These 10 statues are on the façade over the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London. They are statues of 20th century Christian martyrs. If you are like me, you know some of them, but you would have to be quite an expert to know all of them. I got quite an education this week learning about some them and their stories.
Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Óscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming.
5th from the left is probably the most familiar to us: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who of course was assassinated in 1968 leading the civil rights movement here in the United States. His fight for racial justice cost him his life.
Perhaps you know the man to his right, Oscar Romero. He was the Archbishop of El Salvador in the late 1970’s during a tumultuous time in that country. The Catholic Church was standing up for the poor and was being persecuted by the Revolutionary Government Junta. Priests and nuns were being attacked; churches were being raided on a regular basis, because they stood with the poor. Romero was assassinated while celebrating Holy Communion in 1980.
Second from the left is someone I had never heard of: Manche Masemola, a young girl, born in 1913, who was a member of a native tribe in South Africa. Christian missionaries came to her village and she was converted to Christianity at the age of 14. She wanted to be baptized with her cousin but her parents did not approve. Her parents took her to a tribal spirit priest. They were afraid of this new religion. They beat Manche to death before she was baptized. Her mother denied the murder for 40 years but was later baptized herself. Manche was declared a martyr by the Church of South Africa.
All the other people who are honored with these statues have similar stories: their choice to follow Jesus cost them their lives. Now, most of us will never have to face a life or death choice as followers of Jesus.
But Jesus did say that being his follower does have a cost. One day he was with a group of folks and he said to them: If you want to follow me, you have to let go of your family and even yourself! “Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.”
You see, in Jesus’ day, the family group, or the clan, was everything. People actually married within the clan, like a 3rd cousin. So Jesus was saying: being part of my movement means you are part of my clan now. You have to leave your old family behind and your loyalty is with ME. Now, if the whole family comes along with Jesus, that would be fine. But if they don’t, then the person just has to leave them behind. You have to be “all in” with Jesus.
Then he explains what it means to “count the cost.” You need to think this thing through. Don’t make a commitment unless you are really all in. You don’t start building a house unless you plan out what materials you have, and unless you are sure you have the money not only for the foundation and the walls but for the roof and for the furniture that goes inside. Once you start something, you have to finish it. You have to count the cost and be ready to follow through.
Another good analogy for us might be this: don’t bring a child into this world if you are not prepared to feed and clothe that child, and care for the child for 18 years. A baby is a big responsibility. Count the cost. Kids are expensive: $241,080 to raise a child born last year for 18 years, according to a Deptartment of Agriculture report. And that does not include college.
Jesus concluded with this little gem: 33 “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.
Hmmm. So Jesus wants us to give up what we value: our time, our money, perhaps even our very lives, in order to follow him.
Why would we do that? Why would we follow Jesus? If you ask those martyrs hanging over the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, I believe they would say they gave their lives because they believed in what they were doing. Martin Luther King Junior saw people who were suffering as a result of injustice: grown men and women who were not being paid a fair wage for a hard day’s work. He saw people who were being denied the right to vote, and black children who were being denied the same education as their white peers. He knew that Jesus would not sit by and watch that happen and so he put his life on the line. Oscar Romero did the same thing: he stood up for the poor in El Salvador who were being oppressed by their own government. Manche Masemola heard the story of God’s love revealed in the life of Jesus and she wanted to be baptized. She just wanted to be baptized and be a follower of Jesus. That was her only crime – her only risk. And she gave her life because of that choice.
Well, I know that today, at least, you may not feel like you are being called to put your life on the line to be a follower of Jesus. I hope that none of us will ever have a gun put to our head or be beaten to death because we choose to follow Jesus. But that does not mean Jesus does not ask for us to be “all in.” We can choose to take risks every day to show great compassion and to work for justice because we follow Jesus.
I heard a story this week about 19 year old Joey Prusak, a manager of the Dairy Queen in Hopkins, MN. He had a chance to do some justice and show some compassion, and it had a cost for him. It cost him $20 and one customer at his Dairy Queen. It could have cost him some public ridicule. This is what happened.
Joey was working the counter. “He was helping a blind man at the counter when his customer dropped a $20 bill as he was paying. Prusak saw the woman behind his customer stoop down and scoop the bill up. He says he thought she was going to return it to the blind customer but what she did next :
“I expected her to be like ‘Oh, sir, here you go.’ But she just stood there and watched him walk by and she then put it in her purse.”
“When the woman approached the counter, Prusak asked her to return the money. She refused, lied and said it was hers, that she had dropped it. They had words. Exasperated, Prusak told the woman to either return the money or leave the store because he was not going to serve someone so disrespectful. She stormed out.
“Prusak proceeded to serve his other customers, apologizing for the fracas. When he was done, he found the blind customer and gave him $20 out of his own pocket. He tried to be unobtrusive but another customer had seen the whole thing. She filled out a comment card, praising Joey and writing that she would forever be a Dairy Queen customer. The note made it to corporate headquarters. Prusak got a phone call from company owner Warren Buffet:
“’He called and thanked me for being a role model for all the other employees and people in general. I was just doing what I thought was right. … Ninety-nine out of 100 people would’ve done the same thing as me.’”
Joey did a good thing. He went out of his way to make things right. He did all that he could to hold the woman accountable for her actions. He took money out of his own pocket to help the blind man. Yes, it cost him something. He even tried to keep his good deed from being seen by others. He did not do it because he wanted credit.
Some people, who are cynics, might have condemned his actions: “don’t get involved.” “Mind your own business.” I’m sure the woman who took the money wishes he had minded his own business. On the playground at school he could just as easily have been bullied for his kindness. In this case, he was commended.
How about you? What would you have done?
How about another situation: Have you ever heard someone make a racist or ageist, or homophobic comment and you just let it pass because it would COST YOU SOMETHING TO say something about it? Have you ever seen someone do something harmful to the environment and you remained silent because it would COST YOU SOMETHING TO say something about it?
How about this one: have you ever seen your friend being a bad parent and you decided to mind your own business because it would COST YOU SOMETHING TO SPEAK UP?
Have you seen a friend drink too much and then drive home but you did not speak up because it would COST YOU SOMETHING TO SPEAK UP?
I could go on and on. You could too.
It costs us something every day to really follow Jesus. To live with deep compassion for every human being we encounter costs something. To make choices for justice in every encounter and every situation costs us something. It’s hard to live for Jesus all the time.
But that’s what he demands. “Anyone who won’t shoulder their own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.”
So why do it? Because God sent Jesus to make a way for us. Jesus has all the compassion in the world for us. Jesus seeks justice for us. No doubt about it. We are in this together. Jesus knew the cost and Jesus did not back down. And because he loves us, we have the power to be strong too. We can be compassionate even when it is hard. We can call for justice even when it is unpopular. We can follow Jesus and together we can change the world. Amen.