Wisdom 9: 13-18; Philemon 9-17; Psalm 90; Luke 14:25-33
“…a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind.” These words from the Book of Wisdom speak to all of us. How often have our plans for prayer, study, meditation fallen through because of physical infirmity, or the duties and responsibilities of daily life? How often has our reasoning been worthless and our designs failed? We too can hardly guess what is on earth and what is right at hand we find with difficulty, however we struggle and persevere we fail, both at our everyday tasks and at our Christian journey. This can be, and often is, discouraging and disheartening. But I will tell you a secret, it’s supposed to be like that! Our life here in this world has a purpose, a lesson we are to learn, and that lesson is: God is God, and we are not. It is the second part of the lesson that is the hardest to learn. We may think we know it, and certainly give lip service to it, but every time we choose to sin, we prove we don’t get it. Every time we set our will against God’s, we are putting ourselves in God’s place, and that is the sin of presumption. We presume to know better, that “just this once” our judgement is superior, our knowledge more extensive, our wisdom deeper, and God should just understand that. Right. Put that way, it really does sound stupid, and arrogant, and while we may not think it through that clearly, that is the choice we make when we choose to sin. So, in God’s wisdom and mercy, we have been given this life to learn this truth, and to be truly glad and thankful for it, and that is why we fail, we need to. We need to fail in order to learn that we need God, at every moment, in every circumstance, for every decision. Not to do it for us, we are not puppets, but to guide and discipline us, because we are children, God’s children.
In St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon he writes, “I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.” Are we useful children? Are we attentive, obedient and desirous of pleasing our heavenly Father? If we strive to be, then we are learning our lesson. We all have many ideas, hopes and dreams about what life is, should be, can be, or will be. If they do not include, as our primary purpose, what our Lord says in our Gospel lesson, then they are just willful fantasies. Our Lord said, “Anyone who 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. Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” There is no way around it, that is harsh, but what does it mean? According to the Orthodox Study Bible, “The command to hate one’s kindred and one’s own life as well is not to be taken literally. Rather we are to hate the way our relationships with others can hinder our total dedication to the Kingdom of God, which takes precedence even over family ties.” It is a difficult and fine line to walk to hate a relationship that is hindering our faith, and not to hate the person. But every relationship has five persons in it, oneself, the other and the Trinity, if we can depend wholly upon the Trinity and surrender everything to God, we will find that we can love the person, and hate the hindrance. This is the essence of taking up our cross, surrendering to God. There are two things we need to understand about this; everyone must take up their own cross, what we must do in this world is different for each of us, and we have been chosen by God to bear certain struggles for our own salvation and the salvation of those around us, and next, that we must take up the cross every day. Our commitment to Christ is not a one-time thing, it is an ongoing journey of faith and obedience, even if it is painful, which it will be.
I realize that so far I have presented a pretty grim picture of the Christian life: failure, infirmity, cluelessness, sacrifice and pain. Which is all true, but it is not the whole truth. If we embrace wholeheartedly our role as beloved, though wayward, children, who are being schooled and disciplined for an eternal life with God, then we will find peace, fulfillment, purpose, joy, love and companionship along the way in the Church. Taking up our cross daily to follow Christ is a burden and a sacrifice, it is also the only way to our resurrection, our transfigured life. So, however stumblingly we may be following, let us continue to put one foot in front of the other, in gratitude that God IS God, and we, thankfully, are not.
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