John Kenneth Galbraith was an economist and diplomat serving under four different presidents. In his book, Name-Dropping: From F.D.R. on, Galbraith speaks about the loyalty of Emily Gloria Wilson, his housekeeper of forty years. It had been a wearying day and he had an evening engagement, and had asked Emily to hold all telephone calls while he had a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. It was President Lyndon Johnson calling from the White House. It was the president’s custom to make most of his own calls.
“Lyndon Johnson here. Get me Ken Galbraith. I want to talk to him.”
Emily responded, “He’s resting, Mr. President.”
“Well, get him up. I need to talk to him.”
“No, I’m sorry, I can’t. I work for him, not for you, Mr. President.”
When Galbraith woke up, he was not amused and immediately called the President back to make amends. Galbraith writes, “L.B.J. came on the line; it was pure Johnson, he could scarcely control his pleasure. ‘Who is that woman that works for you? I want her here in the White House.’”
In our Gospel, Jesus tells the apostles that if they are to become his disciples, they must be like him in every respect and in doing so, they will be treated just as he has been and will be treated. It is not going to be any easier for them and probably worse: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” Yet, even in their mistreatment they should not be afraid, the Father knows them down to the last hair on their head and he will care for them, even though they may die in the process. There is only one thing required of the disciple: absolute allegiance to Jesus.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” What is required of the disciple is that they always remember who it is they are working for and remain loyal to him, no matter what else may place a call on their life.
In the book of Ruth, after their husbands had died, Naomi urges her daughter-in-laws to return to their people so that they could have a life. Orpah did, but Ruth remained, saying:
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”
This is what Jesus asked of the disciples — that they should remain loyal to him, even to death. Were they always successful? James and John wanted a piece of the action and so asked to rule beside him. Many walked away when the teachings became to difficult. Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. All of them ran away on the night he was arrested. No. They were not successful, they failed plenty. Yet, the call to absolute allegiance remained. Jesus didn’t soften the message or the call. And it is this same unamended call that Jesus places on our lives. So, will you… are you always successful?
During the sermon the pastor asked the members congregation to stand up if they thought they were going to hell. No one moved for a bit, but then Little Johnny stood. “Johnny, do you really think you’re going to hell,” he asked. “No, sir,” Johnny said, “I just hated seeing you standing up there by yourself.”
I may be the only one standing, but I’m happy to report that I’m not the only one here who has failed. Yet, even though we fail, we are still called to this absolute allegiance, so we – as his disciples – take up His banner by taking up our cross anew everyday and with every intent of amendment of life, seek to remain loyal. Remember the words of Henry T. Blackaby, that I shared last week, “The reality is that the Lord never calls the qualified; He qualifies the called.”
In addition, our failures are not truly a sign of disloyalty to God, but instead point to our deepest need for him. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Even though we fail, even though we are not qualified, we are still called, and through God’s grace and mercy we are allowed to continue in the call of absolute allegiance he has placed on our lives. And, in continuing we are giving a sign to the rest of the world. We are making a statement: God is working. God is doing something new. God is bringing change. And there is the rub. We don’t mind change in some areas—bring on the latest gadget, improve medicine, get a raise—all good, but folks very rarely like change when it comes to their relationship to God. Most would rather remain comfortable. Take for example one of the Minor Prophets we studied awhile back: Micah.
For many years the people had been faithful, but then they started slipping a little here and a little there, until they were in full out rebellion against God. It was Micah’s job as a prophet, as a watchman, to call the people to return to the One True God. In chapter six he said that the Lord does not desire their burnt offerings, the rams and the oil that they bring. He then tells the people:
The Lord “has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah is calling the people to renew their allegiance to God, but then in chapter seven he writes that the people are not listening:
“The faithful have disappeared from the land,
and there is no one left who is upright.”
There is no one left who remains loyal to God; therefore, a change is coming, which God will bring about through His vengeance, but we know that even his vengeance is a means of bringing the people to repentance, which ultimately leads to their salvation. Yet, in the midst of this change, of this renewing, there will be some who fight against it, who believe they are right, who are comfortable, and there will be some who hear God’s call and repent. So, in the midst of this great work of God, there will be conflict. Micah writes:
“The day of their sentinels, of their punishment, has come;
now their confusion is at hand.
Put no trust in a friend,
have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth
from her who lies in your embrace;
for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
your enemies are members of your own household.”
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
In speaking these words, Jesus was reminding the people of the words of the prophet Micah. He was reminding them that, in the past, God called the people to allegiance and that those who responded to this call found themselves in conflict with those who ignored that call. He is saying to his disciples and to those who would follow him, this conflict has happened before and it will happen again, because God is once again doing something new to bring about the ultimate salvation of his people.
Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Jesus did not say that we are not to love our family, but that we are to love him first. Is that demanding? Yes, it is, but we must remember who we are working for and what is being offered in exchange, what is at stake: an eternal relationship with the Father—eternal life.
Teresa of Avila wrote:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
Jesus never said that a life with him would be easy. In fact, he said just the opposite. He warned us all that our faith would cause division, even so, he calls us to absolute allegiance. Although I’m not fond of Martin Luther, he was correct when he said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” Absolute allegiance to Jesus will cost you, do not be afraid. By paying the price, you will lack nothing. And in loving Jesus first, you will learn how to love others more deeply than you ever have.
Let us pray: God, our Father, may we love You in all things and above all things. May we reach the joy which You have prepared for us in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please You and fill our minds with thoughts of Your Love, so that we may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace. Jesus in your name. Amen.