Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Two articles came to my attention this week, and coincidentally my son started a difficult conversation with me Friday night on the same theme. The articles were both published by Presbyterians. The first article was written by our own Executive Presbyter on his blog site, Holy Breadcrumbs. He was reflecting on the word “Legacy,” and had some thought-provoking observations. He writes,
“I have a theory of why legacy sort of became a dirty word in our churches. … I think there was a time that dates back about two generations where the church had a smooth-operating legacy plan (we didn’t call it that, but that is what it was). Like a factory assembly line we could guarantee that the church’s narrative would be carried on as long as we had Sunday School classes for children, confirmation for teenagers, college chaplains for the university-bound and baptism for the next wave of children. Wash, rinse, repeat and do it all over again…But something happened….”
The second article I read came from Jill Duffield, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook and generator of the weekly reflection “Looking into the Lectionary.” Reflecting on some of the themes for this week’s readings, she notes,
“Christianity in our context is certainly becoming more counter-cultural. No longer is church attendance expected. No mid-week or weekend hour is cordoned off as sacred. In fact, for many who are Nones and Dones, Christianity is perceived negatively or neutral at best. And yet, those of us in the pews or pulpits are not typically persecuted for our faith or punished for our religious affiliation. It is relatively easy for us to proclaim our allegiance to Christ without counting the cost or living in ways that mark us as different from the prevailing consumerism, capitalism and zeitgeist of our age.”
I will have to respectfully disagree with Jill on one point. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I suspect there may be more of a felt cost to being affiliated with a church, and with Christianity as a whole for that matter. At least, I am finding that to be the case in Portland. That difficult conversation I had started like this: I was making my rounds to the children in bed – each carefully given roughly the same amount of bedside one-on-one time for fairness. My son called out to me as I was leaving his room: “Daddy,” “Yes?” “My friends all say Jesus doesn’t exist; they say that but you say that he does, I don’t believe what they are saying, I believe you, Daddy.” The observation stopped me cold. I knew someday it would happen, in fact he’d mentioned a time or two before his friends were not into church or church going. What could I say? “It’s very hard to be a believer these days,” is what finally came out of my mouth. Then I was out the door, but I knew I needed to go back and have a deeper conversation.
The ramifications of these peer to peer conversations scare me as I look to the future. When I went back to talk to my son, about ten minutes later, I had to point out that it is very possible that some day he might be pressured to choose either his friends’ way or his dad’s. He said, “I know, I know…”
But then my son went on to bring up how hard it is for Jewish people, too, and all they had gone through. I was surprised. Proud of him, and thinking of one of his other close friends who is Jewish, I confessed to being just a little jealous of our cousins in faith when I see how close knit their family system usually is – how in some cases they live intergenerationally, share in regular table fellowship as a family, passing on their faith and beliefs and other significant culturally ethnic traditions such as festivals and Hebrew/Sabbath school even to this day.
But where to go with this conversation? I tried to talk about my research in language a third grader could understand; how the church we know has in the last few generations become broken up, with separate kinds of ministry to, with, and for children, youth, and adults, without a time and place for all of them to simply be a family of faith together, learning and passing on our faith tradition.
I tried to explain that, perhaps during some period of time in the history of his friends’ families either a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent experienced hurt or judgment from a church or someone who was part of a church, which then became passed on to their children, causing a slowly growing disfavor with church and Christianity as a whole, leaving his friends or the parents of his friends not really sure about what church is, what the whole point of it is, or even who Jesus is. I pointed out they might even be categorizing all institutionalized Christian religious expressions based only on more conservative perspectives projected by TV broadcasts or I didn’t know what. I voiced the hope that some of his friends’ families might be more tolerant, with that nonjudgmental “live and let live” perspective, and he agreed, identifying his best friend as one of those…(at least for now, my brain silently offered).
After that our conversation drifted away into other stream of consciousness topics of a tired third grader heading for sleep. Yet I fear, because seeds have been planted for good or for ill, by me and by his peers; what will grow from them? All I feel empowered to do is pray God will look after my children. What else can I do?
Returning to Jesus’ difficult teaching, Jill suggests we look at the text from Luke through the lens of the letter to Philemon. She states the bald truth that we keep very few, if any of the injunctions Jesus mentions: hating our parents, siblings, children, giving up our possessions, and the like. She suggested through the lens of Philemon, we might regard how we order our priorities in life, how we reshape our values and actions to put Christ first in all things as a faithful response.
We are warned through Luke chapter 14 that there is a high cost to discipleship. Jesus knows that cost is the cross, as do his followers. But we don’t have to worry about crosses do we? Not in the same way as those living in Roman Empire times. But we do have to count the cost, as Jesus suggests. Commentator Emilie Townes reminds us the word “cost” only occurs once in the New Testament, here in the Lukan passage. While reflecting pragmatic reality, she does end with a note of hope: She writes,
“Cost is what we give up to acquire, accomplish, maintain, or produce something. It involves a measure of sacrifice and perhaps loss or penalty in gaining something. Cost requires effort and resources.
When coupled with discipleship and accepting and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, one can see the power of Jesus’ call in this passage and the commitment it demands of us as hearers and doers of the word. Discipleship, we must remember, is a process. This takes time and involves both false starts and modest successes, as we grow in our faith journeys to live into the fullness of our humanity and dare to begin to live the holiness that resides in each of us.”
To this I respond: “O Lord, let there be enough time and positive role models for my children to grow in love of God and faith in you and the Holy Spirit, for I cannot do it alone, I need all the help I can get! In Jesus’ name I pray.”
Amen? May it be so.
 Emilie Townes, “Theological Perspective, Luke 14:25-33” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
Questions for Reflection
Where have you seen relationships redefined by faith? Who have you come to claim as a family member, against all odds? Who do you still label “useless”? What would it take for you to see that person as a sister or brother?
Household Prayer: Morning
God of all creation, you made the hands that stirred unthinking at the start of this day. As the hours slip by, help me to be more mindful of the good they might do: in the greetings they might offer, in the burdens they might bear, in the worry they might soothe. Prompt me to keep them open—not clinging to what you have entrusted but freely offering, freely receiving, in response to this day’s needs. May each small motion be a sign of trust, a reminder that my life is in your hands. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
God of every beginning, every ending, as I remember the faces I saw this day, in moments ordinary and extraordinary—as I recall reports of hardship far away—help me to recognize family forgotten by my heart, sisters and brothers entrusted to me. As I rest this night in your care, mend my courage and fire my imagination, that I might be truly useful to you. Plant me where you need me, in the name of the Christ. Amen.