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Sometimes, you just get in a bad mood. You may not even be sure why. I’m not sure how it is in your life, but for me, sometimes I realize I’m in a bad mood because I’m stewing about something somebody else said or did. They may not even have said or done it to me, but I heard it or saw it, and now I can’t stop stewing about it.
But sometimes for me, I’m in a bad mood because I’ve got too many things on my plate. I may not have realized it before, but when somebody gives me one more thing to do, I realize I’ve reached the end of my rope. And I’m in a bad mood.
And sometimes, I’m in a bad mood simply because of the way life is around me. I read the news, or see the trauma of others, and it’s hard and depressing. Often, I can’t do anything about it, and that actually makes it worse. And I realize it’s put me in a bad mood. Maybe it’s like this for you, too.
And in today’s Gospel reading, it seems Jesus is also in a bad mood! Without any discernible reason, he suddenly turns to the crowds and starts telling them stuff about hating their relatives, taking up their cross and giving up their possessions. But I’m not really sure why.
In other places in the Gospels, Jesus is in a bad mood for reasons more easy to understand. Sometimes, Jesus is in a bad mood because somebody is trying to trap him in a question or triangulate him into their conflict. And often, Jesus’ harsh words are in response to what people have said to him.
Sometimes, Jesus seems to be in a bad mood because too many people are pressing in on him. He and his disciples don’t even have time to eat. And Jesus realizes they need to get in the boat and go somewhere and take a break for a while.
And sometimes, Jesus is in a bad mood because of what he sees or hears in the world around him. Jesus sees people in the Temple who don’t care about being there for worship, or he hears about Herod murdering John the Baptist. And these things clearly upset him.
But in today’s Gospel reading, everybody around Jesus is following him because the like him! Nobody is giving him a hard time. Everybody seems happy. It just seems like one big happy party of people meandering about from one great “Jesus episode” to the next.
And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe that’s what ticks Jesus off. Jesus has all these folks traveling along with him, and they seem to think that this is about watching the Jesus show. That it’s about being with a happy crowd of people where everybody likes Jesus. And, at least at this point, it’s not causing any pain or any cost to any of them.
And that seems to be eating at Jesus. And so he turns to them and with some very harsh words he tells them that this isn’t what being a disciple is about. Before the tough stuff happens, Jesus gives them some tough love. After all, he’s on a journey to Jerusalem where everybody is going to turn against him. When following is going to be scary and painful and difficult. And in which he himself will literally take up his cross.
Being a disciple, says Jesus, isn’t simply about following along behind him and watching the show. Being a disciple also means being willing to be part of what Jesus is doing, especially when it’s hard. Being a disciple also means being willing to be part of the group when the group isn’t popular in the world around you. And being a disciple sometimes means it will cost you in a variety of ways.
But it’s much more fun and exciting to just be part of the big, happy crowd following Jesus. I suspect a lot of those folks that day heard what Jesus said and thought, “Wow! Jesus is in a bad mood today. But tomorrow will probably be different, so we’ll just keep moving along.” I understand that. That’s how I react a lot of the time when I hear these words. And maybe the same is true for you.
But bad mood or not, these are important words of Jesus that we shouldn’t ignore. And they’re not just addressed to people long ago who were literally following him around the countryside. Instead, Luke bothered to record these unpopular words to remind disciples of all times and places – including us – that being a disciple of Jesus – and having that relationship be an important and life-giving experience in our lives – means more than just being part of crowd who loves Jesus.
For us, too, being disciples means there’s a cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran Pastor who resisted the Nazis during the Second World War. He wrote a book called the “Cost of Discipleship” in which he pointed out that being a disciple was costly in ways that many people don’t like to think about (in fact, he himself was murdered in a concentration camp, so he knew what he was talking about.)
And while the “cost of discipleship” is thankfully not always that high, it’s still true for us that if we want discipleship to have any meaning in our lives, it means that we have to be willing to do more than follow along and watch.
And for us, sometimes the “cost” means:
- Personally living our faith in the lives of others, day in and day out – many of you have heard me say this if you’ve been a parent whose kids I’ve baptized or taught in confirmation, that there is absolutely nothing I or “the church” can do to have an impact on your kids’ faith than what you yourself say and do each and every day…
- Putting time and energy into the work of the community – next week, we’re having a “ministry fair”; one thing that does is highlight the many ministries and ways we serve as a community of faith. But it’s also about joining in and helping, and realizing that NONE of these things will continue to happen unless we’re willing to join in and help, not just follow along…
- Resisting the notion that somebody else will pay for all this stuff – one of the things that puts me in a bad mood politically is that it often seems like we, as Americans – regardless of political party or perspective – all seem to believe that we should have all kinds of stuff, but that somebody else should be paying for it, because I already pay too much. For a couple of generations now, that attitude has often permeated church life; we just assume that many of the ministries that happen will continue to happen. Somebody will kick in the bucks for it. But that’s not a foregone conclusion unless all of us are continually willing to listen to these words of Jesus and ask what literal cost we’re willing to pay – in time and energy but also in dollars – to ensure that the mission we say we’re committed to continues to have an impact on us and on others in our world…
It’s always great to be part of an exciting trip and be with a happy bunch of people. There’s actually nothing wrong with that, and Jesus doesn’t say that there is.
But today, Jesus also reminds us that that isn’t really what being his disciples is all about. And that’s because Jesus wants us to be part of what he’s doing, not just observers. Jesus wants to have a continuing impact on our lives. And Jesus wants to work through each of us to have an impact on others in the world around us.
And so Jesus calls us to be people who not only follow, but to be people who live our faith in the lives of others. Jesus calls us to actively involve ourselves in what God is doing in our lives, not just watch. And Jesus calls us to invest ourselves – our time, our energy and our money – into making the mission of Jesus a living reality in the life of the world around us.