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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Not a head of your hair will perish November 14, 2010 Proper 28-RCL Year C Luke 21:5-19
All Saints Day November 7, 2010 All Saints Day, Year C Luke 6:20-31
Comfort and Curiousity October 31, 2010 Proper 26, Year C Luke 19:1-10
Passion October 24, 2010 Proper 25, Year C Psalm 84; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Knocking at a Locked Door October 17, 2010 Proper 24, Year C Luke 18:1-8
Gratitude October 10, 2010 Proper 23, Year C Luke 17:11-19
Increase our faith, so that we can serve God and one another October 3, 2010 Proper 22, Year C Luke 12:35-48, Luke 17:1-10, Luke 22:24-28
God is not only compassionate and merciful, but also our judge September 26, 2010 Proper 21, Year C Luke 16:19-31
Shrewdness is a Virtue September 19, 2010 Proper 20—Year C Luke 16:1-13
God Longs for Wholeness September 12, 2010 Proper 19—Year C Luke 15:1-10
Choose Life September 5, 2010 Proper 18, Year C, RCL Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 14-25-33
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever August 29, 2010 Proper 17, Year C, RCL Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, (Psalm 118)
Sabbath and Healing August 22, 2010 Proper 16, Year C, RCL Isaiah 58:9b-14, Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-20; Luke 13:10-17
Jesus Brings Fire August 15, 2010 Proper 15 Luke 12:49-56
Baptism – God Has Promised Us an Inheritance August 8, 2010 Proper 14, Year C, RCL Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12: 32-40 ;Revelation 22:1-5

 

Choose Life

Sermon Date:September 5, 2010

Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 14-25-33

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 18, Year C, RCL


In our gospel today, we hear that great crowds were following Jesus as he headed toward Jerusalem and his certain death. 

But merely following Jesus did not necessarily equal being a disciple of Jesus, because Jesus turned to them and said,

“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions…whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Instantly, vivid scenes flash into my mind of people who have done just that.

After Christianity swept the Roman Empire, a young man named Anthony, who lived in Egypt, found himself rich by the day’s standards because of the inheritance that his parents had left him when they died.

He planned to live comfortably off of his inheritance, until one day in church he heard the gospel in which Jesus tells the rich young ruler to go, sell what you have and give to the poor. 

Anthony was so moved by these words that he did just that—sold his property, keeping back only a small reserve fund on which he and his sister could live, and so he walked out of his village, left everything that he had found so familiar and so safe.

Eventually, he ended up in the desert and a great monastic community grew up around him—the beginning of the great monastic orders that have provided us with such a powerful insights into growing a spiritual life, and have had such an impact on western civilization itself. 

And of course, St Francis comes to mind.

Some of you may have seen the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, about St Francis.

Francis lacked for nothing.  He was from one of the richest families in the town of Assisi, who had made their fortune through the production of expensive fabrics.

And yet, moved by the words of Jesus about possessions, Francis became more and more uncomfortable with all that his family had, and finally took action.

In the movie, we see the young Francis hurling bolts of beautifully colored fabric from the windows of his father’s business, far above the street, the fabrics bursting with color, richness, opening out like butterfly wings, drifting into the streets below

—was this young man mad to be throwing away the family fortune so literally?

Finally, Francis is brought before the priest in town, and as Francis renounces the richness and decadence of the church itself,

he strips himself and stands there naked and vulnerable, to the horror and derision of the townfolk.

 Francis turns and walks naked out of the town, following God’s call for him.

And then, in our time, we have Mother Teresa, who left home at age eighteen.  She left behind her mother and her sister.  She never saw them again.   She became a nun. Later, she left  community to go to India.   

 Mr Teresa said that “I was to leave the convent and to help the poor while living among them.”

 In the first year of her new life, she had to beg for her food just as the poor people around her did.

 She was tempted to return to the comforts of her monastic life, where her every need had been met. 

And yet, she believed that, in her words, “Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross.”

 She went on to found the Sisters of Charity. 

The witness of her own poverty and her selfless life lived for the benefit of the poor has become for us synonymous with contemporary sainthood. 

Each of these saints gave up their possessions, their lives that provided security and comfort, to become, not just followers of Jesus, but disciples of Jesus in the truest sense of the word. 

They gave up all they had. Their hands were empty.   They were free to then pick up their crosses and carry them.

Now all of us are followers of Jesus in one way or another,

part of that great cloud of witnesses who have followed Jesus ever since he walked here with us.  

We’ve gathered here today, worshipping together as a community, and as a community, we care for one another, and we reach out to our community in a variety of ways.

But how do we become, not only followers, but disciples?  

My guess is that no one here is going to take the radical paths that Anthony, Francis and Teresa took.

But it’s clear that no matter what path of discipleship God calls us to,

we have to lay down what we cling to so that we can reach out and pick up our own crosses. 

And people in our midst are doing just that, in quiet ways of which we may be completely unaware. 

Periodically I spend a few hours working in the Christ Church Thrift Shop over in Spotsylvania Courthouse.

It’s my way of saying thank you to all of those people at Christ Church who were so very generous about giving up their time, by giving up the familiarity of what they were used to and to welcome me as a leader in their worship services

—they are disciples when it comes to helping those who are entering the ministry –a new seminarian will be coming to them this fall. 

And in addition to my getting to say thank you, I get to meet some interesting people–

And as Fr Jeff always says when he’s trying to drum up volunteers to work in the thrift shop, “You meet the most interesting people!”

When I went to work at the thrift shop last  Friday afternoon, I met one of these interesting people, a woman about my age with red hair, bright blue sparkly eyes, petite and energetic.

We’ll call her Tina.

