Year C Proper 18, Psalm, Philemon, and Luke, September 8, 2013
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers
LORD, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
One of the many times I was part of a self-reflection exercise, I was asked about my early family life. Yes, we had our issues as a family. My mother had bi-polar disorder, which provided challenges to her and to all of us. And of course, we had all of the regular things families go through – times of plenty and times of lean. Times of worry. Yet, overall and in sum, what I knew and know deeply is that I was wanted and I was loved.
A favorite remembrance that demonstrates this deep love of my family was my mother’s pep talk to me as I prepared to move 1100 miles away from she and my father to Kansas. It was the furthest away I’d ever lived from them and my mother told me she’d miss me and I was to go and have a great time. Now, what you have to understand is that she had had a spinal chord injury and was only out of surgery a few days. She had this contraption on her head with rods sticking out (it’s called a halo). There she was in the hospital cheering me on, even though it meant I would not be near her.
Yes, Honor your mother and your father made sense to me. So Jesus’ words are confusing today, aren’t they? “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.
Hating our family? What a provocative statement, especially in Jesus’ time. Without family, you could die. Remember Ruth and Orpah – the men in the family had died and they were widows. They were left to glean in the fields and get whatever they could after most of the crop was harvested. You had to have your family to survive. And here Jesus is telling the people that if they follow him, they must be prepared to lose what at the time was their very lifeline.
Yet, Jesus is saying that following him is costly…. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr, wrote about the difference between cheap grace and costly grace in 1937 as the Nazis were gaining control of his country. “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
Bonhoeffer says that costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Yet, it is costly because it compels us to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ”
In other words, costly grace requires us to “go to any lengths” as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, to follow Jesus.
In this passage of Luke, Jesus is warning us that when we follow him, there will be a cost to us and we must be willing to bear that cost.
Last week, I spoke to you about stewardship…about being stewards of our Christian faith. You may remember that to be a good steward means being a careful and responsible manager of something entrusted to one’s care…. Being a good steward of the faith, Jesus says to us today, is costly.
In the Letter of Paul to Philemon, there is an example of costly grace. Onesimus was enslaved by Philemon. Onesimus was Philemon’s property, in essence. Onesimus had run away from Philemon. We are told he was trying to escape punishment for a robbery; however, if any of you have really looked at the lives of enslaved people, we can only imagine what was truly happening. Onesimus finds his way to Paul and ends up converting to Christianity and being of great service to Paul, most likely while Paul was in prison in Rome.
Now, Paul could have written Philemon to ask permission for Onesimus to remain with Paul, but Paul sent Onesimus back and asks Philemon to buck the trend of society of the time. Paul asks Philemon to submit to costly grace… to part with his property…to part with the rules of the time… to freely release Onesimus and not only that, but to consider Onesimus as an equal… as a brother. How preposterous that Paul should ask Philemon to welcome Onesimus as his beloved brother… Philemon is asked to welcome Onesimus as Philemon would welcome Paul.
So, I don’t believe Jesus is saying we should hate our families. Jesus is saying that we should follow him first and that in the Kingdom of God, the rules of society and family are turned upside down, so in the process of following him, we must be prepared to lose our families. We must be prepared to lose all of our possessions. We must be prepared to be transformed and changed. We follow new rules of living. We do not live as much of the world lives. We love, even our enemies. We turn the other cheek.
I imagine being Episcopalian in Corbin, KY, feels costly sometimes. I have heard from so many of you that people do not understand that Episcopalians are Christians. I have been told that when I walk into the local Minister’s meetings, a few others may walk out just because I am a woman and a priest. And I am sure that the fact we openly embrace our brothers and sisters who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning is against much of the culture in this town. Yes, many of you know what costly grace is. You know what Jesus is talking about. You know that good stewardship of our faith is costly.
Yes, we become complacent in our faith. We feel at ease just the way things are. This may mean we are living in cheap grace. When we feel discomfort in living out our faith, Jesus is telling us this week that he understands. Following me is expensive, he says. Consider the cost. You will not always feel comfortable.
While following is costly, we also gain an amazing life. We receive a word of forgiveness. In the midst of the burden, we receive grace and a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. Jesus is telling us that God demands great things of us. And in today’s Psalm, we hear the proclamation of the benefits of this faith. God knows us deeply… has known us even before we were born.
Therefore, be open to the cost of following Jesus. Midst the challenges of costly discipleship, you will be able to sing to God with the Psalmist,
I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful,
and I know it well.
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 Page 794, BCP
LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love– and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother– especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
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.”