|Carrying the cross of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn. Original source|
¨Following Jesus means action, and that may lead to conflict especially if persons who should be dear to us and close to us are standing in our way as we seek to serve Jesus and love our neighbors¨ Ricardo+
Last Sunday an Episcopal priest writing on a web-site called Sermons that Work said:
“Well, friends, today is Trinity Sunday, the day in the church year when we ponder the mystery of the Triune God, how God is Three in One and One in Three.
It is also the day when, throughout the world, rectors usually decide that it is a good Sunday for their assistants to preach.
Ask your average assistant pastor, and he or she will probably tell you his or her files contain several Trinity Sunday sermons, along with several on Doubting Thomas, John the Baptist calling people a brood of vipers, and Jesus saying if you don’t hate your father and mother you cannot be his disciple”.
Well yes, today is another of those Sundays when rectors flee and leave things to their assistant. Why didn’t I ask someone else to preach? “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” Jesus my prince of peace, what on earth are you saying? Are you really coming to tear families apart and to set sons against their fathers, and daughters against their mothers? Don’t we have enough pain and strife in our lives already?
Here we have Jesus at his most demanding. Impossibly demanding some of us would say. Where is the love the compassion, the mercy we associate with Jesus? It’s there, but we cannot just lie back and bask in God’s love, not when evil is rampant in the world. Following Jesus means action, and that may lead to conflict especially if persons who should be dear to us and close to us are standing in our way as we seek to serve Jesus and love our neighbors. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” I am not sure that my love for my sons and daughters displaces the devotion that Jesus is demanding of me. Fortunately they live their lives ethically and for the most part I do not have conflicts stemming from what they do for a living or how they lead their lives. I also am not sure that God wants us, as a rule to break away from our families, much less hate them. So what is this morning’s Gospel all about?
Jesus is speaking privately to his disciples. His message in the first verses is “Have no fear”. Have no fear of what people are saying about Jesus: they are saying that he is the devil (Beelzebul). Have no fear of proclaiming the Gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God: “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered proclaim from the housetops”. Have no fear of people who can kill your body but not your soul. Fear the forces of darkness that can condemn your body and soul to a permanent exile from God. “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” says hymn #561. Trust in God’s Providence.
What is God’s Providence? God’s loving care for creation which extends to sparrows is more forcefully deployed in support of the disciples: “And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows”. Do not be afraid of worldly powers but proclaim Jesus’ message, knowing that God is with you.
After these words of comfort Jesus challenges the disciples, and us. His followers must not deny him, for he will deny them. Being true to the teachings of Jesus is not easy. It may involve conflict within the family, especially if members of the family are indifferent or opposed to the Gospel. It may involve not participating in some family activities because there are other things Jesus wants us to do for his Kingdom. It may involve breaking with them because of their behavior. Some of you who have dealt with addictions in your families and your own lives know that you must not be enablers of self-destructive and anti-social behaviors. We will know what it is that we have to bear, what we have to suffer as we seek to follow Jesus. We must accept those challenges, that suffering, and deal with them… “Take up the cross and follow me”.
And here Jesus leaves us with a paradox- if we avoid the hard moral and ethical choices that will bring us into conflict with the world around us; we will not be saving our lives. On the contrary, by acquiescing to wrong, to evil we will become part of it, we will be co-opted into that rottenness around us, and we will lose the eternal life that Jesus brings us because we have not had the courage to take up the cross and follow him. This might seem like a harsh message, and difficult to follow, but give it a thought-we can start little by little to say no more confidently, more assertively, to what we know is wrong, saying no to those forces that deny God, saying no to that which degrades us and our neighbor. In so doing we move from being passive lip-servants of Jesus and become his disciples. May he give us the strength to do so, to stand up for him, to be soldiers of the cross, to “put on the Gospel armor, and watching unto prayer, when duty calls or danger, be never wanting there” (Hymn 561- The Hymnal, 1982).¨ *