Count the cost.

5 September 2010
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 18C (RCL)

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 13-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

What hard lessons! In the Jeremiah passage, we are told that God is designing evil against us (against Israel). In Luke, we are told that if we don’t hate father and mother, sister and brother, wife and children and even life itself, we cannot be Jesus’ disciples. What are we supposed to do with this?

In Luke’s time, being a disciple of Jesus could be costly. The synagogue had anathametized anyone who confessed Jesus the Christ. So, if you were a Jew, following Jesus could certainly mean losing your connections to family and community. There are places in the world where this is probably still true today, but certainly not for most of the folks in the pew on Sunday here. In fact, we make it part of our preaching to love mother and father, sister and brother, wife (or husband) and children. So, let’s ask instead, “What does it cost us to be christian?”

For some people, perhaps acting in concert with their christian principles at work will get them passed over for a promotion. There are certainly companies which expect their employees to participate in or turn a blind eye to practices christians might have trouble with: polluting the environment, unfair hiring policies, etc. That’s a cost. I think more fundamentally, the christian emphasis on dignity, community, patient appreciation of another’s point of view leads us to be overlooked in the superheated, angry politics of our day. If you can’t distill your anger into a soundbite, no one is interested. So, christians are marginalized in public discourse. Particularly christians who don’t take a standard “party” line on some hot-button issue.

Paul, in his letter to Philemon, faces a difficult problem. He has embarrassed his friend Philemon by welcoming the run-away slave Onesimus. Now, Onesimus has become a christian. Paul has to convince Philemon to welcome Onesimus back home as a brother, not a slave. He speaks of partnership or community in the faith. He asks Philemon to reckon honor and shame in a different set of circumstances than the slave/owner relationship. It costs us to be in relationship with one another, when we disagree, or when we’ve hurt one another. It takes hard work to restore relationships. The anger politics of our day have no room for that patient work. It takes effort to stay in community.

So, says Jesus, don’t do it if you haven’t counted the cost. The image of the potter in Jeremiah is lovely. If the pot doesn’t come out right the first time, try it again. Use the same material and make it over. Presumably, as long as we add water, we can keep working it, until we get something useful, and maybe even beautiful.

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