31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
April 22, 2018
Luke 6:18-19, 22-23
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
What if you could get a whole new wardrobe but you had to wear these clothes for a month first? Would you do it?
What if you could have free maid service for a year but at the end, you had to provide free maid service? Would you be in?
What if you could belong to a community that inspired you, loved you, and told you in no uncertain terms that the Creator of the Universe loved you unconditionally, but to be a part of this community, you risked ridicule, imprisonment, persecution, and even death? Would you still have come to worship this morning?
The theologian and writer G.K. Chesterton, once said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
The way of Jesus Christ is difficult. There are costs to this life, to this choice, to this decision to follow Jesus.
When the Apostle Paul was first called by God, first converted to the way of Jesus Christ, he was told up front how hard it would be. The Lord said, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16)
Paul knew the costs of this Way, and still, Paul chose to follow. Paul knew this Way would be filled with trials and tribulations, and still he accepted this calling. ‘The cross before him, the world behind him, no turning back, no turning back.’ (I Have Decided to Follow Jesus)
It’s admirable – Paul’s commitment to the way of Jesus Christ, his complete and total faithfulness, even though he would be persecuted, imprisoned, and sentenced to death for his faithfulness.
And I wonder….Did Paul understand when he said yes to God, yes to the Risen Christ on that road to Damascus, what suffering would mean? That he would be chased out of city after city by hostile crowds trying to kill him? That when he freed a young woman from the spirit that plagued her, doing the miraculous out of Christian love, that he would end up in prison? That Christian communities he helped birth might turn on him, as they were torn apart by “rival” preachers and their own human sinfulness.
Did Paul understand how much he would suffer?
Sometimes, we can be forewarned and still not fully comprehend.
We, too, have been told up front that there are costs to this Way, risks to being a Christian. At our baptisms, when we are confirmed, when we join a church, we are told that suffering will come with this decision to follow Jesus. That we will need to make sacrifices, because the Way of Jesus is love, and love always includes sacrifice.
From the beginning, we are not promised a life of blessing, sunshine and roses. We are offered a life of service. We are invited to take off our bibs and put on our aprons, ministering to the least of these, giving of our time, money, and ability; giving of our whole selves, out of love of God and love of neighbor.
The way of Jesus Christ is difficult. There are costs to this life, to this choice, to this decision to follow Jesus. And we know it from the beginning.
Or do we?
William Sloane Coffin, the famous preacher who was the chaplain at Yale and Senior Minister at Riverside Church in New York City, expanded on G.K. Chesterton’s words, preaching (in 1979), “It’s simply not true that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; It’s been tried and found difficult. So it’s been diluted. As they say, the weekly miracle of the churches is that they turn wine into water. (The Parable of the Last Judgment, Mark 18, 1979)
Do we warn baptism parents that this Way of Jesus, this Way of love will be difficult? Do we tell our Confirmands the honest truth that following Jesus will come with costs? In our prospective new member gatherings, do we discuss the responsibilities of Christian discipleship, commitments of service and money, commitments of sacrificial love?
Or do we water it down? Do we dilute the wine into water? Do we think they won’t really believe us? Maybe. Do we think they won’t “try” it? Won’t believe, won’t follow, won’t join? Likely. Or do we not want to admit, even to ourselves, that this way of Jesus Christ will be hard?
The costs of discipleship scare us. The costs of discipleship scare me. At sixteen years old, would I have pledged my life to Jesus if I had understood what this journey really looked like? That I would be asked to give ten percent of my income, that I would be asked to sleep on a cot at Silver Lake for church camp or in the chapel for Family Promise, that I would be asked to trust God even in the darkness moments of my life, and this is the hardest of all, that I would be required to be bound by the love of Christ and constrain my hurt, anger, or frustration in those moments when I most wanted to vent my spleen?
There are costs to following Jesus, costs to being his disciple. We cannot do whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want. We are called to a way of love, and love is challenging. It is difficult to love someone who is broken and only knows how to break everything and everyone in their path. It is difficult to love when people are ungrateful, entitled, and sometimes downright hostile and mean. It is difficult to love when we do not see the results of our love, when we cannot control how our money or time will be used.
We are called to a way of love, and love is challenging. So it is not all that surprising that we might lift up the joys of the Christian life and downplay the costs -for ourselves and for others.
Instead of ignoring, downplaying or diluting the costs, we need to remember that the costs and the joys of discipleship go together. Yes, Paul was beaten and thrown in jail for freeing the woman of her spirit; however he also had the joy of knowing she was now free to make her own choices in life. Yes, Paul and Silas ended up in jail; however their imprisonment lead to the miracle of the jailer and his entire family being baptized and being freed to know Jesus Christ and his love.
The costs and the joys of discipleship go together. Without the costs of sharing our financial gifts, we would not have the joy of knowing that individuals and families have a safe home through our ministerial partners at Prudence Crandall and Family Promise. Without the costs of our time, we would not know the joy of feeding the homeless at the St. Vincent DePaul homeless shelter and the hungry through our First Fruits garden. Without the costs of sharing our gifts of music, games, and crafts, we would not have a Children’s Ministry, nurturing the next generation.
And without the costs, the trials and tribulations, our faith would become like a butterfly that has been cut out of its cocoon instead of being left to struggle, to grow, to form wings that will help us soar.
Without the costs of discipleship, without the hardships, without the suffering that comes with sacrificial love and the way of Jesus Christ, we would not grow in faith; we would not discover what we are capable of; we would not know the blessings and joys of making a difference in others’ lives and in the world.
Would you still have come to worship this morning if you risked imprisonment? Would you still say why you love the God even if you might be made fun of, dismissed, or seen as pushy? Would you still share your gifts of money and time even if you felt no personal gain? Though none go with you, would you still follow?
Jesus does not promise us a life of blessing; Jesus offers us a life of service. Are you willing to put on your apron, roll up your sleeves, give ten percent, and embrace the costs – all to share his unconditional love? No turning back? No turning back.