Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Luke 14:25-33

“None of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.” Have you ever given anything up to follow Christ? I mean that question, not just in the rhetorical kind of way I might be tempted to ask it. Obviously, most of us haven’t faced the prospect of taking up literal crosses and walking with Jesus to our executions, but surely that’s not all these ancient words could mean, right? What about other times when we’ve had to give something up in order to follow Christ’s path for our lives?

I’m thinking of an example of giving things up today, on Labor Day weekend: what do you do? Sometimes I wish I wouldn’t ask that question. As a pastor, I try to be aware that we are more in God’s sight than just “doers of a job.” Also, some people don’t have regular paying jobs. You might be retired, or you’re a stay-at-home parent, or you’re unemployed or a student. So defining people by “what do you do” seems wrong in that way. But that seems like what this weekend is about (or was, originally).

I want a different way to ask the question. Sometimes I’ll ask “what keeps you busy,” because that seems to invite an answer that isn’t always about paid employment. What keeps you busy on a daily basis? What do you spend your time on? For some of you, it’s exactly the thing you get paid for, the 40-ish hours you spend every week at your job For others, the money comes from a pension or investments or your parents, and you spend a good chunk of every day doing things for free. Maybe you visit beloved friends who can’t leave their homes, or you read the news and pray for our communities and our world, or you devote yourself to parents or children who can’t care for themselves. Maybe you’re in school, working hard at learning. Whatever it is, think about what keeps you busy.

What keeps you busy is important because it shapes you in a profound way. I just saw my Williams family, the ones who are all pastors. And I hope that we spent the time talking about Grandma, but I’m sure we also spent plenty of time “talking shop.” Clergy are great “shop-talkers.” I think it has something to do with having relatively few colleagues, so we relish any opportunity we get to commiserate, but it also has to do with being deeply invested in our job. This is a big chunk of what matters to us, so it’s a correspondingly big chunk of what we talk about. You probably do the same with the activity that takes up most of your time and energy. You talk about it. You see the world around you in its terms. Your being is shaped by it.

That’s what I mean about giving something up to follow a certain path. Let’s call it a career, because it’s Labor Day, but do hear this in terms of whatever keeps you busy. That role – you’ve invested so much of yourself in it, you’ve put so much effort into getting good at it – it’s found its way into your muscle memory, into your emotional responses, into the way you think of yourself. And that means that something else was left behind. Investing your time in one activity means having less time for something else. And unless that “something else” is TV, you’re giving something up.

I’m pretty sure I gave up being a physicist to be your pastor. That’s what I remember from the time when I was figuring out what I would do with my life. The plan for quite a long time had been science. At the time, I was thinking computer science, but with a double-major in physics. My plan was to do computer modeling of physics problems. And, knowing myself as I do now, I think that path would have taken me through getting a Ph.D. and probably teaching college physics in between computerized experiments. Which, honestly, would have been fascinating.

But I didn’t go that way, and I suspect I never will. I’m not nearly as good with computers as I used to be, for one thing. And I’m way behind the curve on physics. I just quit practicing both of those sets of skills, and when you don’t practice a skill, you lose it. Instead of those skills, I picked up quite a bit about religion, a few things about theology, and a bit about pastoral work. So I gave up a whole career, just so I could be your pastor.

And you’ve done the same. Whatever you’ve ended up spending your time on, you gave up other careers to do it. Most any of us are capable of several different things, but we all end up doing one or a few things with most of our time. When you committed to one path, you passed by some other paths that you can’t quite go back to.

You had your reasons, and so did I. My reasons were about creativity. When I looked ahead at science, I could see myself being very good at something that someone else could have done just as well. I didn’t see room for my creativity to emerge. Now, that’s not true, as anyone who does science can tell you. Science itself is vastly creative. But it wouldn’t have been creative for me. I didn’t know how, but I knew it would have been stifling to me. In ministry, on the other hand, I saw definite room for creativity. I saw something that would take what I could give it and make something profoundly new and special from it. I saw something that could take me and make something more of me.

That creativity, by the way, has nothing necessarily to do with religion. Maybe it did for me, but you could be just as creative working outside the church. In fact, you probably are. My vocation – my calling – happens to be for full-time work in the church, but that’s not all a vocation can be. God can call you to all kinds of work, to all kinds of investments of your time and energy. And when God calls you to something, when you respond by committing wholly to that path, God creates something new and amazing within you.

That “something new” doesn’t always feel radically foreign and different. Life has its sudden U-turns, but it’s more often a long, slow process that you can barely see happening. And the new growth, well, it usually feels a lot like who and what you were before, because that’s exactly the raw material God uses to make what’s new about you. When God put your bones together in your mother’s womb, She made them out of broccoli and potatoes and milk. When God transforms you through gifts of time and energy you didn’t know you could offer, She makes the new you out of the experiences you’ve had and the gifts you’ve been given. Even so, something new is being created, even in the midst of your daily commitments.

That’s why Jesus talks about commitment in such strong terms. He’s talking about counting the cost of discipleship, but the implication is that none of us can “afford” to follow him. We don’t have the budget to cover the tower he’s building, we don’t have the might to conquer the army he’s defeating. We don’t even have the love to match his love for us. All we can give is everything we have.

But that’s enough. When we commit whatever we can, something amazing happens. The resources multiply as we pour them into serving others. The strength grows as we practice using it. The love deepens as we follow its lead. The work we were doing, even if it felt like just a way of paying the bills or killing time, becomes a blessing we didn’t know how to expect. The way you spend your time becomes a vocation, more than just work or activity. Let that vocation, that calling, lead you this week.

Our affirmation of faith is the classic “vocation” statement. The Apostles’ Creed is what people traditionally recited before they were baptized, before they made the fundamental commitment of their lives to following Christ. That’s why it’s an ‘I’ statement, where many other faith statements are ‘we’ statements. As you recite this classic ‘I believe,’ commit yourself to following where you’ve been called today.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.”

Amen.

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