By The Rev. Sherry Deets
16 Pentecost – September 8, 2013
Luciano Pavarotti, the immensely talented operatic tenor who crossed the boundary into popular music, once commented on a lesson he learned from his father.
“When I was a boy, my father, who was a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song. He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice. A professional tenor in my home town took me on as a student. I also enrolled in a teacher’s college. As graduation was nearing, I asked my father, ‘Shall I be a teacher or a singer?’
“’Luciano,’ my father replied, ‘if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose. You can only sit in one chair.’
“’I chose one’, Pavarotti continues. ‘It took several years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another several years to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now, I think, whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book—whatever we choose—we should give ourselves completely to it. Commitment—that’s the key. Choose one chair.’” 
Isn’t that what Jesus is saying in the words he speaks today? It’s another hard saying, not unlike one we heard a few weeks ago about how his coming will bring division among families. “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.” Those are hard words—hate our families? Hate even our own selves? What is Jesus talking about here?
Well, Jesus is not talking about being emotionally at odds with our families, filled with animosity and spite. Language changes. That’s not what the word “hate” meant in Jesus’ day. Then it meant making clear choices about what’s really important. And, Jesus is saying, as much as we might love our families and our own lives, what’s really important is to long for and live for the full coming of the kingdom of God, which he will bring when he gets to Jerusalem and suffers and dies. That’s what Jesus means when he calls on his followers to “hate” family and self—to love God and long for God most of all! And that’s a message that is relevant in any day and age.
As Pavarotti said, we’ve got to “choose one chair”. We can’t waffle when it comes to what really matters in life, can’t remain indecisive and still hope to live a significant and meaningful life.
It’s an urgent choice. We’re at the boundary—always at the boundary between life with God and death as we follow our own devices. And the choice is ours—now.
The whole point of this passage is that Jesus warns that we will come to a decision point at some time or another in our relationship with him. We will have to choose what comes first. When (not if) there is a conflict between our allegiance to Christ and our allegiance to something else, the one who wants to be a follower of Christ will choose Christ over and above something else. Here is what Jesus says in plain English: “When your allegiance to me conflicts with your allegiance to any other person — mother, father, sister, brother, or any one else — choose me!” “You must be willing to follow me — even to death — if that’s what it takes!” “When your attachment to possessions is stronger than your attachment to me, you must be willing to give up your possessions!”
In other words, Jesus Christ calls us to something that is counter cultural right now — commitment!
The movie, “The Long Walk Home,” serves to illustrate what Jesus meant. While that movie is not about following Jesus, it is about doing the right thing in difficult circumstances — and that’s exactly what Jesus was warning that we would have to do if we became his disciples. His disciples can expect him to call them to do the right thing even though the circumstances might be very difficult.
That movie, “The Long Walk Home,” was set in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. That was the year that Martin Luther King organized a boycott of city buses in response to a requirement that Negroes sit in the back of the bus.
The movie features two women –Miriam Thompson, a white woman — and Odessa Cotter, who is Miriam’s maid. Because of the boycott, Odessa is walking to and from work — nine miles each way. Miriam could see that Odessa was tired, so she offered to drive her back and forth.
That movie is a good illustration of what Jesus was saying about loyalties above family loyalty. Miriam’s husband was opposed to the bus boycott — and opposed to his wife driving Odessa back and forth. Nevertheless, Miriam thought it was the right thing to do.
But then Odessa warned Miriam that the police were harassing drivers with blacks in the car — stopping them — giving them tickets. Miriam said, “I bet I’ll get lots of tickets.”
Then Odessa warned that tickets would just be the beginning, and suggested other ways that Miriam could help. She could write a check to help the boycott effort. But Miriam didn’t want to write a check. She said, “It would be Norman’s money” — Norman, of course, being her husband, who opposed to the boycott and opposed his wife driving Odessa back and forth.
But Odessa said, “When it’s all said and done, people are going to look at you, Mrs. Thompson, and they’re going to say that you were part of this.”
To which Miriam replied, “Let people say what they’re going to say.”
Then Odessa said, “And what about when it isn’t just the buses? When it’s the parks and the restaurants? When it’s colored teachers in white schools? How about when we start voting, Mrs. Thompson, because we will? And when we do, we’re going to put Negroes in office. What about when the first colored family moves into your neighborhood? You know, Mrs. Thompson, ain’t nobody going to think any less of you if we just turn around and go back to the house.”
At that point, Miriam got a worried look on her face. It’s that kind of thing that Jesus was warning about when he said that we need to count the cost before becoming his disciples — because Jesus will call us to do the right thing instead of the easy thing. He will call us to say Yes when everything inside us wants to say No. And he will call us to say No when everything inside us wants to say Yes.
The goal of faith is a changed life. How is your life different? As the year progresses we will all be faced with choices…what decision will you make based on your relationship with Christ? Jesus gave his all for us – he died on the cross and rose from the dead. He says we are worth it.
Maybe the good news is simply that we can’t do what he asks, but we have a Saviour! When we can’t bear the weight of the cross the good news is that Jesus did.
When we fail at what Jesus asks of us the good news is that he forgives.
He asks us to give up everything else and make him our number one priority and when we keep putting other things first he still searches out the lost sheep and welcomes us back with open arms.
The sayings are still hard but the good news is that the one saying them is merciful. Jesus says that we are worth it all. Now he seems to whisper “I am asking that I be worth it all for you as well.” Amen.
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