St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Will You Follow Me?

    June 26, 2022

    Up until a few years ago, I had never really done any gardening. I dabbled in it when I lived in Michigan, planting some beans and flowers in a pot on my apartment patio and being mesmerized by the result of eating something I’d grown. But in the spring of 2019, when Ana and I put in our herb garden, I started to realize just how much fun it could be to grow things. We bought a raised bed, bought some good soil, bought a nice range of herbs, and then spent the rest of that summer being awed by the beauty and fragrance and usefulness of this small undertaking.

    And I remember that summer, Ana kept talking about growing things from seed. This is something I had never done before and I was intimidated by the idea. To grow something from seed… that meant that I needed to develop the right growing conditions for something that wasn’t already a mature plant. And I had to put a seed in soil and trust that it would grow. Into something that was not a seed. And I had to have some idea how to help it along and make sure it kept growing.

    I had had hobbies before where I just thought it was an interesting thing to learn about and think about for a time. But I knew that sowing seeds and having an actual vegetable garden was more than just a hobby. As I watched episodes of Gardener’s World, a TV show from Britain hosted by just about everyone’s favorite gardener in the English-speaking world, Monty Don… the more I realized that there was a lot to learn. And that the entire endeavor was going to take a real commitment.

     

    I think today’s message from Luke’s Gospel is a challenging one. Because Jesus is letting his disciples know just what it means to follow him, what it means to make a commitment to this path, the Way of Love. Jesus, himself, has already committed. Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” which means that he knew the depth of the commitment he was making.

    So when his disciples were walking with him along the road, moving towards the culmination of his commitment, and they said things like, “I will follow you wherever you go.” From his response, I think Jesus was thinking something like: “Really? Will you really follow me wherever I go? Do you even understand what’s about to happen to me?… I have nowhere to lay my head. I have no rest from this commitment. I cannot take a vacation. It will take everything I have. This is my entire life. Indeed, the rest of my life.”

    The disciples wanted to revisit their lives of comfort first, their attachments: Let me go and bury my father. Let me first say farewell to those at my home.

    And Jesus, who one might think would be understanding, instead presses them on just what it means to commit oneself to this Love.

    “Let me go and bury my father”… Jesus replies, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” In other words, your father is not yet dead and you cannot wait until everyone you care about has died before you begin this path.

    “Let me first say farewell to those at my home”… Jesus replies, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words, if you begin, you must see it through.

    What Jesus is talking about is committing with our heart to something that is bigger than us, bigger than our lives. So that it will transform our lives. This commitment means that we stand wherever the Love of Christ is called to be… rather than where it might be more comfortable for us. And, in so doing, we allow ourselves to be changed by being agents of this Love. We become self-sacrificing. We become more and more Christ’s presence in the world.

    As Christians, we’re all dealing with this on several levels much of the time. At least, I hope we are. I hope that we are actively allowing ourselves to be challenged by Jesus’ invitation to “come and follow him.” I hope that we are reflecting on this regularly, if not on a daily basis: How we are being called to give up a treasured way of life, a cherished belief, a precious alabaster jar of expensive perfume… to become more and more Christ’s presence in this world?

    This work, this deeply spiritual work, is a challenge to us. It should be. The question Jesus is asking in his invitation is, “Will you? Will you really come and follow me?”

    Homeless Jusus sculpture at Dominican Order Church and Convent Ciudad Colonial, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

    For me, even though I’ve been ordained for more than a decade now, this happens daily… still. How do I live more simply and love more completely? How do I give up my precious opinions, my judgement of self and judgement of others? How do I commit to standing for those in the margins even though my life is relatively comfortable?

    I wonder… in what ways are you challenged by Jesus’ invitation? It takes a lot of honesty and self-reflection: What are you being asked to give up in order to follow Jesus? Are you willing? Are you willing to change and be changed? Are you willing to die to your old self, essentially? And be resurrected in a life in Christ?

     

    We call this a Table of Reconciliation because, what happens as we live more deeply into the practice of Eucharist, is that we become more free from the expectations of polite society, more free from the beliefs in which we were raised, more free from the ideas that have shaped our lives thus far so that we can see more clearly who God is asking us to become, which is who we were created to be.

    Reconciliation, then, is a path of freedom even in its commitment. We might think that commitment is something that shackles us in some way, but as we commit to God’s Love, as we commit to this path that Jesus as given us, believe it or not, we actually do become more free.

    Last week in my sermon, I spoke about Reconciliation as a theme for our formation as we continue through the rest of the year, specifically racial reconciliation. In the coming weeks, I will announce a few different formation programs and opportunities through which we can engage this work. Different schedules. Different methods of learning. Different ways to engage some difficult questions.

    I ask for your commitment to this process. I ask us all to set our faces to go to Jerusalem. To die to ourselves in some way. It will not be easy work all the time, as it is very emotional work. And you can expect to be changed by it, to have some of your assumptions challenged and your comfort zone to be messed with.

    There is an alternative, of course… to not do this work. But what happens when we do not actively do this work is that we are always at risk of becoming bound by the values and the culture around us. Christianity is not a spectator sport where we watch others and cheer them on from the comfort of our bleacher seats. It’s not a path that is meant to make us more comfortable in our lives. Christianity is a commitment to changing the world in which we live to make it more just, more loving, more merciful.

    It requires that we look at something like this week’s performance from our Supreme Court and realize how much work we have to do to ensure that the people who are marginalized…
    women in poverty, women who are sexually assaulted, women with disabilities, women of color,
    women whose lives are at risk because of a pregnancy…
    that these women who have now been marginalized by our federal government, have someone willing to stand for them and with them so they can obtain access to basic healthcare. That their right to discern the healthiest choice for them is restored.

    This is where justice is called. This is where mercy must be. This is where love is.

    All of this… all of this… is about racial reconciliation because the overturning of Roe V. Wade will disproportionately affect women of color.

    And, in the midst of this, Christ is asking…
    Will you come and follow me? Will you commit to this path of Love? Will you walk with me all the way to Jerusalem?

     

    Now, I’m not going to pretend that the commitment I made to sowing seeds for a vegetable garden was akin to Jesus asking for my commitment to follow him. It wasn’t exactly a moral matter, although we are eating organic vegetables now. It definitely wasn’t a matter of economics… it’s not cheap to build a garden, but after the initial investment, seeds are much cheaper than vegetables.

    But I have been changed by it. I have a much deeper appreciation for the food I eat. I savor it more. I understand it more. I am more grateful for those who do the work of farming in this world because I understand what it takes to make one tomato plant thrive. Essentially, it’s a commitment that has made me more free.

    I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar in your life – being changed by your commitment to something. I hope, for you, it was a gift too.

    So perhaps we can use these experiences as a form of hope, that the commitment we make to do this work of racial reconciliation together, will bear fruit that will be a gift in making us all more free.