“Possessions” Colchester Federated Church, September 4, 2022,(Luke 14:25-33) Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

In today’s Gospel passage from Luke Chapter 14, we observe that Jesus is back on the road traveling toward Jerusalem.  Large crowds travel with Jesus and his disciples.  Jesus turns to these folks on the road beside him and explains, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple.  Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”[1]

If there has been a theme in these Gospel passages that we have been exploring together throughout the summer, the theme could be “costly discipleship.”  Because to follow in the footsteps of Jesus does come with joys and costs.  For Jesus’ earliest followers, the cost of discipleship often meant leaving behind their villages, professions, and sometimes even their own families to quite literally follow him.  It makes sense that their families may have accused these disciples of hating them.  Though Jesus seems to be saying that yes, following him even entails hating your own life in some ways.  Because discipleship is about leaving all that stuff behind in order to walk beside Jesus into the new life that is being offered. 

As a footnote in my CEB Study Bible nicely summarized the situation, “Halfhearted attempts to follow Jesus, like half-finished construction projects, will only make a person look ridiculous.”[2]  Jesus shared analogies to make his teachings clear.  If you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate what that tower is going to cost to build to make sure that you have enough money to complete the project?  Otherwise, if you lay the foundation, but can’t finish the tower, everyone who sees this will make fun of you.  Or what king prepares to go to war against another king without first considering how his army will match up against his foe?  If the king doesn’t think that he can win, he could send a representative to come to terms for peace while his enemy is still far off (to not lose his soldiers in an unwinnable battle).  Jesus ends by saying, “In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.”[3] 

In other words, a person cannot become a disciple of Jesus halfheartedly because that will only lead to abandoning the path or staying and resenting being there and the sacrifices being there entails.  The invitation is to let some stuff go in order to embrace the new life Christ offers.  Jesus recognized that for some of his followers this came in the form of possessions, which may have been represented as a clinging to the past.

There’s a traditional Mediterranean story about the power (and necessity) of letting go of our stuff shared by Margaret Silf in her book One Hundred Wisdom Stories from around the World.  This is a beloved book on my shelf (that I did not give away this summer during the book purge, thank goodness).  I adapted and shared the story of the workers building the cathedral in Thursday Thoughts this week for our congregation.  So as I had the book open to adapt the workers building the cathedral story, I realized that there was a perfect story to share about possessions. 

The story called “Letting Go” goes like this—there was once a very old man who had lived his whole life on a beautiful island.  The man had a happy life and loved his homeland.  On this island, his family made their home from generation to generation.  On this island, his family lived and loved, laughed and cried, and earned a living.  When the elderly man approached the end of his life, he asked for his children to take him outside one last time to admire the beauty of their island home.  Once outside, the man gingerly knelt and gathered up a handful of soil—his native soil from his beloved island home.  The man cherished what the soil represented and held it close to provide comfort in his final days of life on this earth.

Soon afterwards, the old man died and he came before the gates of heaven.  The angels present there greeted the old man with joy and told him that he lived a good life.  The angels welcomed him to the kingdom of heaven and invited him to come inside.  The old man was thrilled, of course, and attempted to cross the heavenly threshold.  Though as he did so, one of the kindly angels said, “You must let go of the soil you are clutching.”

The man was disappointed to hear this.  He cried out, “This is my native soil, the earth of my beloved island home.”  But there was no way to negotiate, because we cannot take our possessions into heaven.  And so, the angels sadly left the old man alone to wander outside the heavenly gates.

Many years passed.  The angels came again to check on the man.  They even brought him a taste of the heavenly banquet (remember last Sunday’s sermon about Jesus comparing the kingdom of God to a wedding feast).  Anyway, the angels kept the old man company, feasting with him so that he would not spend eternity alone.  The angels even tried once again to persuade the man that he was welcome to come into the fullness of the kingdom of heaven.  He just had to let the soil go.  Now for his part, the man desperately wanted to join the angels and the heavenly feast for eternity.  Even more so since he had a small taste of its goodness.  But the man just couldn’t let go of the soil he was clutching from his beloved island home.  He just couldn’t do it.  So once again, the angels left the man standing all alone outside the gates of heaven.

More years came and went.  The angels went to visit the man again.  But this time, they had a surprise.  The angels brought with them the old man’s granddaughter.  Because by this time she had grown old and died herself.  She was there to greet her grandfather.  She exclaimed that she was so happy to see him, so happy that he was here.  She asked her grandfather to join her in the heavenly kingdom.  “We love you so much and we want to have you with us for eternity.”  The old man was overwhelmed to see his granddaughter, so overwhelmed by her words of love, that in his joy he flung out his arms to embrace her.  In so doing, the soil of his beloved homeland slipped right through his fingers.  With joy beyond compare, the angels led the old man into his heavenly home.  “And the first thing he saw there was the whole of his beloved island, waiting there to greet him.”[4]

Whatever it may be that you are carrying that’s preventing you from embracing all you are destined by God to be—let it go.  Let it go.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 14:25-27, CEB.
[2] Footnote on Luke 14:28-33, The CEB Study Bible with Apocrypha, 143 NT.
[3] Luke 14:33.
[4] “Letting Go” from Margaret Silf, One Hundred Wisdom Stories from around the World, pg. 80-81.

Photo taken at Ance Marsel Beach in St. Martin by Rev. Lauren L. Ostrout.