Sunday, 4 September 2022

Putting down possessions to take up the Cross


Wisdom 9.13-18 Who can divine the will of God?


Philemon 9-10,12-17 He is a slave no longer, but a dear brother in the Lord


Luke 14.25-33 Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple




Our gospel begins with Jesus travelling on the Way.


This is a ‘way’ in the sense of a path, a road, a direction of travel; think Purley Way, but transfer that to the Holy Land!


But it’s even deeper than that.


The word ‘Way’ is a code, because before we were known as ‘Christians’ we were known as followers of the Way; the Way of Jesus Christ.


So it’s not the Purley Way; it’s the Jesus Way; the Way of the Cross.


Our gospel is a meditation on what it means to follow the Way of Jesus Christ, and it hinges on the Way of the Cross.


When we are baptised, before the life-giving water is poured upon us we are anointed with oil in the sign of the Cross: ‘Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of his cross.’ (Common Worship: Pastoral Services)


We are marked out, literally, to walk in the Way.


Jesus Christ walks the Way of the Cross and says ‘Come. Come, follow me. Walk with me’.


And in Baptism there is a decision to be made: ‘do you turn to Christ?’ In other words, will you come and follow him?


When someone turns to Christ it is an act of human will; but it is also an act of letting go into the will of God.


‘What man indeed can know the intentions of God? Who can know the will of the Lord?’ asks the Book of Wisdom.


St Paul gives some pointers to those ancient questions in his first letter to the Corinthians:


18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

   and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?… 23…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1.18-20,23)


The will of God is seen in the Way of the Crucified One, Jesus Christ; this is the way today’s gospel invites us to follow.


‘Are you going to walk this way? Are you going to follow me?


And it is dramatic in what it presents.


The Gospel text today drives towards the concluding words, ‘so in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions’ (Luke 14.33).


That is blunt speaking!


Unless you can let go of your possessions and preoccupations you can never take up the Cross.


To pick up the Cross is to put down the other things we carry when we go our own way.


The problem with possessions is that they tend to become obsessions.


Obsessions are things we have to the exclusion of everything else.


It is easy to see how that is true of some things: when someone is obsessed by money, luxury, celebrity, sex, alcohol, drugs, and become dependent on them, it is easy to see how their hands, and hearts, are too full to pick up the cross.


But Jesus says we can also become obsessed even by good things: family ties, tribal obligations and close relationships; these too can become obsessive; when that is the case it means that hands, and hearts, are too full to pick up the cross.


Even aspects of church life can become an obsession when they are not fully rooted in the Way of the Crucified One, and we distract ourselves by tasks and activities that divert us from the Most High.


Obsession with things puts me at the heart of my own drama – my ‘ego-drama’ – rather than putting myself in the drama of salvation – the ‘Theo-drama’, or God-drama, as it has been called.


Ultimately what so we really want? What is your deepest desire?


Human beings are creatures who desire.


So often we misdirect our desires.


Clinging to possessions and being possessed by our obsessions is one form of desire, but ultimately it is a self-destructive desire.


Jesus’ tough and almost brutal words in today’s gospel should shock us; shock us into seeing clearly what crowds God out of our lives, so that we cannot carry the cross and walk in the Way of the Crucified.


Do we really desire to journey in the Way of the Cross?


For the baptised the sign of the cross is marked upon us and we die with Christ and are raised with him; in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist, we share in the life-giving sacrifice of Christ on the Cross; when we confess our sins we reorient our desires to Christ, and him alone.


We’re on for all of this?!


And how we know we need God’s grace to complete what we have started, and to do that our prayer might be:


Lord, may I possess nothing that becomes an obsession to me, but may I be possessed by you, whom I desire in my deepest being, and to whom I already belong. Amen.


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