Are you having a good time this morning? Are we having fun
Jesus was being followed by a large crowd who were
fascinated by him. He had become a first century celebrity. People were getting
on the Jesus thing as a way to have a good time, a way to have fun. So today’s
gospel is Jesus’ response. “Look,” he says, “following me isn’t a fun daytrip.
It’s not a way to get out of the chores at home and hang out with friends while
listening to great entertainment. Before you decide to follow me you need to
think about what you’re doing, because it isn’t going to be easy.”
Which probably wasn’t what they wanted to hear, anymore than
it’s what we want to hear. Some of us have been reading and thinking about a
book by theologian Sally McFague in which she challenges the basis of
consumerism – the idea that everything is available for our enjoyment and that
the more stuff we have the happier we’ll be. It is hard for us to disengage
from that mindset because it’s so prevalent – every time you turn on the television,
pick up a magazine or log onto the internet, there’s a new opportunity for you
to get something that will be wonderful. It will solve your problems or make
you feel better or help you have more fun in your life.
It’s rather easy for us to think about spirituality in the
same way. Why choose to follow Jesus or why choose to make God the center of
your life? Because it will solve your problems, make you feel better and help
you make new friends and have more fun.
But Jesus gives a corrective – if you want to follow me you
will have to take up your cross. Doesn’t sound much like fun does it? Many of
the early Christians did follow Jesus into martyrdom, but many more didn’t, so
what did Jesus mean by this?
Our New Testament reading was from the unusual letter to
Philemon. This is a personal letter sent by Paul to his friend Philemon,
because one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, had run away and ended up in Rome
getting to know Paul. Now Onesimus is going back. This must have been a terribly
difficult thing to do because most slave owners would punish a runaway slave
with severe physical punishment if not death. Why did Onesimus go back? We
can’t be sure, but my guess is that he went back because he felt it was the
right thing to do. He was still owned by Philemon so he still owed him his life
I imagine that for Onesimus going back was taking up his
cross. Because of his relationship with God, he was no longer able with
integrity to be on the run. Going deeper into our spiritual life means that we
have to face the things that prevent us from being fully transparent. We have
to face the places that scare us as tell ourselves the truth about who we are
with all our baggage. That is never easy. We all have shadow places that we’re
not proud of, things that trip us up again and again.
Following Jesus means staying with the pain, our pain and
other’s pain instead of throwing ourselves into fun activities, over eating or
buying more stuff so we can numb out. Staying with the pain isn’t fun.
But following Jesus offers a lot more than an entertaining
time. Getting to know God is the only thing that truly fulfills us, because we
were made to be in relationship with the divine. It is the one thing that
stretches us to be all that we can be.
As we are able to stay with the pain and continue to open
ourselves to God, healing happens. Life continues to have times of great pain,
but we know that we are held in the everlasting arms. We know that life is full
of suffering but it is also full of the overcoming of suffering and so we are
able to develop a sense of inner peace which doesn’t go away even when life is
definitely not fun.
Jesus said that he had come to bring life abundant and it’s
that life which comes from facing our own cross and being willing to carry it,
because we never carry it alone. Jesus went to the cross alone so that we might
never need to. Jesus took on the matrix of sin and defeated it so that we are
walking a path which has already been cleared. We are walking a path which brings
Fun is light and easily broken, joy is deep and resilient.
Joy remains even when fun and happiness are distant. Joy comes as we pour out
our lives in service to God and find in that deep relationship that we are
truly known and we are unconditionally loved. Relating to our God is not
entertainment, it is the deep stuff of which abundant, lasting, true life is