Homily for Ordinary Sunday 23C

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2010 at 3:02 am

I had a colleague when I was at theological college
who went through a phase,
determined to believe that Jesus was a Buddhist missionary.

Now while this might be largely at odds
with everything else we read and know about Jesus of Nazareth,
and with common sense,
in this morning’s gospel account,
you can almost see what he might have been getting at.
Here we have detachment as a major theme:
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.

Detachment from all the relationships
we cling to as social creatures, as human beings.

There are other elements in the gospel, too:
a builder unable to finish a tower; a king evaluating his military resources.
Finally, perhaps a little confused, we are brought to the conclusion
we are supposed to take as self-evident from these parables –
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple
if you do not give up all your possessions.

Do all of these threads really weave together to give that final end product?
Is that a result that any of us in our affluence really want to hear?

And the context of all these sayings is important, too.
Large crowds are following Jesus, looking for who knows what.
Jesus’ comments are designed to make them think seriously
about what they think they’re in for,
about whether they can really run this race to the end.

With the benefit of hindsight, you and I know where this journey leads:
Jerusalem and the Cross.
Jesus is laying before these would-be-followers
that which we heard in Deuteronomy:   Life and prosperity, death and adversity.
Life and death, blessings and curses.
Faithfulness and idolatry. Discipleship of God or something else.

And they may not be as face value suggests.
There is a crucial line in this morning’s gospel passage that needs highlighting:
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
We know that there is a fundamental paradox at the heart of our faith,
in the Cross.
It is death, and yet through it we know life. It is a curse, as Deuteronomy itself tells us,
and yet we recognise that in the Christ who was executed under that curse,
we have become heirs to blessing beyond comprehension.

The message of this morning is not complex,
it is that following Christ, being true to the call of God,
has cost we may not imagine.
Are we prepared to give it all up,
comfort and consumerism, happy families and herbaceous borders,
liberty and life itself?
Can we for a second sanction that possibility?
We can, perhaps, say “well yes, if I had to I would”,
safe in the knowledge that God would never require you and me
to give up the life we are busy leading.
Can we give God free reign, with everything up for grabs?
Can we allow God to speak to us and to help us discern
which in our lives are the ties that bind and the ties that strengthen?

This is really the same question Jesus asks Simon Peter on the lakeside,
after the Cross and the empty tomb: “Do you love me more than these?”
Do we trust God enough to let go of the things that we cling to in this life,
that we look to to help fill out a sense of meaning?
Can we surrender and entrust to God when we have to, not only our possessions,
but also our own lives, and those we love?

Where any premise of Jesus the Buddhist really falls flat is this.
The reality to which he points is not the extinction of desire, of self,
a reality in that which is not.
We are beckoned to follow Christ towards the God who is.
The God who is Love.
We are called to set our hearts and our holdings on the one
who liberates us from all ties that bind us,
and in that love are held more fully and firmly than we can know.

Do we love the God Jesus revealed to us, the God who is love,
enough to place our identity and our prosperity and our very self
in those hands which were stretched out in love towards us on the Cross?

Are we prepared to detach ourselves when that is of God,
and to firmly plant our hopes and our hearts
with the vulnerability of a God who promises nothing
but faithful and undying love?

Who promises everything
in faithful and undying love?


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