Thursday, September 2, 2010

Counting the Cost – The Consequence of Faith - Preliminary Thoughts on Luke 14:25-33 and Philemon

You can read the Gospel text for Ordinary 23C - St. Luke 14:25-33 HERE!
You can read the Epistle text for Ordinary 23C - Philemon HERE!  

Counting the Cost – The Consequence of Faith
There are consequences for every action we take.  And as we grow into adulthood, one of the important lessons we need to learn is to assess and accept the consequences for our actions and decisions.  Those who, as children, never learn to accept these consequences often have a tough time as adults. 
In the Gospel for this morning (Luke 14:25-33), Jesus is talking about consequences.  There are consequences for following Jesus; there are consequences for faith.  Have we taken stock of what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus?  Have we “counted the cost” of discipleship before embarking on the journey of faith? 

In John Bunyan’s wonderful allegorical novel “A Pilgrim’s Progress” the Christian encounters Mr. By-Ends who comes from the town of Fair-Speech and who desires to travel to the Celestial City with Christian.  Christian however responds to the request with these words:
“If you will go with us, you must go against wind and tide; the which, I perceive, is against your opinion: you must also own Religion in his rags, as well as when in his silver slippers; and stand by him, too, when bound in irons, as well as when he walketh the streets with applause. 
“By-Ends protests: You must not impose or lord it over my faith; leave me to my liberty and let me go with you. 
“Christian: Not a step further, unless you will do as I do in what I propound. 
“By-Ends: I will never desert my old principals, since they are harmless and profitable.”[1] 

Like Mr. By-Ends, I think we do not completely count the cost of what it means to follow Jesus.  We want the benefits but are not too keen on the sacrifice; we are thankful that Jesus died on the cross for us, but we are not so anxious to pick up the cross and follow Jesus.  When Jesus says “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” he means it.  If we are bound to the things we own, and to acquiring more and more – then we are not free to follow Jesus.  And if we choose to follow Jesus, this means that we must give up our dependence on things; and that we need to begin to see others in a different way as well.

The Epistle lesson this morning – the letter of Paul to Philemon – is a wonderful example of the surprising challenge, opportunity and paradox which the call to follow Christ creates.  Philemon is a very wealthy resident of Colossae.  He was wealthy enough to own property and have a large household, which included slaves.  Like every other patrician living under Roman law and administration, Philemon had absolute power over the life and death of his slaves and was expected to deal with them strictly.  So, when a young slave named Onesimus steals from the household and runs away Philemon would have been expected to deal harshly with this boy when he was finally caught (and he would be caught – there were no safe havens, or underground railroads for slaves in the Roman Empire). To put it mildly – Onesimus was in trouble!
But, Philemon had become a Christian, and being a Christian means that Philemon is called to a different response.  This different response will be very hard for him.  It will subject him to scrutiny by his peers and possibly by the authorities.  Paul doesn’t leave him much wiggle room.  There is a consequence for faith and it means, in this case, that the social conventions of rank and authority are no longer valid for Philemon.  As Paul says in Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for we are all one in Christ Jesus…” (Galatians 3:28)
What would you do if you were Philemon?  What kinds of social conventions are challenged by our discipleship?  What are the consequences of faith for our lives?  Who needs us to reach out to them in mercy and justice? 

[1]  John Bunyan, “A Pilgrim’s Progress” published 1678 – p. 82

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