what Jesus has said, we shouldn’t undertake them. And since we cannot be sure our efforts to feed and clothe the poor will not get swamped, we better not do that either. Really, just about anything we try will probably run the risk of failing. So it sounds like Jesus is telling us to just sit back and do nothing.

But that just does not seem right! I think we can agree that it is Jesus’ intent to have disciples and to have them out in the world. But then we have Jesus telling us to not build if we don’t have the money or don’t attack if we do not have the troops. There must be something missing from our understanding.

But what if we put these parables to God? Would God lay a foundation to something that God could not finish? Would God send out an army knowing that it will be defeated? I think we can say that God would not do such a thing. When God lays a foundation, the towers will be built. When God sends out an army, we can be assured that the army will be victorious. When God acts, the outcome is not in question. When God acts, the outcome will be totally fulfilled.

So if left to our own devices, since we cannot be assured of success, Jesus is telling us to do nothing. But we know that we are not left to our own defenses. We have the promise of God backing up our efforts. We are called by God to go out into the world. We are called by God to reach for those things that may seem impossible to attain. We are called to take on the challenge.

A wonderful example of being called to that which seems impossible to attain and still being willing to take on the challenge was Mother Teresa. There is a story about her wanting to build an orphanage. Someone said to her that it was impossible to do because all she had was two cents to her name. Mother Teresa’s reply was that the person was correct, with just her two cents she could not build an orphanage, but with her two cents and the help of God, they could create a miracle.

But you see, this isn’t the instant gratification that we have generally come to expect of the world. This is not the “I want it so I have to have it” concept of life. This is discipleship. This is having the discipline to move forward trusting that God will provide as you need and direct your steps along the way.

To just rely only on ourselves is foolishness. Just relying on our own means, will eventually end in disappointment. And to just stand and do nothing, to want God to come and make us happy is also foolishness. God’s will will be done, but God chooses to work in the world through us.

When we come to Jesus, we need to realize that we may not always find a place of peace and comfort. When we come to Jesus, we may not find an easy, quick, fix for all of our problems. When we come to Jesus, we probably will not find seven flavors of coffee. But when we come to Jesus, we will find one who gave his life for us. When we come to Jesus, we will find the one that rose from the dead to bring us new life. When we come to Jesus, we will find the strength to continue on even when we can’t foresee the outcome.

So often the world wants to portray Christianity was a place where everything is wonderful and nothing bad ever happens. It would be nice if the world was like that, but we know the world doesn’t work like that. The world can be difficult. Even if we hold fast to our faith the world can be difficult. If Jesus were to promise that once we believed, nothing would ever go wrong, he may have attracted a few followers, but as soon as things got difficult, these few would have fallen away. But Jesus is truthful with us. Jesus tells us that the way of faith may be at odds with the way of the world. And Jesus prepares us for trials that we may face. And even though we may face trials, we are not left alone. We are not left defenseless. Through our faith we are included in the Great plan of our creator. Through our baptism we become heirs to the eternal. Through Christ’s resurrection, we have eternal life.

These are the promises we can turn to in the time of trouble. These are the truths we live out in faith. This is the strength seven flavors of coffee can never give. It isn’t the way of the world, and we should be glad about that. When we look at the world, it is pretty messed up. The way of Christ is not the way of the world, Jesus wants better for us.

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