The Cost of Being Christian

Today’s Gospel reading was Luke 14:25-33:

If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. . . .  So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

During the sermon, my priest spoke of “the cost” of being Christian. In this passge, Jesus puts a price on being His disciple. Are we willing to pay that price? And what do we get in return?

This got me thinking about the price I pay to be a Christian, or, really, asking what price do I pay? 

In this day, in this country, I do not face persecution for my faith. Some friends and colleagues are surprised that I am a church-going Episcopalian with a strong faith in God, but they don’t hate me for it, or even question me about it. 

As an Episcopalian, my religion doesn’t place many demands on me. Not like my Orthodox Jewish friends who keep kosher and strictly obeserve the Sabbath. Not like my Catholic friends who don’t eat meat on Fridays and really do give up chocolate for Lent. Not like Muslims who face persecution–or at least fear and suspicion–for their faith.

In this passage of Luke, Jesus tells me the price I should be paying–giving up family and all my possessions to be His disciple. But I haven’t paid that price.

I’ve worked hard–and prayed hard–to keep my family together. I am not leaving them for a mission trip or to join a monestary. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is asking here. I think He means that we have to be willing to put Him first, to serve God before our families and friends, to stand up to family members and friends who may challenge our faith or throw obstacles in our paths to the altar. Still, its hard for me to identify any way that my faith has cost me family or friends.

I have a harder time reconciling Jesus’ call to renounce all I have with my world view.  I have lots of possessions that I take pleasure in, and still others that I look forward to obtaining. Yes, I do give “generously” to my church, but I am not tithing, unless you do some complicated after-tax calculations. And, while I donate to other charities, I don’t feel like my giving is in proportion to what I have. I have built up considerable savings that gives me comfort in these hard economic times and helps quell the unease I have about my job security, but I wince when I read Bible passages that warn against reliance on self instead of God, storing up treasures on earth instead of heaven, thinking for even a moment that I have any power to protect myself (or my family).

Our priest said that Biblical commentators have written that Jesus’ talk of giving up all your possessions really just means that we shouldn’t be attached to our possessions. We shouldn’t place them first. We should value relationships with family, friends and neighbors more. Even today’s Forward Day By Day essay takes this view. But I call bullshit on this. I think Jesus really does want us to give up our possessions. How can I think that he would rather that I have a new Coach bag than someone else have a roof over their head or a month’s worth of groceries for their family?

Yet, I’m not about to sell everything and give it to the poor–I haven’t been moved by the Holy Spirit that much. Being a Bible-reading Christian, I accept this as yet another way in which I fall short of Jesus’ perfect example. Being an Episcopalian, I am not miserable with guilt over this. I know that God’s love is unlimited, unconditional, and unwavering. Jesus won’t turn me away from heaven if I die with my iPhone in my pocket, but He knows there is not an app for salvation!

All in all, I feel like I am getting off cheap for being a Christian without paying these steep prices. What more can I pay? What more will I pay?

I think one price I am being “called” to pay is to talk more openly about my faith. I need to look for more opportunities to identify myself as a Christian, to explain what that means, to share my faith with others. For now, this means writing “faith” articles here on my blog. Soon, it will mean broadcasting them to my public Twitter account. Maybe someday (probably sooner than I am ready for) it will mean linking this blog to my Facebook account, where I have more friends, colleagues and family members who don’t know this much about my faith.

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