This Sunday’s Gospel is a tough one. Like many ministers, my first temptation is to say, “Well, Jesus didn’t really mean what he said.” However, I have to remember I’m “NOT” ordained to rewrite the Gospel, my role as a minister of the Gospel is to proclaim it and let it say what it intends to say. Here are the hard words we hear from Christ this Sunday:
“Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
These words trouble me. They echo in my mind over and over again causing me great spiritual unrest. They’re like a piece of sand or a small piece of wood finding its way into the sole of your shoe. You can’t remove it and with every step you feel it rub against your foot.
Instead of “explaining away” these hard words, perhaps we’re better served letting them convict us of the radical nature of Gospel living. Perhaps we need to let these words unsettle us so we can truly understand the radical call of discipleship Christ asks of those who follow him. Living the Gospel requires the following way of life:
- The Gospel life is one of radical love and there’s no room in our hearts for any God other than the one true God. Relationships, possessions, security, and a myriad of other worldly things cannot be enthroned in our hearts along with God. What we enthrone in our hearts shapes us and therefore it can be nothing other than Christ dwelling within us. We must have a radical love for God above all other things
- The Gospel life is one of complete trust in the promises of God. While we might think we’re giving up tremendously valuable things to follow Christ, the truth is his promises are greater and more valuable than anything we cling to. The Gospel life requires radical hope in what God has promised and what he promises is a life like no other. He promises an eternal life in the company of the God of love, grace, mercy, and peace.
- The Gospel life asks us to exercise radical faith. We’re required to see the transcendent life in the midst of the world. We walk toward that which others can’t see, we embrace truths that go beyond logic and reason, and we see in the simple things; in bread, wine, oil, water, fire, and a myriad of other natural elements the one who is holy, beautiful, and true. We exercise radical faith which fosters profound belief.
This is a life that takes courage and a commitment to pour yourself out for the life of others. You have to empty yourself of “you” and fill yourself with Christ. And if that’s not challenging enough, you have to know you cannot live this Gospel life by your own efforts. You must surrender yourself to the grace of God and let him tear you down. That my friends can be a painful and difficult process.
Jeramiah the prophet gives us a wonderful metaphor explaining how the Lord does his work on us when he describes the Lord as a potter. He writes, “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
From this passage we understand God takes us in our unformed natural condition and uses his strong hands to pound us into shape. He pushes on us, kneads us like bread dough, and gently reforms us to be more like Christ. His strength bends us but his gentle fingers also refine us and when he’s done we’re remade in his image and likeness.
My friends, let the words of the Gospel trouble you. Recognize the radical nature of love, hope, and faith demanded of you as a follower of Christ. Then, with all abandon, embrace this new life releasing yourself of the old allowing God to transform you into an instrument of his grace, mercy, love, and peace.