Friday, September 6, 2013

Are You "All-In"? (Sept 8 2013)

Homily:  Yr C, Proper 23, Sept 8 2013, St. Albans
Readings:  Jer 18.1-11; Ps 139.1-5,12-17; Phil 1-21; Lk 14-25-33
Photo by Jason Empey.  Creative Commons License.

There is an organization that started in the United States and that now operates in Canada called Focus on the Family.  The mission of Focus on the Family is to promote Christian family values.  And I’ve got to believe that the folks at Focus on the Family would be totally offended by today’s gospel.

Because Jesus 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.”

What sort of family values is Jesus promoting here?

And if you think that Jesus’ statement about hating your family is offensive today, just imagine how much more offensive it was when it was first uttered.  In Jesus day, family was the linchpin that held society together.  You never left the family home.  Unless you were very very rich, you couldn’t survive economically without your family.  All of society was organized around kinship.  Even in the law, in the ten commandments, the first commandment that talks about our relationships with each other is, “honour your father and mother”.

Now, we know that Jesus is using a little hyperbole here to get our attention.  We know this isn’t about hatred, after all, Jesus loved his mother, we know that from other parts of the gospel.  This isn’t about hatred, but it is about priorities, about the ordering of commitments and the sacrifices that this entails.  Jesus loved his mother.  But he also left home instead of taking up the family business like he was supposed to.  Jesus was a good Jewish man.  But he didn’t get married like he was supposed to.  Why?  Because he had a higher priority.  God had given him a job to do, to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom to the people of Israel.  And he was committed to doing whatever it takes to fulfill that mission.

Next week, a week Monday, I’ll be heading up to the Laurentians for our annual clergy conference for all of the priests of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.  It’s a great opportunity for us to spend some time with each other, catch up on news and listen to a guest speaker.  And in the evenings, some years, a few of us like to get together and play some poker.  Don’t worry, there’s no money involved, just chips and pride.  Our favourite poker game is Texas Hold’em.  Do you know how that works?  It’s the one you see on TV a lot.  You get two cards initially, and then you bet before each of the other cards is turned up.  And the trick in the game is figuring out how to bet.

If for example, I get a pair of aces as my opening cards, I know that I’m “all in”.  I’m willing to bet all my chips to see the rest of the cards and stay in the game right to the end.

If, however, I get something like a two and five, then I know that I’m out.  It’s not my hand, no sense sticking around or wasting any chips to see more cards, I’m just out.

The more difficult decision is when I get something like a King and a seven.  In that case, my cards are good enough that I could win if the right cards come up, but there’s no guarantee.  And so what I want to do is to “hedge my bets”. I want to try to hang around in the game at a low cost long enough to see the next card turned up.

In today’s gospel, there’s a lot of people in the crowd hedging their bets, hanging around and waiting to see the next card turned up.

You see, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and there’s a big crowd traveling with him.  They’re curious.  They’ve got some interest.  Maybe there’s something they’ve seen or heard about Jesus, or heard him say that captures their imagination.  And so they’re along for the ride, they’re not committed, they’re not “all in”, but they want to see what card turns up next.

But Jesus, he’s “all-in”.  He’s taking his proclamation about God right to the capital city of Jerusalem.  He knows that his won’t be a popular message with the authorities.  Already the religious leaders and political masters are out to get him, they’re plotting to kill him – when he gets to Jerusalem, he’s a dead man.  Jesus knows this, and he’s still all-in.  But the crowds haven’t figured it out yet.  And so in today’s gospel, he’s actually doing them a favour.  Look, Jesus tells them, if you want to follow me, there’s going to be a high cost to pay.  You might be arrested, you might have to give up everything you own, you might be separated from your families, you might even be killed.  Now, I need some of you to follow me, I need disciples who will be witnesses to what happens in Jerusalem.  But only come if you’ve counted the cost and you’re committed to being all-in.

I’m willing to bet that the crowds who traveled with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem became a lot smaller that day.

I think I get what Jesus words meant for the crowd that traveled with him on that day some 2000 years ago.  The bigger question is, what do they mean for us today?  What do we do with all this talk of choices and priorities, of commitment and of sacrifice?

Well much as we might like to avoid it, we all have to deal with this stuff, don’t we?  In all sorts of areas of our life we have to deal with questions of choices and priorities, of commitment and of sacrifice.

I remember when my son Jonathan was younger, he was a good hockey player and so he tried out for a competitive hockey team.  Just before the final selections, as the try-outs were winding up, the coach called a parents meeting.  And at that meeting he laid it all out for us.  “If your son wants to be part of this team, here’s what you have to do.  There’ll be two practices and two games a week.  Your son needs to be at all of them, and be at games 60 minutes before they start.  There’ll be six tournaments, three in town and three out of town.  You’ll need to volunteer for three fundraising activities.  And the total cost for the season will be $1500.  These are the costs.  This is the commitment required.  Before I make the final selections for the team, you have to tell me if you’re in or out.”

Some of you here today are pursuing a university degree.  In order to embark on that degree, you’ve had to move away from home and family.  You’ve had to pay big tuition fees and living expenses.  You’re going to take on debt that you might not be able to repay for years.  You’re going to work your butts off and at times endure tremendous stress.  That’s the cost.  That’s the commitment and sacrifice required.  Are you in?

One time when I was doing marriage preparation with a couple, I had the sense that they hadn’t really gotten their heads around the sort of commitment they were making.  And so I asked them to open up the prayer book and to read the marriage vows, for better and for worse and so on.  And I turned and said to them, that means if your partner gets hit by a truck and ends up in a wheelchair, you’re the one that’s going to be pushing that wheelchair around for the rest of your life.  You have to be all-in.  Are you ready to make that promise?

You see, there are areas in our lives where we’re all-in, and there are other areas where we hedge our bets.  There are things that we prioritize, that we commit to and for which we are willing to sacrifice.  And when we do commit and when we do sacrifice, psychologists who research this stuff will tell us that those things become even more valuable to us.  Or as my grandmother would have said, the more you put into something, the more you get out of it.

And so as we move into our open space, I want to leave you with two questions to discuss:

1    1.  In what areas of your life are you “all-in”, and where are you “hedging your bets”?
     2.  And, what does it mean to you to be “all-in” as a follower of Jesus?


After Open Space (a time for conversation):

I hope your conversations about what it means to be “all-in”, and what it means to be “all-in” as a follower of Jesus were fruitful.  I must admit, to me, at times I find this to be a bit of a scary topic, and I’m tempted to hedge my bets.  But one thing that I find helpful is to remind myself, first of all, that God is “all-in” in his commitment and his love for us, and secondly that God knows us intimately, God knows us so well, that whatever it is he might call us to, whatever vocation or ministry or mission that might be given to us, it will resonate with who we are, with our deepest passions and gifts.  The psalm that we’re about to read together reminds us of just that.

Psalm 139:  1-5, 12-17
Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
13 I will thank you because I am marvellously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14 My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number
than the sand; *

to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

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