The Very Rev.Tom Callard -September 8, 2019
Two weeks ago, we heard about Jesus healing the woman in the Synagogue on the Sabbath, and last week we heard about Jesus eating at the home of the Pharisee, and how the guests all tried to sit in the seats of honor. These are important stories.
And as you know, not everything Jesus did is recorded in the Bible. What we see in the Bible are highlights and moments of important stories that Luke and Mark and Matthew and John wanted to include because they were essential to the picture of Jesus as he was in the world around him.
But what happens between these important moments? What’s not recorded in the Bible? Well I think the number one thing that is not put into the Gospel that Jesus and his disciples did again and again is to travel. Jesus and his group travelled a lot. And in a sense we are fortunate to be spared all the details about Jesus’s travels, because it would be kind of boring if Luke’s Gospel told us that Jesus and the crowd went down the road five kilometers to the next town and they slept. And then they moved their camp from one side of the town over to the other, and they ate and they slept. Just hearing this again and again wouldn’t capture our attention.
There’s a reason why in the movies you have a cutaway once the action finishes and you go to the next scene, because most real life is pretty boring. And we don’t want to see boring thing. We want the important moments. So the Gospels give us the good parts, and in between those good parts Jesus and his followers travelled.
Except today, in the story we have from Luke is one of the good parts which is actually about travelling. Today we get a passage where Jesus invites those traveling with him to understand the cost of what they are doing. And what it really means to travel at his side.
The way our Gospel today begins is this: “Now large crowds were travelling with Jesus.” And that’s is not an inconsequential detail that there are large crowds. It is an essential part of the story. For what Jesus today says only makes sense because there are large crowds.
You know when I preach, my sermon changes a little bit depending on the size of the congregation. There’s nothing like having a big, dramatic sermon prepared, where you’re planning to move around and get all excited and pound on the pulpit and really give em the word of God. And then you look at the congregation and there are only six people. You’ve got to change your sermon.
I’ve been in those services. Once, at a church which shall be nameless in the Eastern Diocese in Massachusetts, it was an evening service in this big sanctuary and there were probably fifteen of us in that big space. And we were spread out as if we wanted to be as far away as possible from everyone else. And up in front the preacher was doing his best to give a spirited Episcopal sermon as if the church were full. But you have to be aware of your crowd.
So here is Jesus in this big crowd, maybe the biggest crowd of travelers he’s had. And remember, Jesus started with no crowd. Then he met Peter and Peter was his little crowd, and the other disciples came. And then little by little he met more people. And they followed. And more people came on board. Until, as Luke says today, there’s a big crowd. And Jesus is getting ready to address them.
And so if you’re me and you’re addressing a big crowd, perhaps the biggest of your life, you are going to be careful. You are going to want to say something positive because you really want a big crowd and you want those people to keep following you.
And, if you’re like me, you’ll watch what you say. And above all you will not say anything controversial which will make them walk away. You will not tell people, for example, that they have to hate their mother and father to follow you. You will not tell them that they have to give up their possessions. You will not mention anything about having to pick up the cross, or having to suffer or having to sacrifice or having to do any difficult thing at all if they want to be part of your crowd. You wouldn’t say any of those things Jesus says today.
No, you would say something like this: it’s great to see you. Thanks for coming. It’s going to be really easy to be my disciple. You’ll love it. And now let’s go eat. So if you hear sermons at the Cathedral that tell you: it’s great to see you. Thanks for coming. It’s going to be really easy to be Jesus’s disciple here. And now let’s go eat, if you hear that sermon, then we have failed you. And more importantly, we have failed Jesus.
We are different from the Lord, and it’s one of the abiding and growing edges of our human ministry that we often just want to keep people happy, to have them like us. But Jesus wants people to change. He’s going to challenge them.
And so today is the day in the travels with Jesus when he finally says- all right, now it’s time to change. There are enough of you that it’s worthwhile sharing this message. The crowd is big enough. You have been followers and learned from me and been fed by me as my followers. But now I want you to be my disciples. I want you to change from being spectators to being participants. To change from being the audience watching the ministry to being the agents doing the ministry. And today is the day to make that happen.
What Jesus is essentially saying is: you are a wonderful group to travel with, and now here’s the cost if you want to continue. Thankfully, it’s not one of those situations I was in once, where a bunch of us were out for a night at a Japanese restaurant and we lost track of how much sushi we ordered and perhaps those few bottle of sake that came to the table, and eventually when the bill came it was something like a thousand dollars. Where you have to pay for what you’ve done, and you have to pay dearly.
This situation is different. For instead of paying for what you’ve done, Jesus is saying: you are now going to think about paying for what you will do. He’s come to this fork in the road. And he’s said, I’m going up there. And I want you to follow. But if you go, he says, you’ve got to do this: You’ve got to put me in the primary place of your life. You’ve got to put me ahead of your relationships with those you hold dear. You’ve got to put me ahead of what you own and all you have. You’ve got to put me ahead of your future and your self concern and your will. And you’ve got take up my cross. You’ve got to do this.
But, he is saying to them, and saying to us, the price of putting me here in the center of your life is small in comparison to what is waiting up there, which is for you to be free. To be free with respect to your concerns in the world, to be free in a love which knows no bounds, to be free in a grace which has no conditions and a peace which passes all understanding. Your joy will be in me, and your joy will be complete.
If you tell someone who is an addict, who is addicted to gambling or alcohol or drugs or whatever, that they have to give up those things to which they are addicted, but on the other side there’s peace and joy and unconditional love, which you don’t get when you’re caught up in something. you’ll find that many people are just not going to give those things up, for the cost is too great
They are so entrenched in what they have and what they do that the change will seem impossible. But then you talk to people who are in recovery and they tell you how great it is to be free. Because there’s something inside that’s not free and not in peace if you are beholding to anything else but God.
We love our family, we love our possessions, we love our lives and our free will and our own sense of self determination. But Jesus is offering us something beyond even these things, a peace that will never come as long as we only have our family and only have our possessions and only have our lives.
This is where the world fails us again and again, and it’s especially sad in this day and age when so many people are turning away from God and from church and from organized religion. And they think that they’re going to get meaning and joy and purpose with other people or their possessions or by working out the purpose of their lives on their own. But we need help. We all need help. We need to know that within us is not the strength to save us. That we are limited and finite, and so is everything else.
But up ahead is the answer, and he’s standing there today with one hand extended back toward us and the other pointing up to the path of peace. And he’s saying, just follow me up there, come follow me, and all you need to do is let go of these other things. And that’s the cost. Why not reach for the infinite? Why not reach for that which never ends which never fails which never grows old. Reach for God.
So, the crowd turns away. Many in the crowd turn away, because the cost, in their minds, is too high. It doesn’t say here how many in the crowd turned away on that day. It doesn’t say how many went home disappointed. It could have been many or most or almost all of them. But you know that many did.
Because we want something for free. We want this for free. We want the nice stories and the good music and the fellowship of church. We want that good feeling we get from church and the opportunity in our lives to reach out and do good that church offers us. And we want to feel like we’re doing the right thing by being faithful Christians. What do we give back? What do we give to the church? What do we give to God?
At Jesus’s invitation, let’s check and make sure that we want to move from being spectators to being participants. And then once we are sure, let’s walk forward together behind him in purpose, and go into the daily struggle every Christian faces to put Jesus, above all things, into our hearts, where he fits so well.
You are a great crowd.
It’s going to be a daily and never ending challenge to do what Jesus asks of us. It’s going to be difficult. But it’s not impossible. And the reward is great.
So now let’s eat.