June 22, 2014: The cost of following Christ


Sermon
Deacon Sheila M. Scott
Second Sunday after Pentecost

When Fr. Steve asked me to preach this Sunday, I breathed a great sigh of relief that I escaped Trinity Sunday preaching yet another year, but then I read the Gospel reading…and was no longer so sure this was an easier option…

When people dedicate their lives to Jesus and live out their Christian discipleship, things get stirred up.  This reminded me of the consternation my then 17 year old niece caused when she informed her parents, my brother and sister-in-law, that she was joining an evangelical church, where she would be re-baptized by emersion at age 18. It took quite a long time for her parents to accept her decision, but she stood strong and did not give in to multiple pleas and demands to make her change her mind. Throughout her college years she was part of a tight knit evangelical youth group, dedicated to evangelizing, running children’s and youth bible camps. Two years ago she married a Baptist minister, and they are both dedicating their lives to the Lord.  Her faith is unwavering. While I do not necessarily agree with all their beliefs, I admire her faith and single minded dedication, I wish I had that at her age, or at any age for that matter.

This Gospel reading leaves no question as to how much Jesus expects of his disciples, and ultimately of us, his followers. Jesus prepares the disciples of their coming persecution and suffering when they do the work he commands them to do. He tells the disciples multiple times not to be afraid, God will be with them every step of the way, having gone through persecution and suffering before them. They must not fear men, they must overcome the fear of death with the fear of God (Bonhoeffer, 1963).

Jesus assures them, those who suffer in His name will earn their reward, and those who turn away from Him will face their punishment in the hour of judgment.

As you can see, Jesus is asking his followers to be prepared to be persecuted and suffer for him. That means that we, his followers should prepare ourselves for this same fate; that is of course if we are true followers of him, not just so called good weather Christians, who turn away from God as soon as the slightest storm comes our way. Now before you run for the door, labeling me an idealistic deacon, please hear me out…

In the past 2000 plus years, countless followers of Christ around the world have paid, and even today are paying with their lives for their Christian faiths and convictions. We Americans do not usually consider that there is a cost to Christian discipleship.  We are fortunate enough to live in a country where there is religious freedom, where we can pick and choose from a myriad of churches and denominations to worship in, without fear of retaliation for attending church services, or for marrying a Christian, or for owning a bible, or wearing a cross; that is not the case in other parts of the world. There is not much pain and suffering in our daily lives as Christians (except maybe some minor inconveniences such as having to get up early to come to church, postpone fun things until later in the day, having to rush home to watch football games during football season, and so on), so why should we worry about Jesus’ commandment to the disciples, it doesn’t apply to us, or does it?

If we take Jesus’ commandment seriously, we need to discern what HE is asking of us. How do we do that? By reading the bible, studying the scriptures, praying for guidance and for clarity. Prayer does not change God, but it can and will profoundly change the person who prays. When we stop focusing on our needs and wants, and focus on the needs of the kingdom of God, we will begin to see with new eyes, what we can do, according to our individual God given gifts, talents and financial resources.

After all, what is Jesus asking us to do, but to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves? You see, he is not asking us to perform miracles, solve complex unsolvable problems, he is asking us to love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves, plain and simple. If every Christian took this to heart, and followed this commandment, many conflicts could be avoided, and the world would be a better place.

Loving our neighbors means interacting with people in our communities, hearing their concerns, their struggles, their dreams. It is easy to label an unknown homeless person a deadbeat, who is not contributing to society, but it is completely different talking with this young man at a health clinic for the homeless, where he reveals that he has been unable to find a steady job, decent permanent housing because of his previous imprisonment for drug possession at the age of 21. He has been diagnosed with diabetes 3 years ago at this clinic, but has been unable to follow the complex treatment regimen because of his situation. He is already showing signs of chronic complications of unmanaged diabetes.

All of a sudden the previously faceless person, becomes a very real human being, created by God, and you cannot not love him and want the best for him. How many of us made mistakes in our youth that we got away with because we were more fortunate to live on the right side of the track?

That brings us to the issue of justice for all God’s people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, etc. It is not enough to believe in our hearts these things to be true, we have to stand up and demand justice for all. Whether we intervene in a grocery store line when we see discrimination happening in front of our eyes, or we get involved in local civic group to work for justice in our community, or become involved in politics to demand changes in laws, we are following Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we are opening ourselves up to possible persecution and suffering, that is the cost of discipleship.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God” (Sojourner, 2014).

Are you willing to be a co-worker of God?  AMEN.

 

Resources:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (1963). The Cost of Discipleship. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York

Alexander, Michelle. How to dismantle the “New Jim Crow”. Sojourners. July 2014, p.17.


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