September 4, 2016 “ 16 Pentecost C, Proper 18
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
I don’t know if you remember your college freshman English professor but my first day in class was one I’ll always remember. First day at Wofford College about 3 days after my 18th birthday, I am doing my best to follow my schedule and get to my first classes. I don’t know anybody. I don’t know anything. I’m just trying to show up at the right place at the right time.
My English professor’s name, I see on the class schedule is Dr. Miller, Vince Miller I will later learn to call him, and even later on just Vince. But that was much later. The other two classes I’d gone to that day really didn’t amount to much, just light introductions to the subjects. I don’t even remember what those classes were. But the first English class stands out. I get to the class, take a seat along with maybe 25 other freshmen. At precisely the time the class is supposed to start, in walks the stereotypical college professor with a professorial jacket and tie, clothes professorially wrinkled, and a professorial beard to round out the look. He’s a skinny guy somewhere between 40 and 70, which to an 18 year old both look about the same. He’s carrying a few books which he places on his desk and immediately, without any introduction, launches into a lecture. A few of us started taking notes. Everybody started paying attention. After about 10 minutes, the door to the classroom opened and in walked another freshman who went to the back and took a seat at an empty desk.
Dr. Miller looked at the door as it opened, stopped his lecture, watched the young man take his seat, and then said, Sir, if you’re not smart enough to find my classroom on time, I’m fairly certain you’re not smart enough to pass this course. I suggest you get out of that chair and walk right back out that door. The young man sat there for a moment not really knowing what to do. Dr. Miller said, Well? The poor guy got up and left and Dr. Miller, without any further comment, continued his lecture.
What started as anxiety and fear in my gut pretty quickly awakened something inside me and I remember thinking, This guy’s not going to get the best of me. I’m going to make an A in this class if it kills me. I worked harder in that class than I had ever worked before which admittedly up to that point wasn’t very hard. And in my 8 college semesters I took 5 courses from Vince Miller and loved every minute of every class. But what awakened that desire within me had a different effect on a lot of other people. His way of teaching caused me to dip deep. It caused others to walk away. I don’t think I was smarter or a better student than the others. The way he challenged us just spoke to me for some reason.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. He said to them, ˜Whoever does not hate father and mother, wife and children, even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross cannot be my disciple. None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. For some, those words led to deep and remarkable change. But many just walked away.
Vince Miller wasn’t tough and mean all the time. I came to have enough of a relationship with him to call him Vince. Six years after I graduated from Wofford, finished seminary and got ordained, Vince came to my ordination. I don’t even know how he found out about it but he was there. He wasn’t a church goer but he said he thought it was just something he should do. During my senior year, I talked to him about that first day in his class. He said, Yeah, I was hoping that guy would stay.
These tough challenges from Jesus are set in Luke’s gospel in between a comparison of the kingdom of God with a huge banquet and the parable of the lost sheep. Challenge in the midst of invitation. God throws this huge banquet but nobody shows up. So he sends out messengers to gather up the poor and crippled and blind and lame, the folks who no one would expect to be invited. They come and are fed. God searches and searches for those who are lost. He wants us all to come into the kingdom. But God wants us to come in and grow. There’s a cost involved. We don’t come to God to be told he likes us better than the others. We come to the kingdom to be made different.
The mission of St. John’s Church is to worship God and make disciples for Jesus Christ. That’s our mission statement as a parish. It’s written in stone right by the front door. That’s pretty serious. But sometimes we get things backwards. Sometimes it’s like we expect God to worship us, to affirm us and bless our lifestyles. Sometimes it’s like we think God should follow us around and help us out when we need it, clean up the messes we make. We are here to worship God and to be disciples of Jesus Christ, not the other way around.
When we hear Jesus say we have to hate our families and ourselves, that we have to give up all our possessions, maybe we just get up and walk out instead of digging in and seeing what this guy might have to teach us. With this challenge, God is trying to get our attention. He’s throwing a big banquet. He’s searching for each one of us, inviting us to come. But there’s some work for us to do. The kingdom of God is free but it’s not cheap. It requires something of us. It requires some work. Not work to get in. We’re in already. But being in the kingdom is costly. It costs our pride, our self-centeredness, our greed, our prejudices and bigoted ways. It costs our hatred and closed-mindedness. It costs our very lives.
So do you walk away from that? Or do you dig deep and see what’s in store? It’s not so much that there are people who rise to meet life’s challenges and those who don’t as it is that there are times when we live into the invitations God issues to us and times when we walk away. Bottom line question for all of us today: what is more important to us than God? That changes from day to day. Day to day we are called to let go of those things which are more important than they should be and attach ourselves to the Lord who made us and loves us. God is inviting us, hoping we’ll stay, hoping we’ll dig deep and learn and grow in the image of his Son Jesus Christ.