Sunday, 15 September 2013

Count the cost. Or not.

Proper 18 (2013) Year C RCL Principal

Count the cost.  Or not.

OK, how’s the lego – have you had fun building?  Show me what you’ve made… What do you mean you’ve not made anything???  Why is that?

Hmmm. So we will have to do something – any suggestions? 

Work together, now there is a good suggestion.  And if there are any young people, say, elementary and middle school kids, perhaps you’d like to go around the Church and ask folk if they would be good enough to give you their lego blocks.  I believe Craig is going to help you with some construction work at the back….

And for the rest of us.  What does this mean?  Why lego?

Well let me start with a little more of my story.  When I was first being encouraged to consider looking at this position of Rector I discussed it with Jo, who very quickly said that I needed to talk it over with my Spiritual Director.  My Spiritual Director is a very thoughtful woman with a lot of wisdom and grace which she shares generously.  I explained what I had learned of St John’s via the profile and various conversations and her response was ‘I’m not trying to sway you,but you must go, and be prepared for the cost.’

She carried on – this is a great opportunity for you, and may very well be where God is calling you.  It is exciting and will be challenging and whether you take it or not there will be grief and loss.  If you don’t take this opportunity, or they don’t appoint you, then you will wonder what you have missed.  It will probably be something that will always be a ‘what if’.  If you do go then you will have to deal with losing everything that you are used to.  You will move away from family, from the security and success (and even failures) that are a part of your present position.  You will leave your home and family and friends.

But I think you should go.

Elizabeth was right, as it turns out… But what I really really appreciated was someone laying out in start terms exactly what the cost of following this process of job application and discernment might be.

Sound familiar.  Well it’s Jesus way of doing things as well.  He says we must count the cost of being disciples, of being his followers.  In no more stark terms than in today’s Gospel reading.  Whoever does not take up their cross cannot be my disciple.

Crumbs, Christian life is hard.

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches.  Jesus compares following him to setting off to war, or preparing a major building operation, not something to be taken lightly, and not something to be undertaken without planning to see it through to the end.  Even more so he says ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’.

Crosses would have been a relatively familiar sight to the people Jesus was speaking to.  A grisly, agonising and long lasting form of execution it was used as much as a deterrent to those thinking of disobeying Roman law as a way of punishing lawbreakers.  Crosses were put in prominent places where people would see them, and before each crucifixion the condemned would be forced, as in the Good Friday story we know so well, to carry their cross to their place of execution – a very public spectacle.

So Jesus refers to something that is both familiar and shocking to try and give some idea of the cost of discipleship.  There is no hint in this passage, or indeed in any of Jesus words, that being a disciple is an easy option, or the route to a cushy life.  In fact throughout the Gospels Jesus talks of his own homeless status, about the need to endure suffering, about the threat of persecution, about working hard and about absolute devotion to God’s cause – a devotion that is equivalent to hating family, friends and even life itself.  It’s not an easy thing to hear, it’s not an easy thing to preach and it is a subject that Jesus touches on repeatedly throughout the Gospels.  Being a faithful follower is hard.  It will involve sacrifice, letting go, openness to God’s way of doing things, loving the loveless and the unlovely.  Being a disciple will involve suffering.

But this suffering is not an end in itself, it often comes as a part of the life of the disciple, part of every life – but we don’t follow in order that we might suffer, but we endure suffering that we might be faithful.  Our call is not to suffer, but to remain true to our faith and to the truth of Christ no matter what we endure.

And even from suffering God can bring life.  Jesus suffered and died on the cross that he might defeat the greatest suffering, that of death and the power of sin.  Then through his faithfulness was brought back to life again through the power and the love of God.

“But what has all this got to do with lego blocks?” you may ask.  Well, our life of discipleship is costly and we must be realistic about this.  We are facing change in our Parish and we must be prepared for the cost of that.  As individual followers of Jesus we are told through the Gospel, and in our reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah today, that being formed into the likeness of Christ can be, indeed will be, painful.  Like a potter who needs to break the clay, and mould it and shape it in order to create an item of beauty or usefulness, or both, then God’s work in us, calling us to let go of the things which distract and divert us from being formed into Christlikeness and in learning to seek and serve Christ in one another.

But even more as a community we are being called to consider the cost of our discipleship.  We are undergoing a major building project here, and no I don’t just mean the redevelopment project, but we are seeking to build up our community of faith, our community of worship, our community of worship.  This endeavour is something we have to mindfully set ourselves to doing, and to count to the cost.

Which brings me back to the lego blocks.  They didn’t have a lot to offer when we gave you each a brick on the way in.  But in working together, and in some of us giving up our bricks, and in some of us sharing our resources we, I hope have managed to create something….

In the church we must all take responsibility for the ministry of the Church and no longer leave it to someone at the front, or that the work of ministry will be done only by clergy, staff, or wardens – we all have some responsibility for our own spiritual growth, our education, our calling to serve in the name of Christ here in St John’s and the community to which God has called us.  

It means being willing to take up our cross and follow.

Let’s pray not that we might escape all the troubles of the world, but rather that through everything we may endure and be faithful, allowing the potter to reshape and create something new, fashioning from the struggle something beautiful and filled with purpose.  That we may mature through good and bad and grow up into Christ our head.  And let’s pray that we will have the faith to see God at work, even when it seems the struggle is too much.  Let us pray that we will be realistic about the cost of our discipleship, of being community, of serving our sister and brother in need and of becoming the people we are called to be.

May God bless us in all we endure, and give us strength, faith, hope and love.