The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 15th chapter.
25 Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
Jesus had become famous. He was traveling around Galilee and the regions in the northern part of Israel, preaching and teaching and healing. The first verse of our appointed gospel lesson for today says, “Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus.”
Then Jesus turned to the crowds and basically said, “Hey. I need to clue you in about what it means to be my disciple. It isn’t going to be easy. Don’t follow me unless you are ready.”
He reminded them that they would have to leave their homes, professions, and families, and carry the cross. He told them parables about a contractor and a king and said, “Think it through. Make sure you have the resources you need to finish your project.” Jesus was saying, “Count the cost before you commit to following me.”
Today most of us are not called to leave family and home and profession behind to follow Jesus, although some are, but there is one thing required of all of us, and that is to carry the cross.
When we think of carrying the cross, we tend to think it will be something very dramatic and difficult. We imagine that carrying the cross for Jesus must involve a huge sacrifice or spiritual battle. Maybe it’s terrible sickness or indeed the loss of family and possessions. And it could be, if those things serve the Kingdom of God.
But in general, the meaning is really much simpler. It’s closer to home, to our real lives. Here it is: Carrying a cross is what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ.
I’m going to say it again. Carrying a cross is what we voluntarily do as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ. It’s when we do God’s work with our hands. What does that mean?
Well, God doesn’t hand us a contract and say, “Donate this percentage of your income and every Tuesday and Thursday volunteer for this charity, and be in church 48 out of 52 Sundays.” As your pastor, I’d like to give you such a contract, but God does not.
Rather God says, “O.K. We’re in a relationship, you and me. We love one another. And you’ve made a commitment to follow. You know what I’m like. You know where my heart is, because Jesus came and told you and showed you. So how is your life going to look like Jesus’s?” And then we decide.
One way to think about it is to say that carrying the cross means living a cross-shaped life. It is really simple but also challenging. It’s a moving target because it’s different for each person and it keeps changing as our lives and resources change.
But for everyone, living a cross-shaped life means Monday through Saturday, as well as Sunday.
Today we’re going to use the hands that God gave us, as well as the resources of faith, strength, creativity, money, community, love, and inclusion that God has showered upon the two communities of Thanksgiving Lutheran and Knox Presbyterian, and we’re going to share them with our neighbors.
It starts with free hot dogs, home-made cookies, lively music, and really great bingo prizes, but my friends, that is the first step in our plan. Our vision, which is cross-shaped and Christ-centered, is to have a relationship with people in this neighborhood. We’ve thought it through in two community forums and in an excellent committee, just like Jesus said we should, and this afternoon we get started.
Sisters and brothers and siblings, we are gathered here this morning, with these particular plans to carry out because we are committed to Jesus Christ. This morning and this afternoon we are, in a very particular and lively and meaningful way, going to live a cross-shaped life. May God bless the work of our hands. May those who come among us today be blessed. Amen.