St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
September 8, 2013
Year C, Proper 18: The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
The Jesus Community
It’s been two Sundays already since many of us gathered in Liberty Park to celebrate with parishioners from our Jersey City sister churches, Grace Van Vorst and the Church of the Incarnation.
Now, I’ve already admitted publicly that I had some misgivings about doing this. I worried about the weather, transporting all of our church stuff – the bread, the wine, cups and plates, linens and all the rest. I wondered if we’d have enough food. I was curious how many people would actually bother to show up.
Well, as you know, as usual there was no reason to worry.
The weather could not have been more perfect.
And it was a truly wonderful service.
Lots of people from all three churches were there – and everybody seemed to have a great time praying and singing together, lining up to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, eating really delicious – and plentiful – food, playing games, meeting new friends and renewing old friendships, and just soaking in one of the most spectacular spots in all the world.
Lots of people I talked with that day were already looking forward to doing it all again next year.
Standing at the altar and looking out at the crowd, I marveled at the beautiful diversity of the congregation. There were people of all different shapes, sizes and colors. There were infants curled up in their mothers’ arms, children running around charged with unlimited energy, people like me who were beginning to think about taking a nap and the elderly and disabled slowly making their way around leaning on canes and walkers.
I imagine that some people who were there weren’t sure how they were going to make next month’s rent – and others who were there have more money stashed away than they will ever be able to spend.
Some of our families have been here for many generations while others are just beginning to put down roots in this old soil.
We live in every neighborhood in Jersey City – and beyond.
Standing at the altar, it was a beautiful sight to behold.
And what brought all of us together?
What brings us all together here, week after week?
There are probably lots of answers – habit, our parents make us, the priest guilts us into it, the need for fellowship, the desire for beauty and meaning in an often ugly world.
But, behind and beneath and above all of those reasons, we come here for Jesus.
We come here because, although we have our doubts and questions and uncertainties, we still hold on to the heart of Christianity – we still trust that Jesus is the way – we believe that Jesus offers us the way to live, the way to be truly free, the way to life forever with God.
We come here – all shapes and sizes and colors, all different stations in life – because we are disciples of Jesus – because we are members of the Jesus Community.
And we become members of the Jesus Community in the water of baptism – when we die and rise again with Christ.
We become members of the Jesus Community in the water of baptism – where God makes an indissoluble bond – an unbreakable bond – with us.
Now, it just so happens that we’re going to have a baptism here next week.
And during that baptism, little Jeremiah will die and rise with Christ.
During that baptism, God will make an indissoluble bond with Jeremiah.
And we’ll all be reminded of our baptism.
And we’ll also be reminded of the promises we made – or were made for us – at our baptism.
We’ll be reminded that we promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship – that we promise to resist evil and when we sin repent and return to the Lord – that we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News – that we promise to serve Christ in all persons – that we strive for justice and peace among all people.
It’s a lot to promise.
It requires a lot of sacrifice.
Even with God’s help, those promises and sacrifices take a lot of effort.
In our baptism, we really promise - as a disciple – as a member of the Jesus Community - we really promise to put Jesus first in our lives.
Which is really what today’s challenging gospel lesson is all about.
We’re told large crowds are following Jesus.
We can imagine they are an excited, rowdy bunch. They are eager, maybe even impatient, to see Jesus’ next miracle. They want to know who’ll be the next to be healed. They want to witness Jesus performing another exorcism. They want to hear Jesus tell another entertaining, if puzzling, story or parable.
And, then, Jesus turns to them and says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
“Hate.” Strong, strong language, right?
This teaching is also found in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Obviously Jesus’ strong language made quite an impression on the first members of the Jesus Community. It wasn’t something they forgot.
And I bet it gets our attention, too. It’s not something we’re likely to forget, either.
Hate our parents? Hate our spouses and children? Hate our brothers and sisters? Hate life itself?
Well, we think of “hate” as an emotion, a feeling - which it is.
But, we know enough about Jesus to know he doesn’t want us to hate anybody or anything, except sin.
So, what’s going on here?
Well, Jesus doesn’t mean “hate” as an emotion. Instead he means “hate” as “turning away from” or, better, “detaching from.”
To put it more positively, Jesus says to us if we want to be a disciple, if we want to be part of the Jesus Community then we have to take up our cross and put Jesus first in our lives.
Very difficult. But, when we do that – or, rather, when, with God’s help, we try to put Jesus first in our lives - then the truth is we are able to love our parents, our spouses and children, our brothers and sisters, love our very lives, more generously and fully than we ever thought possible.
But, don’t take my word for it.
Just think back to the beautiful sight of the Jesus Community gathered in Liberty Park.
Think back to the people of all different shapes, sizes and colors. Think back to the infants curled up in their mothers’ arms, children running around charged with unlimited energy, the people like me who were beginning to think about taking a nap and the elderly and disabled slowly making their way around leaning on canes and walkers.
When, with God’s help, we try to put Jesus first in our lives then the truth is we are able to love more generously and fully than we ever thought possible.
Don’t take my word for it.
Just look around.
Look around at this beautiful Jesus Community that gathers here week after week – praying and celebrating, laughing and crying, singing and hugging, filling up containers of food for the hungry, checking in on elderly or sick neighbors or friends, welcoming absolutely everybody - all shapes, sizes and colors.
So, I’m really excited about Jeremiah’s baptism next week.
I’m excited that in the water of baptism, Jeremiah will die and rise again with Christ.
I’m excited that in the water of baptism, God will make an indissoluble – an unbreakable bond – with Jeremiah.
And, as Jeremiah dies and rises again with Christ, we’ll all be reminded of our baptism. We’ll all be reminded that we are called to be disciples. We’ll all be reminded that we are called to put Jesus first in our lives.
And we’ll be reminded that all of us – with all our different shapes, sizes and colors – all of us from all different stations in life - are beloved members of the Jesus Community.
Thanks be to God.