September 8, 2019 — Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Rev. Alison Quin
Jeremiah offers us the image of a potter whose pot is turning out badly, so he presses it down and reshapes it. God spoke to Jeremiah using this metaphor—tell the people of Judah to forsake their evil ways and repent, or I will pluck up and destroy them. But if they do repent, I will change my mind and I will build them up.
Through the prophet, God presents the people with a stark choice: repent or be destroyed. It is reminiscent of Moses saying to the people in Deuteronomy, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live! Love God and live! Choose life! See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.”
I don’t think God sits there waiting to punish us when we fail to follow the rules. But there is a divine order of things—a way God intends us to live and when we don’t live that way, we reap destruction.
If we pollute our land and water and air, they will no longer sustain life. If selling weapons is a centerpiece of our economy, we can expect violence in our wake. If the pursuit of wealth is our highest value, there will be food insecurity, and homelessness and people without medical care.
Often it takes a crisis for us to change our ways and return to God’s way.
I think we are facing a crisis in many ways in our country and in the world today. We are being called to change our old ways of doing things—our politics, our culture, our economy, our spirituality. And the choice is pretty stark: Change or face destruction.
But just how DO we choose life? How do we know what to do, what path to follow?
As Christians, we turn to Jesus, whom we call our way, our truth and our life, for guidance and help.
In today’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples (meaning us) several challenging teachings to follow.
If you don’t hate your family, and even your life, you can’t be my disciple. If you don’t carry your cross and follow me, you can’t be my disciple. If you don’t give up all your possessions, you can’t be my disciple.
Could Jesus mean these sayings literally? For many in the early church, Jesus’ words were quite literal. They left their families, their homes and their possessions to follow Jesus. Some even gave up their lives.
We may not be called to do that—after all, even in the early church, some people still had homes, businesses, families. And many of those people had essential roles—some held church in their homes, or provided funds for the work of the church or for those in need.
So even in the early days of the Jesus movement, not everyone left home and family and gave up all possessions.
But as baptized Christians, we took vows to follow and obey Jesus, and so we must consider the possibility that we might be called to give up home, comfort or possessions. Following Jesus means daily decision making, ongoing discernment, faithful choices.
Even now, some still give up all worldly possessions to follow the Way of Jesus and many of you witnessed right here when my predecessor, Father Robert Magliula gave up all to become a monk and move to South Africa for years to do God’s work. Father Rob became Brother Rob and set a stunning example.
Long ago, I believed that once you made a life choice, you could check that box and you would not have to revisit it. When I got married and had children, and then became a Christian at age 30 and then later was called to be a priest, I felt that I had finally solved the puzzle of what I was supposed to do with my life.
But now I know better.
To follow Jesus is to engage in continual discernment about what is life-giving and what is not. It’s not easy. Sometimes following Jesus conflicts with our other loyalties and we have to make hard decisions. Family is wonderful—but family is not God. Work is good, but not if it becomes an addiction. Helping people is great, but when do you need to recognize your limits and rest? Providing a home for yourself and your family is important, but how much stuff do you really need? What is the most faithful choice?
What is at stake is life. What does it take to be fully alive?
Jesus is trying to get us to see that clinging to our possessions, our ideas, our comfort and security, our physical lives makes us less alive, even dead inside.
It is when we take hold of life in Christ and detach from things that are not God that we are most alive. Wear the world like a loose garment, as a friend of mine says. But cling closely to Jesus and his life-giving way.
“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live! Love God and live! Choose life!