The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s190g07 Sunday 23 9/9/07
'first sit down and estimate the cost' Luke 14.28
Often these words can be quietly side-lined as they seem hard, almost inconsistent with the rest of Jesus' message to love. How could the 'Prince of Peace' commend hating relatives? Suddenly the recent controversy in Australia over the picture of Jesus 'morphing' into a likeness of Osama Bin Laden doesn't seem so far fetched. (http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22332369-421,00.html) And Jesus seems to put difficulties in front of us. We might even consider him to discourage people from following him. That we are called to estimate the cost flies in the face of unquestioning faith. The king is not assured of victory against the other. We are to divest ourselves of our possessions.
But looking at these uncomfortable passages has always for me been the source of enlightenment. New perceptions come from looking at different passages, passages that do not immediately reinforce my/our own comfort in the faith.
The mafia are 'the family'. Not everything done in families is worthy and upright. Simply being loyal to families is never going to result in peace in the world.
Jesus invites us to think. Unquestioning obedience is not what he is about. If we think that Christianity relieves us of the necessity to question and use our brains, then this passage will bid us reconsider. If we criticise others for thinking and coming to different conclusions to us, then this passage might cause us to rejoice that they are doing what God would have all humans do.
Christianity does not assure us of victory over others. Victory over others is not what God is about. It is about us getting on with others.
I was astounded recently with the crisis in financial circles over non-performing home loans in the United States. Suddenly something like $200 billion was injected into the economy from the banks. The ease, the speed and the magnitude of this action was bewildering, particularly in comparison to the delay over remitting the debts of poor countries. Perhaps we need to consider Jesus' words about giving up possessions as something that is actually achievable, if we see the point to it. While I have been sympathetic to the aims of 'making poverty history' I have always thought, well it's always someone's money, and usually someone else's money. It has seemed 'easy' to tell other people what they should do with 'their' millions. But perhaps in the light of the recent 'bailout' I've been too simplistic in my thinking.
Recently I have re-read the biography of Pope John the 23rd by Lawrence Elliott. It is always an inspiring read. Two passages hit home to me the first was: 'The solidarity which binds all (people) and makes them members of the same family imposes upon political communities enjoying abundance of material goods the obligation not to remain indifferent to those communities whose citizens suffer from poverty, misery and hunger, and who lack even the elementary rights of the human person. This is the more so since, given the growing interdependence among the people of the earth, it is not possible to preserve lasting peace if glaring economic and social inequality among them persists.' ('I will be called John' p294,5)
The kingdom of God has little if nothing to do with my comfort, either in this life or in the next. If it doesn't have its effect in the corporate life of the whole world then it is simply a waste of time and energy. If it means a continuing of ancient hatreds and divisions, the 'god' we worship is and idol and a demon, no matter how 'orthodox' our faith or how sincere our worship.
You and I are invited to think. We are invited to be fully human, to stand on our own two feet and think for ourselves. All people are invited to think, to stand on their own two feet and to think for themselves. God has nothing to fear from any of us thinking, since God is concerned with the welfare of all people and thinking is something that all humans were designed to do. The thing that God is concerned with is our aberrant thinking the thought that God prefers me over others, that God prefers my thinking over others, that God prefers my worship over others, that God prefers my race, gender and sexual orientation over others. Each and all of these can only lead to continuing hostility.
But what about those ideals of obedience and submission? When we think about it, when we get the message about God's love for all, then this requires of us obedience and submission, for the good of all people - not for some selfish personal feeling of well being this might give God; or alternatively God's wrath if we do not obey and submit. There is no question that the good of all inevitably must require some personal self-denial, some personal self sacrifices.
Today's passage ends with calling Christians the salt of the world. Salt brings out the flavour of that which it seasons. So Christians are not called to make everyone else into salt, for then there would be nothing else but salt to season, which is entirely unnecesssary. No, we are called to love the world as it is - to highlight and bring out the beauty in individual differences.
And it is not just personally that we are called to do this, but also to do this as a religion and faith. As a religion and faith we are called to recognise the beauty in the various individual differences between people, people of other faiths and people of no faith.
Again Pope John the 23rd, then Nuncio in Paris: 'We all tend to judge events from the vantage point of this handful of earth beneath our feet. This is a great illusion. We must take our view from the heights and courageously embrace the whole.' (ibid p 192)
I began with the quotation about estimating the cost of building the tower. The cost of building the tower of the kingdom of God is way beyond me, but perhaps others have more resources than I. No matter. As long as I am contributing to the building of the tower of the kingdom of peace between all people - whether the building is finished or not in my lifetime, is immaterial. The cost is bearable. At least I have not been contributing to the erection of some other tower, whether that tower be successfully completed or not.
This is, of course, not what Jesus said in my quotation for today. But again, Jesus calls us to think and consider what he really meant by the words he said. You be the judge - that is the invitation that Jesus puts before us all.
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