March 20, 2011
Now, But Not Yet
A Lasting Commitment
There are serious consequences to a mentality of disposability. Besides the obvious consequence of filling landfills with so much stuff, there are psychological and spiritual consequences as well, such as believing that nothing really lasts, that nothing is permanent. In a society where so many things are disposable, everything is in danger of becoming disposable. It’s a mentality that even seeps into relationships.
Unfortunately, relationships don’t always last. Even when love is recognized as the foundation of the relationship, there is the possibility of the relationship ending. Not all friendships survive. Not all family relationships remain intact. Not all marriages last. Perhaps we have arrived at a point where we wonder if it is possible to expect that a commitment can last. In a world where so much has become disposable, is it possible to expect that any kind of commitment can last?
Our Scripture passage for the morning asks that question. It takes us to the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. Luke tells us that while traveling, great multitudes were going along with Him. As the crowd grows, Jesus begins to speak to them about commitment, and he presents a very strong picture of what it means to follow him. Listen again to some of his words, as found in verse 26 – if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And in the next verse – And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Wow. That’s a very strong passage, isn’t it? It has a certain shock value, doesn’t it? It no doubt shocked the people who were listening that day. Let’s back up to what was happening at that moment so we might understand this passage more clearly.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. One of the reasons he was drawing large crowds, I believe, is because many hoped he would arrive in Jerusalem to proclaim himself a political messiah. People were anxious to free themselves of Roman rule and many were following Jesus in the hope that he would be the one to finally bring them freedom.
Jesus didn’t want anyone to have misunderstandings about the nature of his mission. Jesus believed in being very clear about what it meant to follow him. This passage is the opposite of the fine print we find so often these days. We have all received the flyers advertising, for instance, a computer at a ridiculously low price, and when you get out your microscope and read the extremely small print you find it says something like only one per store; does not include monitor, software, or any thing you need to actually make a computer work.
Jesus is seeking to make his message as clear as possible. He is saying, in essence, this road to Jerusalem is not a march to a political victory. I am not going to claim a political kingdom. I am going to give up my life to demonstrate the immense love of God. And the implication then becomes – what is the nature of our commitment? What is the depth of our love?
Jesus wanted people to understand that following him had some associated risks. Some were already plotting to kill Jesus, and anyone associated with him could face the same fate. Yes, it was wonderfully attractive that Jesus healed the sick and fed large crowds and threw open the doors of the kingdom to all, but he was asking what will happen to that commitment when things get tough, as they inevitably will?
It’s a valid question. It’s the difference between love and infatuation. To make a comparison, many of those who were following along with Jesus were comparable to someone on a first or second date. There’s a lot of excitement and emotion, but there’s not yet any real depth, it’s not really love, at least not at that point. There may be a lot of excitement, but what happens when a time of testing comes to a relationship built on infatuation? It may or may not survive. But love – that is a different matter. Love says I’ve been with you through the fun times and the easy times, and I’m going to be with you through the tough times as well. Infatuation considers the questions could this person be the one? Could I spend my life with this person? I’m not sure.
Jesus is reminding those following him that there was coming a day when it would be dangerous to be associated with him. Peter faced that danger, and his resolve quickly wilted. Jesus was asking if people could retain their commitment if it became unfashionable or unpopular to be his disciple.
When I was in high school I participated in my first official protest. It was during the energy crisis of the early 1970s and the school decided they would turn the thermostats down to save on energy costs. I don’t remember how low they were set, but it was chilly in the classrooms, so we organized a protest. We decided that when the bell rang to begin classes on a particular morning we would all march to the gym and remain there until the thermostats were turned back up.
The morning of the protest we were all excited. The bell rang for class and we marched to the gym. We weren’t going to take those cold temperatures any longer! We were fighting The Man!
It didn’t take very long before the intercom crackled to life, and we heard the voice of Anthony Pisano, the principal. Mr. Pisano was tough, and he proceeded to inform us that anyone not in their classroom in five minutes would be given a three day suspension. Our protest folded like a cheap card table. It was rather amazing how quickly and easily we gave in. Of course, we weren’t exactly protesting a huge injustice. It’s not like we were protesting the ravages of poverty and hunger or fighting against the injustices that so many people were facing on a daily basis. We were a little bit chilly in the nice classrooms of our really nice school. What we needed, besides a cause worthy of protest, was a greater sense of commitment.
Jesus looked at the multitudes of people following him and knew they needed to understand it would not always be easy to follow him. He knew what they did not – the time of his crucifixion was drawing close, and he knew the challenges that would be placed upon those following him and associated with him. And he needed to tell them what might be waiting for them as his followers.
That’s why Jesus used such strong language – because tough times were coming for many of them. When Jesus spoke of the need for them to carry their cross, they knew exactly what was meant. People in the day of Jesus had seen a lot of crosses with people nailed to them. That image wasn’t just symbolic to them – it was very real.
It’s one of the reasons why Jesus calls people to a community. It’s much easier to withstand difficulty when you are part of a group. When you have some people who will encourage you and stand with you and love you it is so much easier to remain faithful, isn’t it?
That’s the gift of the church. It’s also the calling of the church. The church is called to stand with those who believe they stand alone. The church is called to stand with those who are oppressed, to stand with those who are lonely, to stand with those who are the victims of the powers and the systems of the world.
We are fortunate that we don’t face the challenges to faith that faced those who were following Jesus. But there are many in our world who do. And we must pray for them
Years ago, my friends and I used to play around an old foundation near our home. We had a field of several acres in front of our house, and off to one side of the field was a foundation in a grove of trees. The concrete block foundation had obviously been there a long time, as some trees were growing within the walls. No one in our neighborhood seemed to have any idea when the foundation was built or why the home was never finished. As we climbed on the walls and used it as a fort for our imaginative playtimes, I often wondered about the history of that foundation. Who built it? Why did they never complete it?
That foundation, it seems, could be a metaphor for faith. It is possible, Jesus warns, to fail to consider the implications for a life of faith, and thus abandoning it when difficulties arise. In a world where relationships so often seem temporary, where commitment seems to be a thing of the past, may we be ever committed to our faith.