25Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26‘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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Luke 14:25-33
I am at my ecclesiastical council. My dad, son and I have come in from Illinois to our home church in Willimantic Connecticut. My cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmother, and church members have joined members of the Windham Association to ask me questions about my faith and my ordination paper. I am nervous, this is one of the final steps on my way to becoming a pastor in the United Church of Christ. So the soft ball questions have been asked, my call story has been shared, and now comes the hard questions. One of the ministers asks: I have heard you talk positively about the ministry, about faith but I want you to talk about what does it mean to take up your cross or in the UCC statement of faith says what are the costs of discipleship. I admit I wasn't ready for this question, because on my good days I am hopeful and optimistic about the church and faith. I don't want to believe in the churches described in Clergy Killers and use my conflict training. I want people to catch the vision, to see the gospel story of hope, inclusion, and justice. But he wants to know how I feel about the cross, the costs of discipleship. So I start with my story. I knew I should become a pastor when I was young, although I never said anything to anyone. Partly because I was not going to say yes, as a PK (preacher's kid), the ministry was not for me. I remember the cars that never failed to breakdown on vacation, the clothes Mom made us to save money, the large garden with the harvesting a and freezing for winter food. I remember the long days and nights of my father gone. I remember the whispered conversations between my parents and the pain on my dad's face. I remember the hard choice do you baptize this baby against the wishes of the church because the mother is unwed.I know about the paychecks that never made it to my mom when dad was away and what ta meant for us. I remember moving, not being able to answer the question where are you from. I said no for a very long time. I said no as I fell in love with teaching 1st and second graders. I said no when I was moved by a new form of worship. I said no when people in grad school would pick on the out Christian when I was a closet Christian and new my passion for justice was because of my faith. I said no a lot. I said no until no no longer mattered. I had hit rock bottom. I was a single mom, living with family, unemployed with a degree in Political Science that wasn't worth the paper it was written on. And as I sat there by my grandmother, surrounded by family 0 the minister started preaching about being called. It must have been the year of Mark during a long Epiphany Season. The stories where about following Jesus, about taking the risk and following. Each week, it was like he was speaking directly to my heart, I was squirming uncomfortable in the pew. But I was ready. I took a leap of faith and set up a meeting with the Pastor Dick and said I think I should be a pastor...
This gospel story today asks us to take up our cross, to calculate the cost of discipleship. Jesus had shared with us the story of the banquet of God being filled with people - he lost, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and those strangers wandering by. The Kingdom is open to those left out and not normally invited. Today, Jesus shares that the invitation to follow is hard and you need to calculate the cost. When you take up your cross, it may put you at odds with family and friends. When you take up the cross, it will mean that wealth and power are no longer the goal. When you take up the cross, you will be placed in positions where you will be confronting authority. For to hear the word take up the cross is a reminder to those listening of the crosses lining the way to Jerusalem, of the revolutionaries, the rebels who are fighting the government. Are you willing to calculate that cost. Like a king who is facing down an army twice the size of his, will he go to battle or will he sue for peace. Or a man ready to build who got the foundation ready but didn't calculate the walls and roof. There are only some of you who will be willing to accept the cost. Who willing be willing to step out in faith into a world where you may be separated from you family of birth, where the money you have could be holding you back. Where you passion for the Gospel will put you at odds with your neighbors, politicians, and friends. You will be asked to sacrifice in ways you can not even imagine. In the face of that will you "accept the costs and joys of discipleship." Will you take up your cross and follow me.
With this scripture running through my head, I was in the card listening to NPR and heard the story of Viola Luizza. She was the only white woman martyred during the civil rights movement. Story began with her daughter visiting the broken and neglected park in Detroit named after her mother. She tells about her mother who was active in the NAACP hearing about the March from Selma to Montgomery. She packed a bag, kissed us goodbye and said "It is every one's fight." I remember that I had just learned to write in cursive. When she called to check on us I told her about it and she said to write my name on a piece of paper and put on her dresser so when could see when she got home. Viola marched those 54 miles. She was with the crowds that heard King say, "How Long, Not Long. How Long, Not Long. A Lie cannot be believed forever. How long, not long!" Afterwards she began shuttling the marchers back home with her car. People tried to run her off the run. One car full of clansman pulled up along side of her and shot her in the head, killing her.
Her daughter tells of going to school with her saddle shoes polished by her sister. It was raining and the white was running off. I thought this was why those people where yelling obscenities and hurling rocks at us. Life was hard for us. People started making up stories about my mom We learned later the FBI fed a story about my mom going south to sleep with black men. We had the polls not about racism and klan violence but about whether my mother was a good mother. 55% thought no. We left there, my dad lost himself to drink. But I came back to Detroit to carry on my mother's fight.
When Jesus asks us to pick up the cross, to count the cost: He is telling us that This is everbody's fight. We are to build the kingdom where the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, the prisoners are set free. We are o be there for the lost in life. It's everybody's fight. Will you take up your cross and follow me.