Benediction Online

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Making Lemonade Luke 14:25-33

Today’s gospel reading is of particular importance to us, because it is also the gospel used on St Benedict’s day. Jesus is at the height of his popularity, large crowds are traveling with him, and you would expect him to be pleased. If any of our presidential hopefuls had such crowds traveling with them we can be sure they would be making promises, telling people how great things will be if they get elected. But not Jesus. Jesus starts talking about counting the cost.

He wants people to know what they’re getting into. Being a disciple isn’t all about having a good time with your friends listening to a great preacher. Being a disciple isn’t all about feeling good on Sunday mornings, having terrific potlucks or even inspiring talks and Bible studies. Being a disciple means sacrifice. This isn’t the first time Jesus has mentioned it, but it’s still not an easy thing to hear. We want things to be easy, at least I know I do. I don’t like pain, I don’t like conflict, I don’t like difficulty. I want to look on the bright side and walk on the sunny side of the street.

But Jesus says it would be foolish to decide to be one of his followers without first counting the cost and asking yourself whether you’re ready. Because following Jesus means radical, ongoing transformation.

I don’t imagine for a moment that Jesus really meant that you had to hate your family. One of the rhetorical devices that he sometimes used was hyperbole – he over-emphasized something to make a point – like when he says if your hand offends you take out a chainsaw and cut it off. Cutting off your hand, plucking out your eye, hating your family, hating your life is hyperbole.

The point is that being a disciple means putting Christ and his way first. That’s a radical re-ordering of priorities. Instead of putting yourself and your family first, you are going to put God’s will first. The good news is that that is the very best order for everyone concerned. But at times it may not feel like it. It may not feel like it because it is denying the power of the little ego. The little ego always wants to be in charge, and will come up with all sorts of reasons why this is just not the time to put God first.

Jesus went on, ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’ We’ve all heard people say something like, ‘well that’s just my burden in life, that’s my cross to bear’. They’re usually missing the point. Carrying the cross is not having a difficult mother-in-law, nor a difficult son-in-law. Carrying the cross is allowing your difficult relative to help you become more Christ-like. Carrying the cross is taking the lemons (and the honey) that God gives you and making the most wonderful lemonade you can imagine, and then offering it back to God as a gift.

Each one of us has different life experience and God works differently in each of our lives. So although there are hundreds and thousands of books written on discipleship and spirituality, none of them will tell you exactly how the Holy Spirit will work in your life. So the very first thing you do to pick up the cross is to open yourself up to God and to listen for God’s word to you. Now some of us may see visions or hear a voice. Most of us won’t. For most of us God’s voice is very subtle. We hear it through spiritual reading or the words of friends, we hear it through the liturgy, we hear it in a growing inner conviction, or in a sudden realization when we’re thinking about something else. Sometimes God breaks through when we least expect it, but most often we have to be ready and waiting. As Mother Julian of Norwich said, our Lord is very courteous. Spirit does not force Godself upon us but waits for our invitation. So the first step is willingness – being willing to hear and respond to God, and the second step is submission. Being ready, and doing what it is that God requests.

Since God’s presence in our lives is often subtle and quiet, we need to train ourselves to see and hear the Spirit. One of the ways we do this is in community. Whenever you share with me how God has been active in your life, it helps me to notice God in mine. We always start vestry meetings by sharing signs of God’s grace in our lives. I would love to find that during coffee hour we are also sharing how God is blessing us. God’s love is what draws us here. What could be more natural than that we share what God is doing for us?

Another way to train ourselves is at the end of the day to take stock – where has God been in my life today?

When I was at college I took a few days of retreat at the very gracious country house of a religious order somewhere in southern England. I was trying to discern God’s will for my life. A woman I met there told me that God’s will for me is in the Bible. This both puzzled and frustrated me. I could not understand how the Bible was going to tell me whether I should continue on my current course and become a social worker or whether I should switch to business studies. I thought perhaps it was my own failing that I could not find the career decisions section of the Bible.

This question continued to bother me for several years. How could the Bible tell me God’s will for my life?

I am sure that God has used the Bible to help people make career decisions, that’s not the way she has worked in my life. But the Bible does teach us the ways of God and picking up the cross, opening ourselves to God, means using the information we already have. So I’m going to highlight a couple of key points. These are things which are undoubtedly God’s will for us.

The first is generosity. God gives generously, and as God’s children and the disciples of Christ we too are called to give generously. Generosity means giving with no strings attached. It means giving without keeping account. Last week we heard Jesus say if you give a dinner party, don’t invite people who will invite you back again. This is giving without expecting to receive in return.

Living generously means living simply so that we have plenty to give and to share. Many people in our world live on a dollar or less a day. They do not have the ability to live more simply. We do. We have the option to find ways to live more frugally so that we can share with them the tremendous riches we have been given. With blessing comes responsibility. A generous life is one where we use less than we might in order to have more to give to others.

The second point is forgiveness. Cultivating an inner attitude of forgiveness is an extension of generosity. It is allowing other people to make mistakes, (like sending a personal email to fifty people). It is not holding anyone, including myself, trapped in the past. Forgiveness creates gentleness around areas of pain. It allows new possibility and new hope to enter. It is a principle way in which the lemons of life become pat of a recipe of resurrection.

And finally, making our lives a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. It is a joyful thing to submit to God and everyday we see new miracles and new hope in believing. Carrying the cross is taking the lemons (and the honey) that God gives you and making the most wonderful lemonade you can imagine, and then offering it back to God as a gift with praise and thanksgiving.


  • Hi Caro: I guess I am asking myself all the time (re your sermon), "What does it mean to put God's will first - what IS God's will?" Is it different from being the Self God wants me to be?

    Of course I agree with you about the cross - it's always my sermon on Good Friday!



    By Blogger Fr. Brian McHugh, at 7:09 AM  

  • I think that God's will is the human being fully alive which means being truly who God intends me to be. However, there is a dangher that being 'my Self' can turn into an egotisical putting myself first which is not the gospel!

    By Blogger Caroline Hall, at 7:23 AM  

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