Sermon, Proper 18, Year C Season of Creation I 2022
We are no strangers to counting the cost of things.
In these days of high food prices, I see people going through the grocery store, calculators in hand, counting the cost of items on the shelves before placing those things in their grocery carts.
A person who is buying a car counts the cost of driving the car under consideration over time, considering gas mileage, the inevitable upkeep and repair charges, the cost of new tires, and insurance costs.
Many people count the costs of having children before deciding to have children.
Buying or building or renting a house—what will the cost be?
I don’t know about you, but I get put off by what Jesus has to say in today’s gospel, when he tells the crowds who are traveling with him that if they expect to be his disciples, they must count the cost.
Jesus says that the costs of discipleship include our possessions, our families, and even life itself.
These costs don’t make sense to rational, sensible people who work hard for what they have, love their families, and treasure their life here on this earth and, in addition, as followers of Jesus use all of what they have for good purposes.
But for dreamers, who often seem to lack sense and to be irrational, these demands of Jesus make perfect sense,
because dreamers can see beyond what is to what might be.
Dreamers are willing to pay any cost, no matter how high, to realize the dream.
Jesus himself was a dreamer. He dreamed of bringing God’s kingdom of love to earth. Jesus lived as if his dream were already a reality.
Instead of working as a carpenter, gathering the possessions he would need to live a respectable life as a craftsman, instead of marrying and settling down, having children, being a respected, faithful, dependable man in his community—all of which would have been good, and would have made a positive difference in his immediate world, Jesus left all those dreams behind for a far bigger and better dream, the best dream– the kingdom of God’s love spreading over the earth, restoring universal joy and justice and peace to all of creation.
Ultimately, this dream cost Jesus his physical life on this earth, a price that even Jesus hesitated to pay as we know from his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death.
Jesus knew that for those who followed him, this dream of God’s reign of love coming to earth must become their dream as well, and that they too, must be willing to pay any cost to live into the dream.
So Jesus taught his disciples how to pray the prayer of dreamers, the Lord’s Prayer.
Only dreamers, or at least people who are willing to try to dream, would pray the very first petition in this prayer, and I’m going to put it in the familiar language that we have up on the wall behind me,
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
The New Zealand Prayer Book’s translation of “thy kingdom come” fleshes out the dream of God’s reign on earth a little more.
“The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.”
Jesus calls dreamers, or at least people who are willing to dream, to follow him, regardless of the cost.
He tells them to carry the cross, and to follow, knowing the cost.
That cross that Jesus asks the disciples to carry is the cross of obedience, obedience to God, for following God’s commandments also requires that we be dreamers, to be able to see beyond the dreams of immediate gratification to the bigger dream of God’s reign as a dawning reality in the process of being fully realized.
No wonder, then, that Moses, way back in Deuteronomy, asks the Israelites who are waiting to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land to be dreamers as well.
He asks them to choose life instead of death, to dream of a life defined by loving God, obeying God and holding fast to God. Obedience to God would lead to a dream realized –life in a land flowing with milk and honey, a place where the Israelites could at last put down their roots and grow into the people that God hoped that they would become—because you see, God is a dreamer too, to believe in people at all!
Today’s letter to Philemon from the apostle Paul is about a dream that Paul has for a man named Onesimus. Paul has met Onesimus in prison and Paul has a dream for the future of Onesimus, greater than just Onesimus getting out of prison and going back to his former life with Philemon, which is a pretty good dream. Paul dreams that Onesimus will go back to Philemon and that rather than continue on as slave and master, Onesimus and Philemon will be brothers as they would be in the reign of God come to earth.
So Paul writes to ask Philemon to be a dreamer too, to be obedient to who he is as a follower of Jesus, to forgive Onesimus and to take him back not as a slave, but as a brother, and in doing so, to bring into reality for Onesimus the dream of God’s reign of love and justice come to earth, and in doing so, to make that witness of love and justice visible to the world.
How do we disciples of Jesus make God’s love and justice visible and active in the world today? How is God calling us, here and now, to be obedient to God, regardless of the cost?
Here at St Peter’s, we have been dreaming the dreams of God’s reign of love and justice coming to this earth in our work on racial reconciliation. The Sacred Ground scholarship which we established this year is the result of a dream of wanting to address the historic inequities in education for people of color in our nation dating back to slavery and continuing in decades of racist government policies that denied people of color the opportunities that white people had. Our hope is that the people of color who receive the Sacred Ground scholarship in the years ahead will find justice, peace and freedom in having been able to pursue their educational goals a little more easily than they would have been able to otherwise.
And here at St Peter’s, we also dream the dream of God’s reign of love and justice for all of creation, which is why we observe the Season of Creation each year, along with the wider church—our Catholic and Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters, and more and more, people throughout Christendom, taking the time to celebrate and consider what it means to care for creation intentionally as part of our obedient discipleship as followers of Jesus.
As all of creation is suffering more and more greatly from the effects of climate change, this Season of Creation reminds us, as dreamers, to dream again the dream of God’s earth sustaining the web of life and security for all living beings that God planned at the beginning of creation.
Our temptation as rational, sensible people is to count the cost and to decide that we cannot wholeheartedly care for the earth as disciples because the cost is just too high—too inconvenient and too expensive. Maybe the small, feel good stuff, but that’s enough.
For too long, we have settled for the small dreams of our own easy lives at the expense of dreaming God’s dream of ecological justice for the earth. Our obedience gets compromised by putting our own wellbeing and ease ahead of obedience to God, who appointed human beings as the earth’s caretakers.
When we come to our choices regarding how we care for the earth, we have literally reached the point of choosing between life and prosperity or death and adversity as Moses said so long ago. God sets before us life and death, blessings and curses in our relationships with creation.
What we do, or choose not to do, for creation will literally mean life or death for our children and our children’s children. Consider plastic, which is such a ubiquitous part of our lives that we don’t think twice about buying and using it. Seemingly small decisions like choosing plastic containers over biodegradable containers because the plastic containers are cheaper and more convenient or choosing the convenience of a plastic water bottle over a refillable water bottle are ultimately death dealing decisions for the environment.
But wait, I recycle, you may tell yourself—I tell myself that all the time.
But here’s the awful fact that we forget at our own peril—that plastic NEVER decomposes.
Instead, over time plastic breaks into plastic fragments. The plastic fragments eventually become micro fragments, and then the micro fragments become nanofragments, so small that they can barely be seen with the most advanced microscopes. These nanofragments already swim throughout our water supply. Even in the most remote regions on earth, the rain itself contains these nanofragments of plastic. We are drinking in these nanofragments and because they are carried on the wind, breathing them in as well.
In today’s world, choosing material other than plastic for things we use when possible is a choice for life rather than death.
So today, I challenge us all to dream again the dream of God’s earth sustaining the web of life and security for all living beings that God planned at the beginning of creation. Let’s carry the cross of obedience and follow Jesus in the ways that we decide to care for creation, regardless of the cost.
And I challenge us all to dream the dream that Jesus himself dreamed and lived and died for, the greatest dream we could ever dream, the dream that Jesus dreams that we, his disciples will dream—God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.