She had volunteered at the thrift shop all morning and was getting ready to go home. 

We started talking, and I found out that she has been in this area for about a year.

As the conversation went on, she said that she had moved here to help her sister take care of her mother, who is failing. 

“So where are you from?”  I asked. 

And Tina told me that she has lived most of her life in West Virginia.  That is where her son and her grandchildren and her friends are. 

“It must have been hard for you to leave,” I said.

And her bright blue sparkly eyes stopped sparkling, and with a look of great sadness, but with no resentment, in a matter of fact sort of way, she said that it had been one of the hardest decisions of her life, to leave behind her family, her friends, and her boyfriend.  In fact, her move had caused their break-up, but she told him—“Right now, at this time in my life, this is where I belong.   I am called to be with my mother and my sister.  Someday I will be back.”

Tina is a modern day disciple.

She heard God calling her, calling her to help care for her aging mother, and to do so, she had to give up quite a bit.

She is missing the day to day fun of watching her grandchildren grow up, her friends will probably remain friends, but she is missing time with them.

They will develop new friends, new patterns of being together, and when she returns home, she will be an outsider simply because she has been gone.

She risked her relationship with her boyfriend, although they have gotten back together now.

All because she took God up on this call to lay down what she possessed, so that she could carry her cross, and be a disciple of Jesus.

“It’s just what I’m called to do right now,” she said, as she left the thrift shop to go back to her mother’s house. 

Another interesting person in the thrift shop is its manager. 

This woman became the manager when the store opened a few years ago, but then developed cancer, and was gone for over a year, struggling with chemotherapy, nearly dying a few times.

And yet, now that she could just be at home, relaxing and enjoying life, now that she has regained her health,   she came back to manage the thrift shop again when the current manager quit and left the thrift shop with no manager and no volunteers. 

This woman, who has been so ill, has chosen to lay down a well deserved life of comfort and ease at home so that the thrift shop can continue to be open and earn some extra income for Christ Church, money desperately needed as this congregation  struggles to pay the mortgage on their building each month. 

And yet, the manager does not see herself as a hero.  She simply says about coming back to work, “I missed it.” 

The thrift shop, while it makes money for Christ Church, is also run as a ministry to help people with low incomes to be able to get things they need at affordable prices.

 For instance, you can buy a whole bag of clothes for five bucks, children’s toys for 50 cents to a dollar, one woman found a car cover for $3.

She was thrilled.  “That car cover was $30 at WalMart!” she said, and she hadn’t been able to afford that $30, but she could buy that $3 car cover.    

Late on Friday afternoon, another woman came to pay for her bag of clothes, and three toys that her sister had picked out.

She carefully counted out her money.  She paid in dimes.

And then, as she turned to go, she just stopped and stared at a framed print that rested against the wall. 

“Those hands,” she said.  “I see those hands everywhere.  Whose hands are they?” 

I leaned over the counter and looked at the print.

I had walked past it all afternoon and had paid no attention to it.

“Oh,” I said, “those hands are from a painting by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.”

And I told her about how the hand on the right was God’s hand, and the hand on the left was Adam’s hand, and God reached out, and touched Adam into being. 

She was still staring at the painting.  She said, almost to herself—“I have to have that!”

And she went over, and picked it up, picked it up reverently, and brought it to the cash register, and then set it down, and searched through her well worn purse, and found at the bottom a $5 bill.

The cost of the print came to $3.15.  I handed back her change, $1.85, and her eyes moved to a tall glass jar near the register

that said “For Christ Church” and she said to me, “What’s that for?”

so I told her it went to the church to help pay off the mortgage for the building every month.

And this woman, who clearly could have used that money for something else, looked down at the money in her hand, and calculated whether or not she could give it away, and then without hesitation dropped the $1.85 into that jar.  She then took her purchases, and carrying her print, walked out the door. 

I couldn’t get this woman out of my mind. 

For me she illustrates what it means for those of us who follow Jesus to become disciples of Jesus.

Only at certain times in our lives are we faced with stark choices—leaving what is familiar and comfortable in order to lead a life of service.

Most of the time our choices involve how we live the little mundane moments of our lives. 

This woman, who may not have even known where the Sistine Chapel is, or who Michelangelo was, was captivated by those hands—that image of God reaching out—the human being reaching toward God. 

And it is in our moment to moment choices to reach out toward God instead of holding whatever it is that we are holding onto—

whether those things are material things,

or the more intangible things that we grasp, like our need for power,

our need for control,

our temptation to react to others out of frustration,

our need to hold on to hurts from the past, our need to hold onto anger,

our need to grasp our own goodness by criticizing others

even our need to love others so much that we don’t have any room left to love God

—it is in our conscious decisions to lay all of  these things down, moment by moment, that then allows us to reach out, our hands empty, toward God.     

And when we reach out, and God touches us, just as God’s hand reached out at  the beginning of creation, life surges out from God, and surges into us.   

Every time we make the decision to reach out to God, we  choose life,

life in which we find out more and more how to love God, how to be obedient to God by loving one another as God loved us. 

And the exquisite irony of laying down everything else,

so that our hands are empty and we can reach toward God,  

our hands become full of God,

so full of God that they are empty enough for us

to pick up our own crosses and carry them,

to be disciples of Jesus.

So my challenge for you this week is to think through the moments of your days, and practice discipleship.

Practice opening your hands, letting go of the things that you grasp, the things that keep your hands bound and tied, that keep you enslaved.

Choose to empty your hands.

Choose transformation.

Choose life!

Choose to pick up the cross that Jesus is calling you to carry. 

Choose to live as a disciple.

Choose to live as if the kingdom of God really has drawn near.  

Amen   

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