A sermon for September 4, 2016
The true cost of discipleship is laid before us today by Christ.
Here today, Christ is telling us that in order to follow him, in order to be a disciple, the whole of us needs to be front and center in publically devoting our lives to Christ. Often times we separate our personal selves from our professional selves. We hold our tongues at work, even when we wholeheartedly disagree with something. We are quick to offer our opinions in the privacy of our homes, but not willing to stand by them in public. And, sometimes that’s a good thing, because sometimes our opinions are not really worth sharing. But, often enough, this unwillingness to stand, is an unwillingness to stand for justice and truth in the fight against inequalities that we see every day. We hide because we are weary of the backlash. We hide because that’s what our culture tells us to do. But if we listen to Christ today, if we acknowledge the cost of discipleship, then we acknowledge that we must live into the full person that we are, with no regard for how that may alienate us from our families, from our professions, from our community, as long as we are following Christ and devoting our full and authentic selves to being a disciple, to picking up our cross and following Christ on this journey.
This is a very radical call, and one that we don’t often see lived out in this world. There are certain luminaries of recent history that have lived into this call, from Oscar Romero the saint of liberation theology to Mother Theresa to Martin Luther King, Jr., examples exist but they’re often some of the most extraordinary people to walk this earth, they’re the people you expect to example this radical call of discipleship. But, what about your neighbors, does anyone jump to mind as following this radical call? Is there anyone today who you might say is at the very least making a stand, and may be starting down the path to this radical call of discipleship that Christ puts forth today?
One person that leaps to my mind, and I’ll admit I was as surprised by this person as a lot of people were (although that may have been more to due to heated sports rivalry irrational feelings), is a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick. Now, I do not presume to know Kaepernick’s depth of faith (although it is something that he has discussed in the past, and a very prominent tattoo on one arm is of scripture), and I do not presume to say that his actions are guided by faith or an attempt to follow the radical call of discipleship of Christ. But, I do think that his actions are an example that we can learn from when we consider the radical call that is before us.
For those who don’t know, Kaepernick has drawn a lot of heat the past couple weeks for refusing to stand during the national anthem before a preseason football game. It turned out that he hadn’t been standing all of preseason, but it was only recently brought to attention by the media. Kaepernick explained his decision by stating that: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Here is a man that is taking a stand. Here is a man that is taking a stand knowing full well that it will not be met with wide praise and adulation. Here is a man that is taking a stand knowing that he will face negative reaction. He knew what he was doing, he made a conscious decision to protest in this manner, and back it up with his words when it was brought forward to him. And, he did this knowing that this could cost him his job. He did this knowing that this could lead to the fans of his team hating him. He did this knowing that this could lead to other players on other teams hating him and attempting to take their opinions out on him in a game. He did this knowing that it might cause a headache for his employer. And, he did not waver when confronted with his actions. He stayed firm. He explained his reason, and committed to continue in his silent but now very visible protest.
Jesus Christ calls us today to take up his cross and follow him. This means taking on the radical and countercultural message of Christ, taking on the pain and ostracization that can come from following Christ in a public manner by carrying your cross through the public square, it means standing in unwavering fashion for the Good News of Christ, Good News that often challenges the very foundations of society. Colin Kaepernick can serve for us as an example of what taking up our cross might actually look like in practice. Kaepernick has decided that this is how he wants to raise awareness for something that he personally feels impacted by. As a person of color himself, Kaepernick felt a personal conviction that he knew would ostracize and label him, but he chose to sit nonetheless. He chose to sit in a silent protest, making a personal decision of protest, a personal decision that no one noticed the first couple of times he did so. This is because protest does not have to be out in front of everyone. Protest is about deciding what you believe in, and then being willing to account for that decision when and if others notice. And, in doing so he didn’t go against anyone. By sitting Kaepernick did not desecrate the flag (which, as an aside, is not a sacred or religious symbol, it is cloth that represents our country, treating it with anything more than a measured respect is a dangerous path). By sitting Kaepernick did not condemn the military or question the actions of veterans. By sitting Kaepernick did not attack you, or anyone else for that matter, personally. He has simply, and radically, made a personal stand that means something to him and does it against what may be his better judgement. He turns against our current culture, he turns against his own protection of worth, he has made this statement because he must do something in order to reconcile the world that he sees.
Now, I am not asking you to believe what Kaepernick believes, or do what Kaepernick is doing, although I also would not judge you for following his lead, but instead, I ask you to see what he has done in context of the radical call that Christ puts forward today. Is there anything we believe, so deeply, so wholeheartedly, that we would be willing to make such a public and easily attacked statement? Where do we make our stands? Where do we take up the cross to follow Christ, even in the face of everyone questioning that decision? When have you taken a personal stand for something you believe in, something that promoted the Good News of Christ? When have you taken a personal stand for something you believe in, something that promoted the Good News of Christ, that drew onto you hatred, vitriol, disgust?
Christ is not calling us all to be activists today. But Christ does call us all to follow him and accept the cost of discipleship which can include our closest family, friends, the material goods we’ve collected in this life, the very life we comfortably lead. The cost of discipleship can be great because what we are called to do is not always the most popular, the most socially accepted, the most in-line with our accepted cultural standards. Being a disciple of Christ means shining a light on those areas that are cast in perpetual darkness. Being a disciple of Christ means taking a stand, even by sitting. Being a disciple of Christ means spreading the Good News of Christ, particularly when that Good News shakes the foundations of our world, especially when that Good News forces people to reassess their privilege, reassess their biases, reassess their very understanding of what it is they are fighting for and why they are fighting for it.
The cost of discipleship is made clear to us today. It is up to us to decide if we are willing to accept this cost. It is up to us to decide how far we are willing to follow Christ. For following Christ means taking up the cross and completing the journey, there is no halfway. And, if we are unwilling to complete the journey with Christ, then we can not be said to be following Christ. Look deep within yourself and know that Christ is with us as we take up our crosses and follow him. Know that it is in and through following Christ that we will experience salvation. And know too, that following Christ is often unpopular, is often not glamorous, is often flying in the face of the very life we think we want. If you can accept this, you can follow Christ. When you follow Christ, you not only will spread the Good News of Christ to this world, but you will forever be rewarded for the sacrifices that you have made to take a stand and forfeit all the things in this life that get in the way of fulfilling that goal.