Sermon 9/7/19: Relationally Reshaped, Reformed, Resurrected

Pr. Ben Adams

Lectionary 23c

September 7, 2019

Relationally Reshaped, Reformed, Resurrected

I HATE you! Parents of angsty teenagers have been hearing that phrase for years. And if we were being completely literal about today’s gospel, it could be argued that any time a teenager has uttered that phrase, they were simply following the command of Jesus. After all our Gospel opens up with some tough, confounding words from Jesus. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

What are we supposed to do with that? Is this just an example of Jesus using hyperbole for dramatic effect, or are we really supposed to go against our family values and hate our parents, spouses, siblings, kids, even life itself, all in order to be a disciple of Jesus? And if that’s not enough, Jesus punctuates today’s Gospel by saying, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Now I don’t want to be that guy who apologizes for Jesus or tries to soften his words. He said what he said, and as much as I wish I could explain it all away I think we have to sit for a moment in discomfort with Jesus’s real words, words that don’t sound very life giving, words that in many ways may even feel like death.  But, even though Jesus’s words are hard to hear, as Easter people we have nothing to fear, we don’t have to avoid or deny the death of certain things Jesus is calling for here. And perhaps what Jesus means by hating family is to let die the idea that the nuclear family is the only thing by which we make our decisions and live our lives. After all, some pretty terrible things are often justified with the words, “I was just trying to protect my family,” or “I just had to put food on my family’s table.” Maybe Jesus wants us to recognize the familial relationship we have with all people, even creation.  So Jesus sets a difficult challenge and asks us to die to the narrow, nuclear, exclusive ideas of family so we can experience a reshaping, a re-forming, a resurrection and see that carrying our cross also means contributing to the wholeness of all human beings, our siblings of God.

But even as I say this, I have a confession to make. I’m preaching this sermon because it’s what I need to hear right now, and I had this realization this week as I watched news stories of all of the devastation from hurricane Dorian. Stories I followed from the Bahamas are shocking. The latest numbers I heard were 43 dead with that number expected to rise and reporters are using phrases like “bodies everywhere.” As I read these articles and watched news clips with images of the total devastation in the Bahamas, my confession is that I did not feel that gut wrenching pit in my stomach that I would have felt if one of my direct, nuclear family members had died in the Bahamas this week.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself and my reaction to the news was pretty natural, but if that’s the case, it makes Jesus’ words today even harder since we are being asked to do something unnatural, to love people that aren’t our close friends and family, people we don’t know, people we have never met.

Unnatural as it may be and as supernatural as it may seem to actually live into Jesus’ words, Jesus is asking us to commit to discipleship fully, to go all the way, but in order to fully commit we must also be aware and count the full cost of discipleship. Jesus uses the metaphor of the builder and the king to teach us this. It's the builder who fails to count the cost of going all the way and finishing more than just the foundation of their tower and as a result of not finishing is ridiculed, or the king who considers his unlikely odds of winning in battle and instead of fighting and losing, sends a delegation to ask for terms of peace. Jesus wants fully aware, prepared, and ready disciples who truly count the full cost of discipleship and commit to carry their cross faithfully by giving up all we are attached to until all we possess and are reliant on is God's grace.

But who alone can truly prepare themselves for this kind of detachment from earthly things and commitment to Christ. I know I can’t, and this was confirmed as I watched the news of Hurricane Dorian’s devastation and didn’t naturally feel moved. More than sadness, there was a guilt I felt because I want to be moved to action by this human made natural disaster, I want to work collectively to stop climate change so that more people do not have to be sacrificed to ever intensifying weather, but there are plenty of times when I give in to the temptation to put down my cross, and if I’m being real honest, I don’t just put my cross down, I put it on others to bear it for me.  The people of the Bahamas are just the most recent example of this. People who have the least to do with climate change, yet bear the burden of our collective inaction.

I, we, need a relational reshaping, a reformation, a resurrection experience to see the people of the Bahamas as our family in the same way that we would regard our own nuclear family.  This requires a death and resurrection of relationship, like the resurrection of relationship from slave to sibling that Paul asks Philemon to experience with Onesimus in our second reading. Paul says, “Philemon, you might have Onesimus back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

If left to us this relational death and resurrection is impossible, but through God, the potter, we can be shaped and reshaped until our vessel is wide enough to encompass and hold the human family as we would own nuclear family.

God the potter at the wheel is at work reshaping, reforming, resurrecting our broken and spoiled vessels. This image of God from our first reading in Jeremiah harkens back to the creation story in Genesis. And since the day of our creation when God breathed life into the dust and clay of our beings, God has continued to shape and reshape us at the wheel.

Gods not done with us. Each of us earthen vessels is being endlessly reformed and resurrected by God our potter.  And while I was disappointed by my lack of emotional reaction to the news this week, I know God is making space within my heart and within all of our hearts to have real authentic love and concern for all people and creation. 

Just when I started to feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz this week, you know, without a heart, I listened to season three of the podcast Serial. In this season they spent a year recording in the Cuyahoga County Justice Center in Cleveland, Ohio and reporting the stories that came from their recordings.  If you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend you do. The stories of pain and injustice at the Cleveland justice center moved me, even to tears at some points.  I felt the holy spirit in the stories they told, connecting me to people I will probably never meet, but I could feel God relationally reshaping, reforming, resurrecting me with every story, reminding me of larger family of God, uniting me with the siblings that our world has ignored, forgotten, and oppressed.

Being moved by this podcast I was comforted knowing I can’t move myself into being a fully committed disciple of Christ, but I can trust that God our potter is shaping me, forming me, reshaping, reforming me, resurrecting me after dying every death true discipleship asks of me. There’s no softening it or explaining it away, discipleship, carrying our cross, will ask of us, a lot of us, and as earthen vessels filled with the breath of God it will bend us, crack us, spoil us, but God our potter is ever creating us anew until we fully live into the kinship we share as members of the family of God. It’s a kinship that extends beyond our homes to the farthest corners of our cosmos. Relationally reshaped, reformed, resurrected we are made one in Christ. Amen.