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St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"Dropping Our Baggage": Sermon for Proper 18, Year C

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Don't you just love watching the news these days?

Isn't it a real joy to see the level of respect and courage shown by our fellow humans to each other--especially now that we have entered into a Presidential political cycle?

Of course, I speak facetiously!

The truth is that we live in a world, and a country where we are more polarized than we have been for many generations.

Politically speaking, this polarization is truly harmful to us as individuals and as members of the Body of Christ.

Political Science professor James Campbell has written a book just recently published about this current state of affairs.  

He tells us that when it comes to the polarization, the differences between people intensify rather than diffuse conflict. Polarization, he says "establishes an 'us versus them' politics and it is always the same 'us' at odds with the same 'them.' "[i]

High levels of polarization are the basis for bitter disputes, making political compromises more difficult to achieve.

I think that we can all see this as a reality in our current world.

Politicians don't seem to back down anymore.

They don't seem to want to compromise.

And we don't seem to want them to.

We say that there is truth. There is what is right. And YOU are wrong.

Our entire society seems to be living into this polarized structure--even thriving on it.

We callously enjoy crude name-calling of this candidate and naked statues of that candidate without any real sense of what any of that is doing to who we are as children of God.

So...

Of course, this is where I usually turn to the Gospel reading from today to see what Jesus has to tell us to make us have a better direction in the midst of all this chaos.

So let's do that, and hear that wisdom about what we should do to end all the hate...

Jesus says to the crowd that's following him: "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?

Wait a second!

That's the wisdom Jesus is giving us!?!

We are supposed to hate our families!?!

What about the Ten Commandments!?

Honor thy Mother and thy Father!

What about that, Jesus?

Is that out the window now?

Well, it turns out that this is not exactly as it seems. Jesus, remember, is on his way to Jerusalem. He will die on the cross there. Not everyone in this crowd is with him...is his follower.

Many in the crowd are simply hangers-on. They are simply curious. Jesus is trying to tell them what's going to be necessary to move from being simply part of the crowd to being a true disciple. How do they go from being stuck in their day-to-day lives to actually "following him" and all that entails.

Kinship ties were tremendously significant in the time and culture in which Jesus lived. So, when Jesus uses the word "hate" here, he does not mean it like we use it in terms of an emotional or emotive quality--say like the opposite of love. He means "you need to reprioritize your allegiance" from your kin to me.

Of course they should continue to love their fathers, love their mothers, love their wives, love their children, love their brothers, and love their sisters.

But, commitment to discipleship, Jesus says, means redirecting loyalties as well.[ii] It means love of neighbor is also important. It means being a servant--even unto death--might be the path of the disciple. And that's hard to hear if you are so comfortable in the love of a family that you don't venture beyond those bonds to help others. 

Jesus goes on in this reading to explain his calling to discipleship with a couple of quick stories or metaphors. In the first he talks about a tower builder estimating the costs before building a tower. Similarly, he discusses a king counting costs of battle before waging war.

And after these somewhat cryptic anecdotes Jesus ends it with this message: "So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

"ALL your possessions!" Oh, boy!

I am someone who likes to pack heavy when I go on a trip. I know there are lots of folks who pride themselves on how few things they can pack into the tiniest of suitcases for their month-long excursion. But I'm not that guy. I just don't pack well. For one thing, I always argue, my clothes are larger than the average human's. So they just take up more space. But, I also just don't plan too well. So, once the airlines started charging baggage fees, I was hit pretty hard when I traveled.

With this in mind, several years ago, I went with a group of folks on a mission trip to Cuba. We spent a few of weeks in a small village in the center of the island. There were so many wonderful things about this trip. But part of the plan was that we would each pack two suitcases apiece as full as we could get them with clothes and medical supplies. Foe me, this took real effort, because I really had to plan and pack efficiently to get as many clothes as I could in the bags. Then, at the end of the three weeks, we traveled home with only the clothes on our backs. The plan worked great, and the people of that village had many more clothes and supplies as a result of our meager effort. 

There is no part of this story that's meant to say that I "got rid of my possessions" like Jesus told the disciples to do. Because, clearly, I came home to my house, my wife and daughter, more clothes, my car, my job, and more material goods than the average Cuban person in that village would ever see in a lifetime.

But in the experience of shedding those clothes and leaving that baggage, I saw that needs were being met. I could see that hope was being fulfilled. I could see that bridges were being constructed in lives that needed a little light.

The question I think Jesus is asking us is this: "what baggage do we need to leave behind so that we can more easily follow him?"

In the midst of this polarized society. In the cacophony of noise that's shouting at us all day long, what baggage do we need to open up and deliver the contents to Christ?

Is it the baggage of our pride? Is it our luggage of our shame? Is it the great duffel bag of self-criticism and hopelessness?

What's holding us back from walking with Christ into the world and being the reconciling love of God to others, rather than part of the polarization?

That's what Jesus asks of us.

 May God bless us as we commit to drop our baggage and be the Body of Christ together. Amen.

[i] Quoted in Jessica Ganga, "James Campbell: Just how polarized are our politics?," interview with author and review of Campbell's new book: Polarized: Making Sense of A Divided America (Princeton University Press, 2016), available at http://blog.press.princeton.edu/2016/07/20/james-campbell-just-how-polarized-are-our-politics/

 

[ii] This argument about verses 26 and 27 comes from Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 565.

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