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September 8, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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Proper 18 Year C, September 8, 2019
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church in Collinsville, CT
Luke 14:25-33

A few years ago,
two professors
conducted an experiment.
Over five hundred students
in a communications class
were given the opportunity
to sign up
with a new social media site
called NameDrop,
similar to LinkedIn.
All they had to do, it said,
was create an account,
agree to the terms and conditions,
and they were all set.
Pretty standard.
But the site policies
were not standard.
Hidden among the paragraphs
and paragraphs of legalese
were two “gotcha” clauses,
one which said
the user’s information
could be uploaded
 to any third-party,
including the NSA,
while the other said that
agreeing to the terms and conditions meant the user would give up
their firstborn child
to this social networking site.
It was easy to miss these clauses.
In fact,
you could sign up for the site
without even reading the policies,
by clicking the little box
which said that they agree
to abide by the site’s terms of service. And so hundreds of students -
over three quarters who participated - unwittingly agreed
to let their personal data be given out, and to hand over their
possibly yet-unborn child
to a modern day Rumplestiltskin.
 
This might seem amusing,
but it helped illustrate
what the authors call
“the biggest lie on the internet” -
the idea that anyone
actually reads
those terms and conditions!
In the rush to download an app,
sign up for a website,
it’s easier to click that box and say
“Yes, I agree”
than it is to take time to read carefully.

But it’s important to know
what you’re getting into,
what the cost will be.
No one likes surprises,
hidden fees, “gotcha clauses”
which demand something from us
we did not anticipate.

The problem is,
we can’t always know
what we are getting into.
We make promises whose ends
might look very different
from what we suspect.
Marriage, for example,
is a promise made at one point
 in a longer journey.
We don’t know where it will end.
Maybe that’s why our marriage vows
include a broad variety of circumstances: better and worse, richer and poorer,
sickness and health.
Those vows say,
“I can’t know what this will look like
down the line
but I know it won’t always be easy.
And I am choosing to accept that.”

In this passage from Luke’s Gospel,
Jesus is laying out
some terms and conditions
for following him,
and unlike the policies
for that fake social networking site,
he’s not hiding anything.
There’s no fine print with Jesus here.
In fact,
he’s advertising quite clearly, boldly,
in hyperbolic language,
what following him might entail.
He says,
“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.”

Nothing hidden, nothing glossed over.
There’s no gotcha clauses
hidden here.

Jesus here shows
that the cost to following him is great -
it could put you at odds with your family,
your social network, your whole world.
It could cost you your livelihood
and your possessions and your life.
And if one was not willing
to put their faith over and above
these other things,
they were not fit to be his disciple.
He’s not saying one must
hate their family,
but that if it came down to choosing,
faith had to come first.
Following Jesus had to come first.

He’s not addressing this
to a chosen few but to a large crowd.
Those folks
who had heard about this teacher Jesus
 and were intrigued, well,
he was letting them know
what they might be getting into.

The cost of following Jesus
was quite high in the early church. Followers of this radical teacher faced
ostracism, torture,
imprisonment, and death.
The Book of Acts is full of it.
And yet in hearing
these teachings of Jesus,
no one could say,
“Well, I didn’t know the cost.
No one told me it would be hard.”
They had read the terms and conditions
for following Jesus,
promised to follow wherever he led.
Baptism in the early church
is different to what we have now.
It was mostly adults,
who spent months studying and praying,
and days fasting,
before they were
welcomed into the community.
This process was rigorous
and there was a lot of time
to reconsider and back out.
By the time the person
was dunked in the water
and anointed by the bishop,
they were well and truly ready to accept.

It might be less dangerous
to be a Christian these days -
at least where we live -
but the call is the same.
Discipleship that places our commitment
to God above all else.
And in a world that is increasingly secular,
our commitment to the Jesus movement
makes us more and more strange.
Sometimes I think we get anxious
about our lower numbers
and try to water down our faith,
telling people it’s easy, it’s not a big deal,
it doesn’t cost us. It’s fun!
And sometimes it can be.
But faith, true faith, does cost,
it does take sacrifice.
It costs us time,
when we commit to being at church
instead of sleeping in,
praying instead of watching Netflix.
It can cost us relationships,
when we speak out against
racism or other injustices.
It costs us our control,
when we admit that we are clay
in a potter’s hands being shaped.
It costs us our egos,
when we realize that living in community
means accommodating others.
It costs us all the countless idols
we put ahead of God
that bring us comfort.
It can cost everything.
Following Jesus can bring you
to places you never wanted to go,
into relationship with people
you never wanted to know.
It can surprise and upset you.
It can turn your world upside down.

If you were baptized as an infant,
someone took on those promises for you. Someone vowed on your behalf
to raise you to follow Jesus.
Maybe when you were older,
you did confirmation, took classes,
and reaffirmed those baptismal vows.
Maybe you are in that process right now and are wondering what it is all about.

But faith isn’t a one time
“click here to accept”.
It is a lifelong process
of conversion and transformation.
It is a true practice,
day in and day out.
Every baptism we attend
is a rehearsal of that commitment
and every day is a chance to choose
to commit to God,
to place following Jesus
as our number one priority,
as the true north that guides our path in life.

In choosing this path,
we are not made miserable and wretched
full of hatred,
but free and deeply loved.
The path God calls us down
is one that includes
joy and belonging and flourishing,
the building up of a kingdom
for all people.

It might cost us something,
but perhaps what it costs
is worth letting go of.
Perhaps on the other side
we find liberation,
when we choose being
a faithful follower of God
over being a perfect spouse,
a perfect parent,
a perfect worker or a perfect friend.

These are the terms of following Jesus,
the conditions we are being offered. Nothing hidden, no fine print.
To every day,
recommit to following God.
To choose love instead of hate, abundance instead of scarcity,
restoration over retribution.

We know something about
what we are getting into.

Do we accept?


Obar, Jonathan A. and Oeldorf-Hirsch, Anne, The Biggest Lie on the Internet: Ignoring the Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Policies of Social Networking Services (June 1, 2018). TPRC 44: The 44th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy, 2016.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2757465 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2757465

September 1, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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August 25, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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May 26, 2019 - The Rev. Linda Spiers


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