Saturday 3 September 2022

You Are Here to Kneel - The Cost of Being a Disciple

 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Luke 14.25-30

First reading of this passage is a bit of a shocker – if you want to follow Jesus, you have to hate your family. And the thought crosses my mind - if many people that become Christians do so in their teens - maybe that's because a teenager finds it so easy to stomp around shouting "I hate you!"

But given Paul's instructions on families looking after each other, and Jesus's telling John to look after Mary at the cross, I don't think that Jesus means it this way. It's strong - but it's hyperbole. But it's important and challenging - do we love Jesus so much that if it meant our family rejecting us.... well, what would you do? Or is our Christian faith so un-radical that anyone can accept it?

It's a strong challenge. But you've got to remember the context for those early disciples of Jesus. What does the future hold for them? Undescribable joys as they are with Jesus, as they see the Resurrection and experience Pentecost - and yet the grief of the Cross, and a future of persecution, and often martyrdom. 

Jesus refers to a foundation being built - in the knowledge that the rest of the building will follow because you've planned properly. And that takes me to: what is the foundation of what we are doing? Why are we Christians? Why do we gather to worship?

If you came to Little Gidding church, taking the way you would be likely to take - up or down the A1 and then down the winding roads - you would see the words on the wall, quoting TS Eliot's poem:

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report.
You are here to kneel.
The church at Little Gidding - interior - dark wood looking towards the altar. Quotes from Eliot on the walls

Maybe a bit ironic when so few kneel in church these days. But take it as metaphorical - or maybe take it as literal - We are not churchgoers to be connoiseurs of worship music. To be tasters of liturgy. To enjoy the stained glass. We should not come as consumers, to ask what God or the vicar or the music group can do for us. We come to bow before the almighty God. To draw close to our eternal Teacher and hear his word as his disciples. And we are sent out like his apostles. We are here, in whatever sense, to kneel.

These words are not the light-touch call of a consumerist world, calculating whether we get the worship experience we feel we are entitled to.

This is a call to a way of life that we can describe in Eliot's words as "costing not less than everything". Because that is what it costs to follow Jesus. Not less than everything. Whether you lose your life - or just your convenience. In the words of the Methodist Covenant Service: 

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

That is what Jesus calls us to. A way of life that costs not less than everything.

 When you read "Little Gidding" and visit the place you can think of how quiet and peaceful the place is - how spiritual the poem - till you remember that it was written in 1941 and 1942. Like the Lord of the Rings, and the first drafts of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it was written under the shadow of a war against evil, in the knowledge that at any moment the dropping of a bomb could cost anyone not less than everything. Those Pentecostal fires of Little Gidding are the Holy Spirit - and yet contrasted with the Luftwaffe.

And for us - we meet in holy, sacred, set-apart places. We gather to worship the Name of the eternal God. But we are sent into the world, where the forces that hate the good are also to be found - they are also to be found inside the holy spaces, of course - and we are to face them. To follow Jesus means to give up your rights to a quiet life - to forgo your right to an untroubled passage. To look for a narrow path. To pick up a cross and follow knowing that he went before you carrying his cross.

But all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. When we have walked the path that he has marked out, following him and his cross, to the place where we find that the fire and rose are one. And we bow down and worship the Lamb, and know that everything we have given up, everything we have suffered, everything we had to consider loss, was worth it to gain Him, the one who calls us, who leads us, who walks beside, who died for us, and who lives for us.

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