Greetings in the name of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Greetings in the name of St. John’s Pimlico. Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
In Janis Joplin’s song, “Me and Bobby McGee,” the refrain is, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”
Today I would like to maintain two somewhat opposing statements. In so far as discipleship is concerned, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” But, in so far as salvation in concerned, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain.”
When we talk about discipleship Joplin’s original verse, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,” is accurate. When we talk about salvation, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain.”
Let us pray:
Lord God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to You. Amen.
“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”
I genuinely believe that the central message of today’s gospel is that part of being a disciple of Jesus—part of following Jesus—is about losing and leaving everything behind to go on the journey God has called us to. Part of freely following Jesus is having nothing left to lose.
And this isn’t a small thing! Leaving and losing everything—if it is more than words on a page or lyrics in a song—is a scary thing!
Think, for example, of some of the severe instances of losing and leaving everything in recent days.
Think of General Stanely McCrystal. He was the Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, until some… less than flatter words he and his aides had made in front of a Rolling Stone reporter came to light. By this last Wednesday he was relieved of his command and forced to resign. For that matter he doesn’t even get to go back to Afghanistan to pick up his belongings!
His 34 years of service, the four stars on his shoulder—all gone. We can, in a sense, see before our eyes a man loosing everything—leaving everything behind.
As the crisis in the Gulf Coast continues, whole eco-systems—whole circles of life—as well as the livelihood of shrimpers, fishermen, and all those dependent on tourism—are being brought down because the earth is bleeding from a man-made wound. On an economic level, as well as environmental level, the gulf is losing everything—leaving everything behind.
And we can even sharpen our focus and move this message of loss a little closer to home. We can cast our eyes upon the inner-harbor here in Baltimore. We can watch as employees of the ESPN-zone arrived to work 11 days ago only to find their place of employment empty—their means of making a living was punctuated with a pink slip. They lost everything.—they are leaving everything behind.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.
And in today’s readings we find people losing and leaving everything to go on the journey God has called them to. In today’s readings we find that, in order to be free to follow God’s calling, there must be nothing left to lose.
Today we find Elisha called by God to lose everything. He is tapped by Elijah to be his replacement. He is called forth from his job as a farmer to follow in the footsteps of Elijah. And, as Elijah yokes him with the mantle of prophecy, Elisha takes the yoke of his cattle, and the cattle themselves, and burns them all up. He takes all the tools of his trade, all that has provided him with an income, and I dare say all that has provided him with an identity, and puts them to the flame. He is losing and leaving everything.
Today, we find James and John, wrestle with the full implications of their calling. Today they are forced to let go of ancient stories about angry prophets of angry Gods burning unbelievers. They are instead confronted with the cost of discipleship—being a disciple of the Son of Man means wandering from village to village. It means leaving the nest for the empty skies and not even having the common comforts of a foxhole. They are losing and leaving everything.
Today, one man is advised to go against both religious conviction and familial obligation.
This is, in fact, so shocking of a command that some scholars try to blunt its force by adding a Greek word to this gospel that simply isn’t there. They want to change Jesus’ command to say, “let those who deal with dead bodies bury the dead.”
But in the end the calling of the Kingdom of God leaves bodies behind. He is losing and leaving everything.
Today, another man is told that he can’t even say good-bye. He is told that if he was to say farewell to friends and family it would be like plowing a crooked field, because you have to look ahead if you want to plow straight. He is losing and leaving everything.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. The freedom to follow Jesus comes from losing and leaving everything.
There is no doubt that these people are losing and leaving everything to go on the journey God has called them to. But why? What kind of journey requires everything to go? What kind of journey requires burnt oxen, wandering, bodies unburied, and friends uninformed?
Why does following Jesus require having nothing left to lose?
Because, today! Today! Today! Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem! Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem.
Today the focus of his ministry shifts—his mission changes—it becomes cross-shaped.
If you could look into Jesus’ eyes today you would see the cross of Calvary! Because Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem.
And so, when his disciples are surprised at being rejected on the journey—when people ask him if they can follow him… after they’ve done this or that of course!—he responds that they need to lose and leave everything if they are going to journey with him.
Because, when you go to Jerusalem you can’t take anything with you. When you go to Jerusalem you lose and leave everything—because anything you take with you—any pre-conceived notion you had, any hang ups, anything you were particularly attached to—will be stripped away. Because the cross transforms all of it!
And if Jesus is the Messiah. If the journey of faith this Jesus brings us on, is true is in fact God acting in the world—then all those things have to be looked at again.
It is as if the cross is a sort of microscope—or telescope—or set of night vision goggles.
Before Jerusalem—before the cross—we saw a stone rejected by a builder—now we see a capstone. Before Jerusalem—before the cross—we saw a slain lamb—now we see the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Before Jerusalem—the cross was a sign of torture and Roman power and domination—now we see it as the throne of God that casts down the tyrants and lifts up the lowly.
In short, we leave and lose everything because everything is a loss beside the cross.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.
But it doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop with Christ crucified. The good news this day is not simply that Jerusalem changes our expectations, that Jerusalem frees us in such a way that we have nothing left to lose. The Gospel is more than discipleship, as important as discipleship is.
When it comes to salvation freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain! When it comes to salvation freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain!
At the cross everything has shifted! The journey begun today—the journey that requires leaving and loss—doesn’t end with God’s loss on the cross.
No! We killed Jesus but he came back and continues to forgive! He won’t quit us! His journey to Jerusalem and beyond is a continued yes to us!
If there is anyone here within the sound of my voice who doesn’t know, or hasn’t experience, or hasn’t heard, that yes.
If there is anyone who doesn’t want to believe that yes because they think their particular sin is deeper than the love of God.
Anyone who, in the depths of your loss, feels that there is nothing left to lose.
Anyone who has left so many times that you think God has left you.
Anyone who has been so amazed by grace that they don’t know where to go for there.
Anyone who is in need of a reason to love their neighbor.
I want you to know today that God says yes to you!
God has named you and claimed you since the start of creation.
God has named you and claimed you on the cross.
God continues to name you and claim you with each God-given breath you take.
I want you to know God’s yes to us lead to our yes to others—we respond to God’s love with our love of neighbor!
For freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain, and so there is nothing we do to earn more love than has been poured out for us on the cross.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain and so there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace, because grace is God’s gift to us.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain and so it is “for freedom Christ has set us free.”
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain and so we have been freed from the slavery of sin to become servants of all.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain and so we have been given more than license, we have been given liberty.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain and so Jesus Christ has set us free to follow the one law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to gain.