It is so, so, so good to be back. I want to begin with a confession. I didn’t go to church much on sabbatical. Most weeks I had a good reason, like I was on an airplane or I was in the middle of a sheep field. When I was in big cities, I went to the places one Ought to Go: in Edinburgh, I went to St. Giles; in London, I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. But some weeks, I knew that if I went anywhere besides St. David’s, I was just going to do a whole lot of comparing, the other church was going to come up short, and it wasn’t going to be an actual worship experience. So it’s wonderful to be back here where I can worship with all of you.
There is one thing that I don’t want to let go without saying, and that is thank you. Thank you to James, Mary Sue, Linda, Gary, Emily, Josh, Ben, and everyone who kept this place not just going, but humming. Everything you’ve been doing…don’t stop! And thank you to the vestry, for letting me go on sabbatical. And thanks to all of you for showing up today to welcome me back. If you’re new to the parish and are wondering who the heck is this lady up here….I hope you’ve gotten a wonderful welcome here over the summer. We’ll talk.
Early on in the 192-mile, 18-day walk across England I took with Mark and Nathan, we were on a country road somewhere between the towns of Shap and Richmond. A warning sign on a fence caught my attention. It showed a big exclamation point, and it said “danger: deep excavation,” I took a picture of this sign and sent it to my writing mentor, who is always telling her students to excavate their stories. By this she means: go deeper. You go along like this ————- for a while and then you drop down, and go deeper.
I think Jesus always wants us to excavate what he has to say, to dig down and explore the layers of meaning. Especially today’s gospel. On the face of it, this morning’s gospel is a bit of a non-starter. Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Well, sorry, Jesus, I guess I fail. I love my family and I love my life, so either a) I can’t be a disciple, or b) I can’t take this gospel passage seriously. If we excavate, if we dig deeper, what do we get to?
If we read this whole gospel, not just the hard-yet-catchy parts about hating our families and giving up all our possessions, we see that what we have is a collection of sayings, and each of the sayings is really about the same thing. If we dig down, we get to this kernel: being a follower of Jesus costs something. It costs something different for each of us, but it usually costs some form of attachment.
I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to dig deep down into yourself for the answer. Don’t edit—you don’t need to share this with anyone. Here’s the question: what’s the first thing that comes into your mind when Jesus says none of you can be my disciple without giving up all your possessions? What is the hardest thng for you to give up? The barrier to discipleship is not the possession, it’s our attachment to the possession.
And attachment is not just about possessions, as you all well know.
My attachments include a particular idea of myself as capable of some things, and not others. The collect we prayed this morning prays to a God who always resists the proud who confide in their own strength. Confiding in our own strength, rather than God’s, is an attachment.
My attachments include needing things from family members that they cannot always provide. I think this need is what Jesus wants us to let go of, when he tells us to hate our families.
My attachments include preconceived notions of other people: that person is going to be critical, that person is going to be stingy. That other person is never going to let me down. Etcetera. Dig down, and think about whether you have an attachment to particular expectations of other people. The cost of discipleship is letting go of these expectations, positive or negative, so that we—just like Jesus—can be fully present to whoever is in front of us at any given moment.
One of my personal favorite barriers to discipleship is my attachment to outcomes. I get so attached to my imagination’s own particular version of success that I miss the chance to witness God’s work. This has happened to me over and over again in this place, from the earliest months when I was here practically all by myself, meticulously planning events to which no one came, to this sabbatical time, when all of you accomplished great things in ways we didn’t even plan on!
When we give up these attachments to our own particular expectations and outcomes, life becomes much more of an adventure. Especially church life. Who knows what will happen? Who knows how you or I will deal with whatever happens?
I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am beginning a new chapter in my own life as part of the St. David’s adventure. And I’m excited. I want to enjoy watching the mystery of our life as a community of disciples unfold, without my attachments, my anxieties, and my expectations getting in the way.
More than anything else, I’ve looked forward to sharing Eucharist together. It is such a privilege to say mass in this place, and even though the words are pretty much the same, week after week, it is different every time. When we gather around this table, I hope you will bring with you all of your attachments to leave at the altar. You won’t need them for discipleship. Instead, take away from this altar the mystery of our journey. Let’s see where it takes us.