Between Christ & Us...Anamesa
Now large crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? ... So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Luke 14:25-33
Now when I began my professional career in advertising, the first piece of copy I ever wrote was a help wanted ad for the agency I worked for. It wasn’t the most glamorous of assignments, and in fact they actually told me what to write. I was something like bland and banal like, “Experienced Account Director needed to work on a global brand. Starts immediately.”
Not being a big fan of mediocrity, I added a little creative caveat below in the fine print: “You will need to be resilient to the extraneous demands of a temperamental client. This will require working long hours, abandoning friendships, and having the entire creative department hate you if you don’t sell their work.” Fun fact: They didn’t run that ad, but my climb up the corporate ladder took off running.
Not being someone who lets a good idea go to waste, a few years laters, I did something similar in a Honda ad that was actually published. Buried in the tiny sized legal disclaimer at the bottom of the ad I wrote, “the 300 hp engine really cooks, in fact it could fry bacon.” At this point in my career, I wasn’t trying to be irreverent or funny. I was just curious to see if anyone actually reads the fine print. Turns out the guy whose name was printed on my paycheck did. After that, my corporate climbing days began to wane.
The moral of this tale: Always read the fine print.
Now when Jesus said these things to the people, he wasn’t mincing words or trying to hide anything. He tells the crowd that wants to follow him, point blank: If this is what you want to do, then this is what you will have to do. You’ll have to hate everyone you love, abandon all that you’ve acquire, and be open to ridicule, torture, imprisonment, and possible crucifixion. If this was an ad to attract people to be a part of Anamesa, I suspect I’d be talking to myself right now.
Luke said a great crowd was there to hear this. But at the end of the day, it was only The Twelve who were willing to “burn their boats and go ahead.” But because of the cost they were willing to pay, we’re here today. And so is Anamesa.
Although Jesus will pay the ultimate cost – his one life for every one of ours – it was the disciples who showed us the way ahead. Taking what they learned, they showed us that it’s possible to live a Christ-centered life where doing the will of God is always our number one priority.
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According to C.S. Lewis, “the whole purpose of becoming a Christian is to become a little Christ” with every fiber of our being even if it means pushing away everything we love to embrace. In this space between Christ and us, both God and the world vie for our focus and attention. And it’s in this space, Jesus speaks strongly not to scare people away, but to wake us up.
Like Danae Ashley wrote, “Following Jesus is not a whimsical response to a moment of inspiration or feeling, but a deliberate, life-changing decision, like planning for a war or taking a new job.” It requires each of us to count and calculate the cost. And according to the items on Jesus’ list, it makes me wonder how anyone could afford to follow him.
When I read this passage to a group of seniors at an assisted living facility, one resident honestly asked, “Can I still be a Christian if I’m not able to do what Jesus is asking?”
Of course, my answer was, “Yes!”
No one jumps into the deep end of the pool and begins swimming. First you learn about water, then how not to drown. Eventually, you learn some strokes. Before you know you’re moving through the water like it’s second nature.
To call yourself a Christian means you have decided to follow the way of Jesus. That’s the first step. But to be a Christ follower is to walk and talk like he did doing the will of God as if it was the only thing that mattered.
The Twelve disciples eventually learned that takes instruction, practice, and time to get in sync with Christ. And that’s where Anamesa comes in.
In the space between Christ and Us we walk together, learning and teaching how to live into our true calling. We do this by practicing and failing and succeeding in all the ways we show radical hospitality and inclusion; sharing God’s love with each other.
If you ask me, this is what it means to be both a Christian and a Christian Church - gathering together in the space between to love God, love others, and serve both.
Although Jesus didn’t directly define the church, or at least not what we have today, he does say something to our approach here, when said in Matthew’s gospel, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there with them” (Mt. 18:20).
As you may or may not know, we offer so many different ways to gather together in his name. Whether it’s Sunday service, Thursday Bible Study, or the many phone calls, prayer groups, mission opportunities we provide we do our best to be the visible presence of Christ, filling this sacred space with God’s glory.
What we’ve learned over the past year, is that it doesn’t come easy. It takes practice. And requires a change of heart and behavior to faithfully honor and embrace Christ’s name.
It means letting go of the ways of the world, all the ego, anger, hatred and division if we are to make God our number one priority. We have to stop pretending that God loves us more than those people over there. This is where costs add up.
I know this sounds hard, and trust me, it also feels impossible at times. But our heart belongs to God, even though our ego will try to tell us otherwise.
Whenever the weight of doing this work begins to smother me, I remind myself that the church is not a building, it’s people. It’s you and me. Us and them. I don’t do this alone. I have you, and you have me. We are here for each other.
When I’m down I’ve learned to reach out to others for help because I believe Jesus meant it when he said every time we gather in his name, he’s here with us, shouldering the burdens and celebrating the joys together with us. That’s what makes every space holy and sacred. Christ is alive, and here with us! We are a part of him. And he is a part of us.
This is what Paul meant in Corinthians, when he wrote, "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul recognizes the truth that each one of us is different part of Christ’s body (v. 14), with no one being better than the other (v. 25).
He wrote, “If one part suffers, every part suffers; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 26). When you become one with Christ’s body, you become one with his mission and ministry. And you take on the cost that comes with it.
Now don’t freak out. Buried in plain sight in the middle of today’s text Jesus makes this powerful statement: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” While you might not read this as good news, notice Jesus says, “carry the cross.” He uses the singular – meaning His cross.
The way I see it, Jesus is not calling us to shoulder the burden or take on anything we can’t handle. He’s simply inviting us to take hold of his cross; to walk with him to usher in the kingdom of heaven everywhere we go.
It’s like this. My friend Charlie can lift 600 plus pounds of dead weight. I can’t. Most of us are not Charlie. But if two or three of us get together, I bet we can lift it.
In the same way, the more people who join Jesus to shoulder the weight of his ministry, the easier it becomes for everyone to walk his walk.
It’s similar to what we did when we merged New Church Sherman Oaks with The Phoenix to form Anamesa. Instead of one person doing all the work in different spaces, we now share the responsibilities in one place as one team. Now we can offer more services, provide more pastoral care and offer teaching opportunities. There are more people to pray with us and for us. More friends to practice our faith around.
Day by day, person by person, we move away from the ways of the world, and closer and closer to God. The more members we have in our family, the easier it becomes for all of us to “burn our boats” and become “little Christ’s.”
You are an important part of what we do, and why we do it. You see, in the space between the first “A” and the last “A” in Anamesa, is the word “names.” It’s plural. Your name, my name, our names, their names. Everyone’s name belongs in this space.
Whenever you call someone by name, you’re inviting them into a sacred space. You’re asking them to be a part of your life, your story, if only for a moment.
Today we are calling you by name. Inviting you to be a part of who we are. We want you to be a part of our story, and to walk with us in our belovedness.
Of course joining Anamesa is more than just binding your name to ours. It’s about all our names coming together to take on His name. The One name that God has put above all others, so at the name Jesus Christ, every knee shall bend (Phil. 2:9-10).
And so it is, that in his name we strive together to love God, love others, and serve both at any cost.
Parts of this sermon were borrowed from an original work entitled The Best and Worst Job Posting Ever published on September 8, 2019.
Ashley, Danae M. Fine Print. episcopalchurch.org (accessed on September 4, 2019)
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C. Vol. 4. (Westminster John Knox: 2010) pp. 44-49.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: MacMillan, 1949) pp. 48-50.
Early, Melissa. Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century, Vol. 136, No. 18. August 28, 2019, p.18.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. (MacMillan Publishing: 1978) p. 153.
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”