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Luke 14: 25-33
25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
Last week I went to see West Side Story at Sadler's Wells. It's a great show with wonderful music by Leonard Bernstein, and a very powerful story, basically a modern reworking of the Romeo and Juliet theme, only this time set in New York, where white American gangs are fighting Latin-American gangs for territory - old hatreds based on racial tension and inner-city poverty. And then a boy from one gang falls in love with a girl from another gang - Tony and Maria - and tragedy looms. Two people dare to cross the divide of race and hatred because of the higher call of love.
They fight for something better and finer, and they lose, but in losing, effect a kind of reconciliation.
I want to tell you another story - this time about a white South African called Robert Mansfield, the headmaster of a white school who took his sports teams to play against black schools in the era of Apartheid until the education department stopped him so he resigned in protest.
Shortly afterwards, a black community leader met him and said 'I've come to see a man who resigns his job because he doesn't wish to obey an order that will prevent children from playing with one another.' And Robert Mansfield said: 'I resigned because I think it's time to go out and fight everything that separates people from one another.' And when asked whether he wasn't daunted by this and frightened of the opposition, the hatred and the violence that he might face, he replied: 'When I eventually meet my Maker, He will say to me 'where are your wounds?' And if I have no wounds, he will say 'Was there nothing to fight for?' I could not bear that question.
Is there nothing to fight for? That's the question our Gospel reading asks. It's a strange reading because it makes Jesus sound like Abu Hamza, a preacher of hate. Jesus says: you've got to hate your parents, your family, if you want to follow me. Jesus exaggerates to make a point, and the point he makes is about commitment, and the cost of commitment. The challenge to us is, what is the cost of being a Christian? Has our fidelity to the Gospel ever cost us time, reputation, money, family harmony or personal safety?
The Gospel message is cost. Does being a Christian cost us anything? Look back over your past week or month, and examine your life. Has there been any moment when you felt you had to pay a price, even a small one, for standing up and being a Christian?
Can I suggest that this morning, Alfred's baptism, was such a moment for you, his parents and godparents? You have stood up, in front of your family and friends and the whole congregation and made a serious act of commitment. You have nailed your colours to the mast, and said that the Christian faith is worth fighting for. For us all here this morning, Christian discipleship is not just following the crowd, it is making a conscious decision to follow Jesus Christ, and a willingness to count the cost especially in a society where it is counter-cultural to belong to the Christian Church and say openly that you are a Christian.
The story of Tony and Maria from West Side Story, the story of Robert Mansfield, the headmaster in South Africa, and Jesus' stark exaggerations about loyalty and allegiance all proclaim that some things in life are worth fighting for: sometimes we do need to nail our colours to the mast: and often there is a cost involved. The challenge is summed up in Jesus' words:- 'If you don't pick up your own cross and come after me, you can't be my disciple.'
If there's nothing worth fighting for in life - which may involve unpopularity or swimming against the crowd - how are we eventually to meet our Maker with our heads held high?
Be salt, be light in the world - and dare to make a difference! Amen.