Sunday, September 17, 2006

First Preaching Project Sermon

Luke 14

25Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

31"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

34"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Imagine a preacher wants to write a sermon. Wouldn’t he begin with all the necessary tools for such an endeavor? Wouldn’t he gather a Bible, laptop, commentaries, some book learning, and perhaps the advice of a few clever people? Otherwise he might screw-up on the very day that his every word and gesture is being recorded for some far-away professor of preaching.

Said preacher would do well to invite some fellow travelers, in the spirit of the day, to try their hand at writing their own parables, and maybe share one or two with the gathered congregation. I am fortunate to have something called a Parish Project Group, and this an example of their work:

Suppose you decide to renovate your Church. Won’t you first decide what you want to change or add, what utilities you require and put it in writing in order to obtain three quotes? Because if don’t you could end up with a lovely new food bank room with no electrical outlets for fridges and freezers which would mean a lot less food for the needy each week. The co-ordinator of the food bank program will be very upset and wonder how you could possibly miss this detail.

I love the confessional tone of this parable. The author, perhaps someone vaguely associated with the big building project, is offering an olive branch and at the same moment demonstrating new ways to express the point of today’s Gospel lesson. The confessions continue:

Suppose you leave your house in the morning planning to be home later in the day. Wouldn’t you be wise to be sure to take your keys with you so that you can get back in the house if no one else is home? Imagine what the Police will think when they arrive at the request of a neighbour who believes someone is breaking into your house. This woman forgot to take her keys with her when she left in the morning, and she hasn’t hidden a key in a safe spot outside the house for days like this.

Clearly this parable writing thing is fun. And good for you too, if it helps mend fences and help you remember your keys in the morning. Let me try:

Suppose you want to be a disciple of Jesus. Wouldn’t you begin by counting the cost of discipleship? Discipleship, a kind of “duel citizenship” between the world and God’s Kingdom, requires commitment and a desire to live in a new way. Things change. You begin to perceive family and friends differently. Jesus said we must hate friends and family to be his disciple. Maybe “hate” is a strong word, but at the very least we are called to set aside blind loyalty to those close to us and focus instead on our relationship with God. A member of my Parish Project Group put it this way:

Many people wished to follow Jesus, but did not understand the huge commitment and dedication required of them. Jesus said to them “If you cannot put aside your family, your life and everything that means so much to you, then you cannot be my disciple.”

Someone described the “family values” of Jesus as hard sayings. Like the instruction to cast out an eye that causes you to sin, these sayings that encourage us to hate family are not literal advice so much as necessary correctives to the values that surround us. For Jesus, the “tribal” approach to community life was at the heart of much that was wrong with his society. People chose tribe over neighbour, tribe over needy, tribe over non-violence and tribe over knowing in your heart of hearts that God loves the vulnerable. Remember duel citizenship: born to one family and adopted to another.


Malcolm Muggeridge encourages us to imagine a world where “All happenings, great and small, are parables whereby God speaks.” In his view, “the art of life is to get the message.” In this world of parables, we are the interpreters, we are the ones dedicated to unlocking the secret’s of God’s Kingdom revealed in each and every parable, each and every event. These happenings may teach us great truths about God’s way and God’s will for us or they may teach us the bitter truth of human living. Here’s an example:

Imagine a society trying to come to terms with a terrible act of violence. Listen as commentators struggle to assess blame or at least understand the meaning of a story where a young man chooses to take the lives of others and finally his own life. Hear a litany of reasons suggested and discussed: bullying, “Goth” culture, internet chat rooms, gun registration, youth alienation, racism and on and on. What we didn’t hear was the reality of human sin.

Within each human heart lies the potential for great good or great evil. This, you might say, is too simplistic to be at the centre of such madness. But I would urge you to compare two people we have now come to know in death. The young woman who died, Stacy DeSousa, was dedicated to her studies and worked hard to overcome a learning disability. She could have given up, she could have lashed out in anger at her situation but chose instead to enter a learning community and do her best. The young man, obsessed with violence and “taking others with him” when he ended his life, made an entirely different set of choices.

This “parable of the tragic week” is about receiving the love and support of others, having a comfortable home and material support and then choosing how to respond to these blessings. For one it was a stable base from which to make a life and for another it was a place to hide and nurse perceived anger. We find ourselves in situations and we choose how to respond.

“All happenings, great and small, are parables whereby God speaks. The art of life is to get the message.”


Suppose you want to be a disciple of Jesus. You hear the message “count the cost,” but rather than focus on things to give up, you choose to focus on the resources you have to build this project called the Kingdom of God. You would begin by doing an inventory of all the spiritual gifts God has given you, all the opportunities and all unique things you bring to a life of faith. You might then look around at the other builders, and begin to see the collective gifts you possess for the project of Kingdom building. Wouldn’t it be wise to count the many resources available before you set to work? What if you found we have limitless potential for doing good?

What if we discovered that we are like living parables, communicating the secret of God’s desire for humankind in each act of compassion we do. What if we discovered that in the midst of all that collective potential was the Risen Christ walking with us, guiding us, and providing strength for the journey?

These words are attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” Your life is a sermon. It may not be eloquent, but it is a sermon nonetheless. The purpose of your life, the sermon, is to communicate the truth of Kingdom living: to love and serve others, to share the Good News of Christ’s compassion, to reflect God’s glory in all you do. Your life, the sermon, will recount the cost of living as duel citizens, the cost of commitment and dedication to God. But you won’t stop there.

As a sermon, your life will list an inventory of the many gifts you have received for this work. You will recount the many ways in which God has enabled you to live out these gifts. Your life the sermon will encourage others to count what they have, and perhaps add them to the cause as well.

Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words. May God bless you and strengthen you for this blessed work.


Post a Comment

<< Home