"I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" (III Pentecost - Proper 7A)
Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” by Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
III Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 7A)
“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:37b-38).
Jesus has some hard things to tell us this morning. Following Jesus is tough. It’s tough because Jesus doesn’t just want an hour or two every Sunday. Jesus wants all of us. The God who made the heavens and the earth became a human being, and our Savior Jesus Christ asks us for everything.
Of course, God isn’t being greedy here. There is a reason that the Holy Spirit continues to ask us for everything. God is Love, and Love can ask for nothing less.
God is Love, and God stands at the center of the Universe wishing to restore all things to unity and harmony (Book of Common Prayer, 855). But we creatures are so corrupted by sin, so blinded by our lust for power and domination, so enthralled with the pursuit of more, that Jesus’ peace often looks and feels like a sword. When we try to live into that true peace, people around us start to look at us with suspicion. Following Jesus can be scandalous.
The Unity that God desires is so all-encompassing that if and when we try to hold something back, we may be separated from Jesus’ peacemaking. When we behave selfishly we end up fighting against God and God’s purposes. God’s Love often forces us to choose between serving our own interests and desires and serving the greater good.
And so Jesus’ call to follow him in Love may pit fathers and mothers against sons and daughters. It may split up households because most of us are not ready to give up everything in Jesus’ Name. And of course, we may find ourselves on both sides of this equation over the course of a lifetime. Sometimes I am standing for Love in a way that scandalizes my neighbor, but other times I am the stick in the mud who doesn’t want to treat “them” (whoever “them” is) like the Children of God they truly are.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, that can sound like Bad News. God has these sky high expectations for us that we can never really meet. Jesus even calls us to follow him to death. Nobody wants that.
But the Good News is that many saints and sinners throughout the ages have actually done this. We are not walking an untrodden path. Christians have followed Jesus to the end. Last Thursday, June 22, we celebrated one of them, named Saint Alban.
The Martyrdom of St. Alban
Alban was an ordinary man living in about the 4th century in what we now call southern England, then ruled by the Roman Empire. The Empire was unfriendly to Christianity in those days. There were periods of active persecutions during which Christians were arrested, tried, and killed for refusing to participate in Roman civil religion, and otherwise challenging the status quo.
Alban was not a Christian. There weren’t very many Christians on the British Isles back then, and it was often dangerous to be associated with the Church. That said, Alban seemed not to mind the growing Jesus Movement. I would consider him an ambivalent, if curious observer. Christianity was a far off political and religious problem that the government dealt with… until the day when a Christian priest knocked on his door.
Fr. Amphibalus (It's a silly name, I know) sought refuge from the growing persecution and needed a safe place to stay. Somehow he arrived at Alban’s door asking for that haven. Alban agreed to offer the man hospitality and slowly got to know him. Something about this priest’s life was impressive and attractive. Alban saw Amphibalus’ sincere love for the Triune God through his regular habits of prayer and worship. His piety inspired Alban to love God too, to accept Christ, and be baptized.
Then the persecution finally followed Amphibalus to Alban’s home. When the soldiers came to arrest the priest, Alban switched clothes with him and sent him away in secret, while Alban greeted the soldiers in priest’s clothes. The soldiers arrest him and brought Alban before the local judge.
The judge said that because Alban had hidden the priest from the authorities,
“you shall undergo all the punishment that was due to him, if you seek to abandon the worship of our religion.” But St. Alban, who had voluntarily declared himself a Christian to the persecutors of the faith, was not at all daunted by the prince’s threats, but putting on the armour of spiritual warfare, publicly declared that he would not obey his command. Then said the judge, “Of what family or race are you?” - “What does it concern you,” answered Alban, “of what stock I am? If you desire to hear the truth of my religion, be it known to you, that I am now a Christian, and free to fulfil Christian duties.” - “I ask your name,” said the judge; “tell me it immediately.” “I am called Alban by my parents,” replied he; “and I worship ever and adore the true and living God, Who created all things” (Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, I.7; emphasis added).
Alban then refused to offer sacrifices to the Emperor and Roman gods. The judge ordered him scourged and then sentenced to death. On the way to his own death, Alban remained steadfast and fearless. He would not be intimidated by the threat of death. He had decided to follow Jesus and there was no turning back.
Alban’s faith inspired the soldier who was supposed to be his executioner so much that he dropped his sword, fell on his knees before Alban, and prayed that he might become a Christian too. The former executioner asked the judge to let him suffer in place of Alban so that he could go free. Unfortunately, the two of them were then killed together. Their martyrdoms led to a growth of Christianity in the region for centuries to come.
St. Alban took up the cross that was laid before him. For him, the Cross began with a stranger at his gate, whom he chose to welcome and care for. The Cross led him to his conversion and baptism. Then the Cross led him to love his new friend and priest enough to offer himself up for arrest and execution in his place. Alban found his life by losing it for Jesus’ sake.
Alban saw that God’s Love calls us to care for the good of the whole over our own self-interest. He saw that God’s Eternal Love for him was worth losing his life and stuff. And he saw that while his death may have meant temporary division, it led to long lasting unity and healing, even for his former persecutors.
Love brings people together even if we are separated in the short term. The sword of Jesus split Alban from his government and police, but his faithful witness to God’s Love changed the world around him, beginning with the executioner who laid down his sword. Alban followed Jesus to the end, proving that it is possible to receive and give back the Love that God offers us. May we too follow Jesus with everything we are, no turning back.
Let us sing!
V1: I have decided to follow Jesus... No turning back
V2: Though no one join me, still I will follow... No turning back
V3: The world behind me, the cross before me… No turning back
St. Bede the Venerable. Ecclesiastical History of the English People I.7. Accessed 22 June 2017. http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/bede_martyrdom_of_alban.htm.
Book of Common Prayer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1993. #136.
“Story of St. Alban.” The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban. Accessed 22 June 2017. https://www.stalbanscathedral.org/history/story-of-st-alban.