25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said, 26 “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. 30 They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ 31 Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? 32 And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. 33 In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.
As I start this devotional, I am happily witnessing a citizenship ceremony in a large, but socially-distanced room in the federal building in Newark, NJ. Along with others from around the world, it is for my sweet sister-in-law, Cez, who came from the Philippines nine years ago. After she and my brother fell in love, they ended up more than eight thousand miles apart. Eventually, Cez, who is also a devout Christian, would have to take a huge leap of faith. To marry my brother, Cez knew she would have to be willing to give up the life that she’d known, leaving behind those she’d loved and the familiarity of her homeland.
The United States naturalization ceremony includes the promise to renounce one’s original allegiances. Despite fear, there are people who have fled all they have loved and known. It includes a commitment that is freely made and without reservation. When I think of God’s calling on our lives, now I will forever think of this event and my sister-in-law.
When Jesus says that to become his followers, we must hate our own families and even ourselves, of course he is not really telling us to hate one another. Yet we must be willing to deny the parts of our lives and ourselves that don’t fit with who we are becoming through God’s call. Jesus is saying that we must be willing to risk even ourselves and all that we’ve pledged to, for our faith in God’s way for us.
But, I am also finding that this kind of pledge cannot happen begrudgingly. We will instead hate ourselves and our choices if our allegiance is not rooted in joy. We will instead hate ourselves if our choice to serve God is not freely grounded in love. We must be willing to bear the cross of Christ for love’s sake.
So as I watched new Americans pledge their allegiance, I am reminded of my journey of faith. I am a little teary-eyed. It is not just that this journey is a long time coming for my family, but it is because I know how much Cez loves my brother and the family they’ve created together. We all must be willing to bear our crosses for love’s sake.
By Barbara Carlson
For Pondering & Prayer
If you have never witnessed a naturalization ceremony, you are missing out! After Tuesday, I frankly believe that it is something that every American, born here, must see. As I watched, I wondered how our journeys of faith are like leaving behind all that we have known and accepted, before we realize God’s grace meant just for us. How does your walk with God mean giving up your old wants and ways? What crosses do you bear through your love and service to God? What hurts hold you back in the pledge of your whole heart?
Prayer: Gracious God, often we are afraid to give up what is familiar and feels comfortable. We are afraid to pledge our whole allegiance to you. We may even feel foreign in our own bodies and our lives without you. But you know us individually by name. You know our hurts and our needs, even better than we know ourselves. Thank you for loving us, even when we are most difficult. Help us to live lives joyfully and with love, as your called people. Help us to grow in thanksgiving and grace for others, for all that you share with us. Amen.