4 September 2022 – Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
This sounds like another one of those “Things I wish Jesus hadn’t said” Gospels that Mary preached on a few weeks ago. It’s similar in many ways to the one she preached on. That day Jesus was commenting on how families were going to be divided—father against son, mother against daughter—when he brings fire to the earth and how he wished that it were already here (Luke 12:49-56). Today, he goes even farther and tells us we have to hate our closest relations and even life itself in order to be his disciple. (Luke 14:25-33).
Pretty harsh. But hang on.
Doesn’t Jesus also say in John’s Gospel, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10)? Same Jesus, right? Which is it? Hate life or have it abundantly? Can you both hate life, and have it abundantly? What would that mean? Hmm…not sure, but it probably involves “taking up a cross,” somewhere along the way, doesn’t it?
He also says in John, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). He says similar things in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So there’s clearly something here…a paradox…about hating life, and having it abundantly…loving life and losing it…renouncing it and gaining it.
If Jesus wants us to have life and have it in abundance…but also says that we must “hate life.” We need to ask: what does he mean by being alive?
It certainly doesn’t mean being surrounded by and attached to a lot of possessions. He’s pretty clear about that too…”none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Does he just mean stuff? No, it’s more than that. What are my possessions? What am I most attached to that keeps me from being fully alive?
Well, it’s true that most of us have a lot of stuff…we acquire a lot of things over a lifetime…some of them are treasured objects, and others…just things that no longer “spark joy”. Maybe they’re useful, or decorative; but ultimately I would give all of them up…I will give all of them up when I’m facing the end of my life, because, as the saying goes, “you can’t take it with you.”
What else am I attached to? My roles, my relationships…those are much harder to give up. Letting go of the people and relationships in my life that have formed and supported me…that’s really hard…and painful…but also something we will all do at the end of our lives.
And what about those idols I talked about last week…my thoughts and beliefs, and convictions…my stories, my ego, my very sense of being a separate self? How hard is that to let go of?
Over the years, my own spiritual practice and growth using meditation, scripture study, and working with spiritual directors have raised some deep questions. This is going to get a little esoteric, but hang in there…
In order for “me” to possess anything there has to be a “me” to begin with, but who or what is that “me”? If I’m sensing my body, who or what is doing the sensing? Is my body “me” or something “I” possess? Does the air I breathe become “me” or do I simply possess it while it is in my lungs? When does the air I breathe or the food I eat become “me”?
When I become aware of a thought…aware that “I’m” thinking…who or what is having that awareness? Am I my thoughts? Or are my thoughts a possession? Or do they just simply exist somewhere? What about my feelings? My memories? Am I the sum of my ideas, my biases, my opinions? Or are they also possessions that “I” hold onto?
Am I “me” because of my relationship…father, son, brother, husband, friend, priest? Or are these roles—these relationships—also more like possessions, something that “I” am attached to?
Where do “I” begin and end?
And what my years of practice have shown me, and what I’m confident Jesus is getting at here, is that “my” beginning and “my” end is always in that primal, primary, all-consuming relationship with the source of all life. Being fully alive means seeing, feeling, knowing, and living fully into this primary relationship with the Divine that I’ve been describing for the past two weeks. And that we are reminded of again in today’s Psalm.
“You (God) created me in my inmost parts, knit me together in my mother’s womb…You search me out and know me…not as I know myself through the veils of my ego…but as you have marvelously made me…and no matter how far I try to run from that, you are always there.” (Psalm 139).
That is our beginning and our end. And our “possessions” are…well…anything that gets in the way of that. It’s not just all the stuff…it’s all of the veils that prevent us from seeing…all of the ego armor that prevents us from sensing…all of the certainties and explanations that keep us from imagining another way of being…all of the idols of power and knowledge and authority and “rightness” that we cling to.
Buddhists refer to all of this clinging attachment to everything as tanha or craving…which they say leads to suffering…which in Buddhist cosmology leads to the endless cycle of samsara—suffering and the sources of suffering. Christians have historically referred to this clinging in terms of several of the deadly sins: avarice (or greed), lust, gluttony, envy, which also leads to endless cycles of suffering.
The remedy Jesus proposes…the one he shows us how to do with his life…is taking up the cross. Which is brilliant when you think of it because in order to take up a cross we have to put ALL of the other stuff down. If you want to count the cost of this renunciation, says Jesus, go ahead…but the math is pretty simple…it will cost everything…but then again…remember…everything is already and eternally God, so what exactly are you losing? Only the the stuff…the idols…the shadows and veils of your ego.
Hating life, and having it abundantly…taking up a cross to gain your life are paradoxes…but then, one author asks, “when are you most fully alive? Probably when you are taking up your cross, that is, putting your life toward something larger, more meaningful than your own comfort.” [Guthrie].
Yes, it’s a tough Gospel, but I don’t wish he hadn’t said it. Because it forces us to look past the veils of our own fears and concerns, and to open ourselves to the reality that God is still molding us and our future, and we can either hold on to our illusions and stand in the way, or let go and become part of God’s dream. And I know which way I’d rather go…don’t you? Amen.