“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit,” (Galatians 5:24-25).
Sermon in a tweet: The call to Christian discipleship is an exhortation to martyrdom.
On Wednesday of this past week at our noon Eucharist we celebrated the feast day of St. Alban who is said to have been the first martyr in Britain. Alban was a Roman soldier stationed north of London in the early third century. Though himself a pagan, it came about that one day Alban provided shelter to a Christian priest who was fleeing persecution. When he observed the priest in prayer he grew in curiosity about the Christian faith and soon after turned to accept Christ as his own Lord and Saviour.
Reports later reached the authorities that the fugitive priest was hiding with Alban and soldiers were sent to seize the priest. However, when they reached the dwelling, Alban met them disguised as a Christian priest, the man they were after. And so they took Alban before the military governor who discovered the ruse. When Alban refused to offer the pagan sacrifices required by law he was condemned to death and beheaded that very day. Alban’s martyrdom is considered to have been his baptism.
The call to Christian discipleship is an exhortation to martyrdom.
Our gospel reading this morning functions as something of a hinge-point for Luke. As we heard in the opening line: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” (9:51). From here on out Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And the disciples and a growing crowd are with him. And we are with them—together on the way with Jesus.
The first thing to realize is this: we learn what it means to be Christian as we follow Jesus. For Luke and the disciples, Jesus is literally on the move traveling in obedience to God’s call. Travel can be uncomfortable, can’t it? Sure, you may get to see some sights, but you’re living out of a suitcase, sleeping in someone else’s bed, eating other peoples food. Who here doesn’t look forward to returning home after a long trip? There’s nothing like that first night in your own bed again! It is comfortable and familiar! Just the way we like it! Is our faith sometimes in danger of becoming like this? Comfortable and familiar—just the way we like it! I suppose that discipleship often looks most attractive when we set the terms.
And yet, if the Christian life is about journeying with Jesus and we are always on the move with him then there is a very real sense in which we will experience a certain discomfort, a certain homelessness here in the world. After all, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” (9:58). In part, this sense of homelessness comes from the life long process whereby our hearts and minds are worked over, refashioned and reformed by the Holy Spirit, upending and undoing that which the powers at work in the world have taught us to love and to know.
So, Jesus is on the move but where is he going? “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” (9:51). Jesus is going to Jerusalem, that is to his death, to the cross. A few chapters later in Luke as they are progressing along the way together, Jesus will say to his disciples, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” (12:50). And the baptism about which he was speaking is his death and resurrection—the climax of his rejection by the world. Not unlike St. Alban, Christ’s martyrdom is his baptism.
So then, to follow Jesus is to follow a rejected leader.
Are we willing to be closely associated with just such a man? Are we, as his followers, willing to be given a share in the rejection he experienced? Indeed, a few verses before our reading this morning Jesus, after predicting his death, says to his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me,” (9:23). That’s the call to discipleship. Right there. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Costly.
Perhaps then the greatest enemy of Christianity is not secularism, or materialism, or individualism but rather a form of Christianity without the cross. To think that we can rejoice with Christ apart from rejoicing with him in his suffering. To think that there is a way to eternal life that circumvents the way of the cross.
It’s no wonder then that people struggle to follow. The way of Jesus is not easy, it is costly, because it means having our view of the world including our beloved and deeply held values turned upside down. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” The way of Jesus, the way of the cross, is costly, for it is the way of self-giving love. It is the uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and unsettling experience of not being fully at home in the world because even Christ, the maker of the world, was not at home. It is being given a share in the rejection of Christ as the disciples experienced in that Samaritan village (9:53). A rejection which for Jesus will climax on the cross outside of Jerusalem where he is headed. Our rejection with him will not cost us less.
The call to Christian discipleship is an exhortation to martyrdom.
And yet, I want to share with you a great mystery, the mystery of Jesus Christ: that there is life in death.
Do you remember when Jesus called his disciples to pick up their cross daily and follow him? Well he followed that up by saying, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it,” (9:24). One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is that we only truly find our life when we lose it, “for my sake,” says Jesus. How might Jesus be inviting us to lose our lives for his sake here in this new and growing community of faith? How might he be inviting us to lose our lives for his sake in our relationships with our neighbours here in the wider community, or at home with our friends and families? For in doing so we will find there, in the laying down of our lives, life with Jesus.
Remember Alban? Well, if like Jesus his martyrdom was his baptism then let me suggest here this morning that your baptism was your martyrdom. Whereas Christ’s journey was taking him to the cross our journey with Jesus begins there at the cross in the waters of baptism where we die with Christ and are raised to new life with him as well; where he takes our lives and joins them to his own making us his. New creatures, newly clothed in a new creation. Set from from sin in Christ for life in the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul writes.
In a few weeks when we bring forth Hudson James George and Joseph John for baptism, let us remember this. When the Holy Spirit joins them to Christ in the water, let us remember that we have been so joined as well. When we witness their commitment to Christ let us renew our baptismal covenant along with them, recalling what a Spirit-led life looks like.
Is this not what the Apostle Paul meant in Galatians when he wrote, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit,” (5:24-25).
You belong to Christ, thus you have been crucified with him in baptism and raised with him by the Spirit. This is the martyrdom that every baptized Christian is called to live daily—yielding our whole lives to the Holy Spirit. Not determining to set our own course by our own rules but laying down our lives that we might be guided by the Spirit. This is what makes us fit for the work of the kingdom here in Mount Dennis, Weston, and beyond. Thanks be to God, Amen.
 For All The Saints: Prayers and Readings for Saints’ Days, 202.