Back when I had little kids rather than adults, my husband and I were discussing the idea of giving our six year old, Claire, an allowance. We agreed that it would be a good idea for her to start getting the hang of the idea of money and how it works. I suggested that we start her out by giving her fifty cents every Saturday morning, while my husband suggested that a dollar would be more appropriate. We didn’t know it but Claire was eavesdropping on our conversation, and at this juncture she popped up to say “I want my allowance to be fifty cents like Mommy said!” I tried to explain to her that fifty cents is much less money than a dollar, but she insisted: she knew her numbers and fifty of anything had to be a better deal than one of anything else.
The problem, you see, was that she was using a kid-type concept of currency where the biggest and most important fact for her is that fifty is more than one … and she couldn’t look past her preconceived notion to the bigger picture. Today’s Gospel reading made me feel exactly like Claire—I knew how it made me feel (uncomfortable, afraid, and like God was potentially scary and dangerous) and I was pretty that I was missing something big.
The first few times I read it, I couldn’t get past these two thoughts: WHOEVER COMES TO ME AND DOES NOT HATE their family and even life itself and CARRY THE CROSS AND FOLLOW ME. And no matter how many times you read it, it does say that… which is pretty scary stuff. Of course, there are mitigating circumstances. We have to factor in the way that Jewish teachers of the time used exaggeration to make a point—and the word “hate” is better translated into something akin to giving up duty. Jesus is saying, in a culture where family duty is first and foremost, that his disciples will be expected to prioritize their loyalty to Jesus ahead of even that. In addition, at the time, the disciples travelled with Jesus—which took them away from everything familiar to them. It was a big ask. At the same time, the calling here remains the same: to follow Jesus and to be willing ot put Jesus first. And, I have to admit, there is nothing that I found in my study that makes the carrying the cross an easy saying. Jesus is asking us to do something daring and revolutionary and hard.
And it’s really scary if, that is, we stay stuck in our human concept of currency, rather than trying to look beyond it to see how God’s Gospel currency works. If we can get past our need to shout “I want the fifty cents, I want the fifty cents”, then we can start to see the dollar that God is offering us in this passage.
We love our families because we know them. We love our families because they love us. We love our families because our lives are intimately intertwined with theirs. Maybe God is calling us away from that so that we can understand that our lives are equally intertwined with the lives of strangers. Maybe Jesus is calling us away from our familiar places that so that we can love people that are complete strangers as equally as those we love who are known us. Maybe the Holy Spirit is calling us to step away from our families so that we can have a bigger family, one that is richer and broader than we ever imagined. God is giving us more people to love.
This community knows a lot about that kind of love. I read on your Website about how you support the Mission Graduates program, because you want the neighborhood kids to have the benefits every parent wants for their kids. You shared bounty of food and friendship with 200 neighbors through your food pantry—and your unhoused neighbors shelter in this very sanctuary so they can sleep safely. You can be a reminder to the rest of our church and to the world: We are called into love through a willingness to be expansive in how we define family and how we define home. In not just picking up the cross, but in carrying it as a community—knowing that someone else’s cross is as much ours as it is theirs.
This community is a witness to the reality that God calls us to opening the doors in our familiar places, the places that we call home, in dramatic ways.
I can’t help wondering if God’s vision may be bigger than we can even imagine— beyond even giving to those in need or sharing what we have. It may be that God is calling us as the whole church into finding home in more places, and different places.
Maybe, in this Gospel God, is also asking us to let go of what our idea of church is, what our idea of politics are, what are idea of community is… So that we can be called into new understandings, new ways of worshiping, new ways of listening to one another, new ways of being in community. Earlier this summer I went to Israel and I saw first hand the divisions in that country between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I naively thought that if I listened carefully enough I could pick out some strands of truth. The reality, though, is that the story there is as complex as the way that land has been divided and stories have been told over generations. At the same time, I heard murmurings…. Small snippets of subversive love that is moving through that country. Often, at the center of the stories are women and children, working to make sure that everyone is taken care of, that education, food, or whatever is needed is shared. Sometimes it is individuals and other times it is a non-profit organization.
God’s vision for the world is breaking out in small pockets there just like it is here in this neighborhood. And I think that may be the kind of thing that can go viral—if an Israeli and a Palestinian can find common ground, perhaps a Democrat and a Republican can. Perhaps a vegan and a carnivore can. Perhaps the angry and the sad can find that they are reacting to the same things. In the upside down way of Jesus, we may find ourselves working and aligning with people that we couldn’t even imagine sitting down with before. If we can do that, maybe those with worldly wealth and power see that the most valuable currency is the currency of God—of love, forgiveness, abundance, and care. As the Gospel says, we need to sit down and count the cost. In worldly terms, it may cost alot—a lot of giving up our preconceptions and listening carefully and being willing to see things in new ways.
But when trust that Jesus has an amazing vision for the whole world, we can accept our calling with open hands. A number of years ago, I traveled to another country for the first time. When I reached Heathrow airport in London, I went to a currency exchange booth and traded some of my American money for a handful of pound coins and notes that looked very unfamiliar and strange to me. Next, I found a cab to get me to the hotel where I was staying. At the end of the trip, the cabbie told me the charge for the ride, and found that the only thing I could do is hold out the English money that I had and ask him to take whatever was owed. He picked through the money in my hands and I trusted that he would take only the right fare. (He even let me in on a secret: English cabbies never expect a tip.)
Perhaps, this is the way that we need to approach God: with all that we have and all that we are offered on open palms, knowing that we don’t understand the currency but offering what we have and knowing that God will take what is needed. Then, God can transform it into something that will bring about holiness right here on earth, in our towns, in our schools, in our places of work, in our neighborhoods and in our very homes.
Compassion grows out of looking at the world with Gospel eyes and then responding to that need wherever and whenever we see it, in whatever small way we can. A number of years ago, a woman in Sausalito, Calif., named Anne Herbert wrote a phrase on the back of a paper placemat. It said: Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty. Herbert said this: “Anything you think there should be more of, do it randomly. Kindness can build on itself as much as violence can.” It became a catch phrase across the country as people caught a glimmer of how to use a new type of currency—the Gospel currency of kindness and compassion.
I wish I had some wonderful story of how something like that that I did changed the whole world right before my eyes. I don’t though, because these small acts must be thrown into the world like pebbles into a pond. I know that the waves go out and get bigger, even if I cannot see them. In God’s economy, though, these small acts may be silver dollars or even twenty dollar gold pieces, worth enough to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and comfort the afflicted—enough to serve Christ in each and every person that we meet and to change the world forever.
Preached by the Ven. Hailey McKeefry Delmas on September 4, 2022 at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in San Francisco.