The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of my favorite books is Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. You may have heard of it. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it to you. It is a laugh out loud, hysterical, heartwarming, informative, and greatly entertaining book. It tells the real-life adventure of Bill Bryson, author and travel writer, and his friend Katz, two middle aged and out of shape men who set out to walk all 2000 plus miles of the Appalachian trail. Leaving behind the comforts and conveniences of suburban America, they venture out into the woods to walk this iconic trail. The book is the story of their struggles with everything from overloaded backpacks, oversized mountains, over-expanded waistlines, bears, harsh weather, poor food, and a trail that seems to never end. But it’s also a story of discovery. Discovery of new relationships, new self-insights, new skills, and the never-ending wonder and beauty of nature. It’s a great book. As I read our gospel for this morning and the way Jesus calls those who would follow him to walk a different path, I couldn’t help but think about Bryson and Katz struggling along the Appalachian trail.
They had to make a lot of sacrifices to hike that trail. And Jesus lets it be known this morning that the path of discipleship requires sacrifices as well. In our lesson from Luke, Jesus encounters three people who in order to follow him must walk away from their family, their home and their desire to cling to the past. If they follow Jesus, they also discover new relationships and new self-insights and deep meaning, but it all comes at a cost. Jesus seems to be saying that if we hike his trail with him, then we must leave the life we knew for the life of faith.
First man in our lesson for today, stepped up to the front of the crowd and pledged himself to Jesus. “Lord,” he said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus saw something in this man that caused him to respond in a perhaps unusual way. We don’t know what he saw. We only know that, in effect, he tells the man following me is not easy. Being a disciple has its costs. It is not a way of comfort. It is not a way of ease. It cannot be jumped into lightly. Foxes may have holes and birds may have nests. But if one of my disciples, there is no place of real security on this earth. Go home, he seems to tell the man. You pledged yourself to me rashly. You don’t understand what would be expected of you and you are not ready.
The second man, along the journey didn’t approach Jesus, Jesus approached him. He called to the man saying, “follow me.” But the man replied, “First let me go and bury my father.” “Let the dead bury the dead.” Jesus responded, “Go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Now we should understand that this man’s request was not simply to stop for a day or two, to have a funeral for his father. No, it was another way of saying my father would not approve of me traveling with this strange rabbi. Let me wait until the day in the future when my father has died, then I will follow you. Then I will not upset my family. For the second man, the cost of discipleship was just too high, if it meant he might have to disappoint someone he loved.
The third man along the road said to Jesus, “I will follow you Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus responded, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Discipleship, Jesus tells this man, is about forward looking and forward thinking. Being a disciple means moving ahead towards the future, working to bring God’s kingdom into the present. It is not about hesitation or wishing for the good old days or lamenting about the past. If you’re going to be my disciples, he seems to say, then you will be expected to love care for and serve the children of God now, today, without hesitation.
As she became famous, Mother Teresa discovered that dozens of people were so inspired by her story, by her work, that they flock to India to take part in her ministry. She was amazed that so many people were willing to leave their comfortable lifestyles in the west to help the poor and the dying in Calcutta. At first, the interest of these good people was very helpful, but as their numbers grew, the needs of these pilgrims took up more and more of Mother Teresa’s precious resources and time. At one point she wrote, “Stay where you are and find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are, in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools, you can find Calcutta all over the world if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society, completely forgotten and completely alone.”
And the three would-be disciples in our gospel for this morning had to literally leave behind family and friends to follow Jesus. Like Bryson and Katz, they had to be willing to venture out on a strange and unknown trail. But for most of us who sit here this morning, what Jesus wants from us is not a change of location, but a change of heart. Very few of us are really called to leave home and family to follow Jesus. Rather, as Mother Theresa suggests, we just need to bloom where we are planted. We have to adjust what we value the most. We must amend the priorities, our priorities from the enticements of the world, to the demands of the kingdom. We must live in the ways of the spirit. As St. Paul says so beautifully this morning, building our lives around the values of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Sometime ago, I heard a wonderful story about blooming where you’re planted. It’s a story about a group of monks who in the 19th century founded Belmont Abbey College in Gaston, North Carolina. You might have heard of it. The story goes that the monks were walking along the road one day near their new abbey, when they came upon a crossroad where there was a large and flat granite rock. The monks were intrigued by this unusual stone because it seemed out of place. As they talked to the people in town, they were told that the rock was the site of slave auctions before the Civil War. Men, women and children would stand on that rock and be sold as human property. Stunned and saddened to learn this fact, the monks decided to have the rock moved to their monastery. There, they dug out a crater in the center of the stone and turned the slab into their baptismal font. On the font it reads, “Upon this rock people once were sold into slavery. Now upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, people become free Children of God.”
The author Joanna Adams once wrote, “To be free really means to be liberated from the prison of me, myself and I. To be truly free is to be able to move beyond the self. And as one who is wise has put it, to move into the risk of love, to give oneself to the demand for service. To be free is to be free for responsibility, not from responsibility.”
Friends, on Friday the Cathedral made a public statement regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling this week. So I won’t dwell on it here. I’ll let it speak for itself. But I believe we have a responsibility to stand by and support those who have lost some of their freedoms because of the Court’s most recent ruling. And to stand up for all those who fear that this ruling will bring about the loss of other freedoms. Regardless of whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, there are women who are going to suffer because of this decision and they need our help and our love and our support. Moreover, there others who have worked long and hard to attain the same rights that many of us have enjoyed for centuries, like the right to marry. And in the name of love, they deserve our help and our resolve to protect their freedoms. Even as we protect our own.
In closing, there may be those who are called to leave behind home and family in order to follow Christ, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Wherever we are following Jesus means having an open heart rather than a closed one. It means sensing God’s love and giving love in return. It means doing good because we want to not because we have to. It means avoiding evil, not because it is against the rules, but because we know it is not what God wants for us. In the end, being a disciple of Jesus means that we are committed to transform life where we need it. To follow Christ right where we are planted. To indeed find our own Calcutta. Amen.