Church Membership vs. Carrying the Cross

Luke 14:25-33

“…So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Read the whole passage)

I remember when I was little and our family visited my grandparents. My grandparents living-room was always in perfect, pristine condition. Everything look new and unused, despite being dated with styles from decades before. Whenever we were in the living room, we had to be exceptionally careful not disrupt anything. No throw pillows could be moved, no dirt could be tracked, no signs of anyone actually being in the living room were allowed. Even as young child, I didn’t understand what the fuss was about – why was it called a living room, if there was no living allowed in it.

Now, as an adult, I understand only a slight bit more the desire to keep one’s possessions in good condition. And I also understand that nice things and children don’t really mix.

Yet, Jesus’s conditions on discipleship today, certainly poke at our materialism. We like our stuff, and Jesus knows it.

For a few weeks now, Jesus has been giving us the gears. Last week Jesus reminded us that we like to sit in the places of honour and send others down the table. Jesus continues the theme of pointing our faults, with his words on discipleship and possessions.

Today’s Gospel lesson has an unusual setting. Normally we pick up with Jesus in the gospels after he has traveled to a new place. But today, Jesus is still on the road. He is somewhere between destinations, with a crowd of people following him. You can almost picture it… Jesus and the disciples, on to their next village or town to preach in. And a large crowd following a short distance behind. From Jesus’s words to the crowds, we can guess that they were complaining. Kind of like the Israelites following Moses through the desert, the crowd is complaining about the journey. “Where are we going?” “When we will get there?” “What can we expect?” “What will we get out of it?” It sounds like the crowds are wondering whether following Jesus was a good idea, they are looking for something out of the deal. They want the benefits of being followers, but so far all they have found is a walk through the desert.

And so after hearing enough complaining, Jesus stops, turns and lays into the whiny followers behind him,

“Look, I didn’t say this would be easy. In fact, I told you that you would have to give up everything. Your homes, your families, your jobs, everything about your lives. If you are going to follow me, that means carrying MY cross.

You say you want to know what the plan is?!?! Yet, how many builders sit down and plan a whole project before beginning to build a tower? None.

You say you want assurances that we are going somewhere worth going to? Yet, how many Kings sit down with an enemy army across the field and say, “Well, looks like we won’t win. Let’s send out the white flag.” None.

If you want to be my followers, you are going to have to give up all the things tying you to your life before now.”

Jesus lays it out plainly for the crowds. They cannot hold on to their lives before and follow Jesus. Jesus knows that no builder can plan a whole project before its started. Think of all those contractors on HGTV who say things like, “Well, you don’t know how much the reno will cost before you open up the walls.” And yet the walls come down in search of show home living rooms and chef’s kitchens and dream master bedrooms. Jesus is calling out those who are grasping for the next new and shiny thing.

Think of all the wars being fought around the world for the sake of money and power. For the soldiers and civilians dying at the hands of kings and rulers who are trying to get or hold on to power. Jesus is calling out those who are clutching with all their might, and at any cost, on to power and control.

And now think of the church, and how we are like those crowds, looking for the things, the possessions that we can hold onto as well. Things like membership, with benefits like a reserved pew, or a key to the building, or eternal salvation.

But here is the thing about possessions. About the stuff we hold on to. The more we try to hold on, the more the stuff holds on to us. The more people want the next new and shiny thing, the more they become slaves to keeping up with the jones, to standing in line for that new iPhone coming out next week, or getting that new car, or having that kitchen renovated again. The more people try to hold on to power, to be in control, to call the shots,the more they must descend into darkness in order to keep power.

And here in the church, the more we see membership, faith and even God as something we have have, that we can own, that we can hold on to… the more it demands. The more weeks we have to keep making appearances to be in good standing. The more time we have to devote to keeping everything going, the traditions and duties and tasks. The more money we have to shovel into a hole that never seems to fill up. When membership and faith and God become possessions, they soon begin to own us, trapping us in a never ending cycle of keep it all afloat.

Jesus says, if you want to be a disciple, you need to give up your possession, give up all the things you are holding on to, because they will ultimately hold on to you and drag you under.

Jesus says, the thing you need to hold on to is the cross. Not your own cross, but his cross.

THE. CROSS.

And again, here is the thing about the cross.

We know that story. We know that Jesus carried the cross to Golgatha. We know that he hauled it up that mountain on Good Friday. But we also know that he stopped carrying the cross, because once he was on the mountain, the cross carried him. The cross held on to him. The cross trapped Jesus, just like all the things that we hold on to eventually do to us.

That is until Easter morning.

And all of sudden the cross that held Jesus on Good Friday, became the cross that holds all of us on Easter morning.

Jesus calls the crowds and calls us to carry the cross, because Jesus knows that we can’t carry the cross, because the cross carries us.

In world full of possessions that will hold on to us and drag us down – power, control, membership, status, new kitchens, pristine living rooms, things.

In our world full of all that, the cross is the only thing that lifts us up.

The cross is the place where the human need to hold on is met by God’s need to give up.

To give up wrath for love.

To give up judgement for mercy.

To give up sin for grace.

To give up death for life.

Jesus calls the crowds and us to give up our possessions, and not to literally empty our bank account and give away all our stuff. But to recognize that the things we hold on, keep us from seeing just what, or just who, is truly carrying us.

Our world will may never give up the quest for what is new and shiny. Our rulers may always be willing to sacrifice people for power.

Yet, God just may be calling the church to give up holding onto membership as something we own, to let faith be something that carries us. To see that the church is not a bottomless trap for energy, time and money.

But rather a community of the faithful.

A community of people who are being carried by Jesus, whose identities are being transformed by being together, who are called to work together to let the world know about this good news of giving up and letting go.

As Jesus calls out these crowds today, Jesus is reminding us of just who is doing carrying. Jesus is reminding us that the cross carries us. That Jesus’ love for the world, Jesus’ grace for sinners, Jesus triumph over death, all found on the cross, are what can truly carry us and lift us up.

Jesus tells the crowds and us today, that it is God, who was the first to give up everything. And that being a disciple, is not about what we carry, but about God who carries us.

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