Following Jesus…best job in the world? A sermon for evensong, Lent 2 at St John’s Church Adel.
Numbers 21: 4 – 9; Luke 14: 27 – 33
The other day I saw an advert for the teaching profession. Called ‘every lesson shapes a life’ it showed teachers making a difference to children’s lives. It showed children who were struggling suddenly see the light…angry children calming down and achieving.
It showed the best bits of teaching. It didn’t show the ridiculous hours, the mounds of marking, unreasonable parents, a class of 6 year olds when a wasp gets into the classroom…
…of course it didn’t. It was hoping to persuade people it’s the best job in the world…and it is, most of the time. Well – perhaps the second best!
Similarly when you were advertising for a new Rector – you mentioned the welcoming congregation, the wonderful lay support, the beautiful building. You didn’t mention…of course there are no drawbacks to being Rector of Adel…but you get the point. When we want to attract people – we accentuate the positive!
Jesus however, goes about his advertising in a rather different way. He seems to be making sure people know about the worst bits of following him…carrying your cross…giving up all your possessions.
The only other time I’ve heard that sort of invitation is in Winston Churchill’s famous speech of May 13th 1940 as he formed a coalition war government. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat”, he said – as he invited the House of Commons to support him.
I suppose he was saying – this is a serious thing we’re about – so serious that you need to know from the start just what the cost might be. And that’s perhaps what Jesus is saying too. Following him matters…it matters so much that he doesn’t want people giving up the minute it gets tough.
You wouldn’t start building a tower without making sure you could finish it he says. You wouldn’t go to war without being sure of the outcome. I’m not sure humans have always followed that advice – but we get the gist…when something is really important, we try to make sure we can follow it through, even when things get difficult.
So Jesus seems to be saying – be ready for things to get difficult – because what I’m offering is important – not something you should give up at the first hurdle.
Churchill was offering blood, sweat, toil and tears because the alternative appeared to be the destruction of civilisation, the end of freedom. Jesus asks us to take up our cross and follow him, because the alternative is separation from God.
But it’s still quite a challenge – “no one can be my disciple unless they give up all their possessions”…that rules me out – you too I suspect! Well, as so often, I think Jesus exaggerates for effect. And not just because I can’t give up my possessions…
…the verse before this reading says “who ever doesn’t hate father, mother, wife, brother, children, life itself, can’t be my disciple”. We know Jesus doesn’t really want us to hate our families and our lives – that contradicts almost everything else he said.
He exaggerates for effect – to the crowds flocking to see a miracle. Don’t suppose you can be my disciples just by following me around in the good times, I think he’s saying. Following me needs to be the most important thing in your life – more important even than family, possessions, your life. You need to loosen your hold on these a little if you truly want to be ready to follow me.
A challenge! But the good news for us is that although following Jesus can indeed be a hard road, the rewards are worth it. The Jesus we meet in the gospels doesn’t spend most of his time warning what will happen if we don’t follow him, as Churchill had to do in 1940 instead, like those teaching adverts, he tries to show what we will find if we do.
Jesus feeds and heals and breaks down barriers. He promises bread that gives life, and water that satisfies our thirsts. He shows us that God is love and loves each of us.
Jesus shows us how to be truly human – and gives us a glimpse of what life will be like if we start to live our lives that way.
Today we hear his challenge – but unlike Churchill ‘only offering blood, sweat, toil and tears’, we can also remember his promise of life in all its fullness – not just one day – but now.