Historical Markers: All In

When I moved to South Carolina, I think I found the only place where folks love their state nearly as much as Texans.

It wasn’t very long before we arrived in South Carolina that I made the mistake of telling a random person at a farmers market that I had just moved from Texas.

“Oh, you know we won the Battle of the Alamo for y’all,” he told me.

Say what?

He went on to tell me all about the South Carolina defenders of the Alamo. There were five of them, including James Bonham and William Barrett Travis. And then the guy told me there was a monument to them…

There’s actually a couple. Y’all know me well enough by now, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I figured out right away where they were. One is on the lawn of the Salado County Courthouse, and this one here is in a tiny place called Edgefield. So the first time I was able to get over there, I went.

For all my South Carolina friends who think your state is better than Texas, just remember that your state actually has a historical marker dedicated to Texas

Y’all probably know the story. There’s a lot of mythology tied up in the Battle of the Alamo. If you want to upend your childhood and learn what probably really happened, I suggest you read the book Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth.

But for the sake of this sermon, let’s go with the myth for a little bit…

As the Battle of the Alamo raged, James Bonham broke through enemy lines to deliver letters asking for assistance. And then, even though he had escaped the danger, Bonham risked it all to return to the Alamo.

And William B. Travis. Maybe you know about his letter, “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World.”

Travis called on Americans everywhere to give up everything and come to Texas to fight for freedom.

And once folks showed up at the Alamo, the legend goes that he made one final plea. He drew a line in the sand and said “Those prepared to give their lives in freedom’s cause, come over to me.”

I’m not trying to burst any bubbles, but he probably never actually did that.

But it makes a great story, doesn’t it…?

We’ve got some pretty hard readings today. The Gospel talks about hating family, preparing for war, and giving away all of our possessions.

And then the epistle talks about slavery.

But I think there’s a connection here. Let’s start with the epistle.

Paul is writing to Philemon, pleading the cause of Onesimus, an enslaved person in Philemon’s household, who escaped and made his way to Paul and became a follower of Jesus.

Paul wants Philemon to take Onesimus back, not as enslaved, but as a brother.

Paul’s plea with Philemon is based on the new relationship that each of them has as followers of Jesus.

Paul is prepared to send Onesimus  back as the law requires, but he is asking Philemon to set aside the rights of an enslaver and to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

I wish Paul would have done more in this letter to address systemic oppression, but he is clear: Philemon can’t rely on his privilege as a wealthy enslaver now that he has affirmed his loyalty to Jesus Christ.

That’s the link between these two readings today: What does it mean to be followers of Jesus?

What does it cost to be followers of Jesus?

In our Gospel today, Jesus offers stern words about what it costs to be a disciple.

“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 disciples.”

These are requirements designed to weed out the faint of heart.

Jesus, who is on his way to Jerusalem, is clear that being a follower means being “all in.” 

Like General Travis asking folks to leave their homes, cross the line, and fight for freedom.

He was asking Texans to be all in.

Jesus asks us to do the same.

That’s our historical marker today.

A decision to be a follower of Jesus can’t be made lightly.

Jesus is saying that being a faithful disciple means making conscious decisions that may cause disruption to our priorities, our possessions, our relationships, and even our very lives.

Being a disciple may be that costly.

I don’t pretend that this is easy. To be disrupted from our comfort zones, to be challenged, to be told to pick up a cross if we are to follow Jesus.

God calls us to a life of radical welcome, bold prayer, fearless faith, expectant hope, reckless love, and true humility.

That’s not easy.

Multiple times over these past few weeks I’ve had someone come up to me after the service, or into my office during the week, and tell me how challenging my sermon was.

We’re supposed to welcome and pray for and believe and hope and love? In this broken world?

I get it.

It’s not easy.

Here’s the thing…I stand up here and preach the sermons I most need to hear. So please don’t ever think I’m telling y’all things I’ve already figured out.

Jesus calls us to get rid of anything and everything that comes between us and God and each other.

That is why the picture Jesus draws in today’s Gospel is so vivid.

Following Jesus is hard.

Following Jesus is costly.

Because Jesus calls us to be all in…

Are you ready to cross that line?