Pentecost 15 (Proper 18 C)
Preached @ St. Luke’s, DC on 9/5/10
Happy Labor Day Weekend! We are enmeshed not only in a change of season but we all experience a cultural change as well when Labor Day Weekend rolls around: school has started for many of our children and grandchildren, summer is over. In churches, the program year will kick off soon, for many, service times will be slightly altered…. after this last gasp of summer we all celebrate this weekend. Change is here, perhaps not so much in our weather but certainly in what we do in our lives. As a friend of mine says, breaks over, let’s get started.
That attitude, that shift in our focus, parallels quite nicely with our Gospel reading from Luke. And what a punch-in-the-stomach Gospel we get to explore! Jesus seems to be harsh this morning. Where’s that loving, Good News guy on whom we all want to focus?.... I like to paint as a hobby: mostly oils and acrylics, and on occasion water- colors. When painting with oils and acrylics, one of the first rules I learned was that to see light, you must have dark. So, when I am painting, at the beginning, the canvas looks dark and indistinct, and hard to understand and decipher the details. As I progress along in making the painting, the depth and shadows, and lightness get added on making the painting much more distinct. The same type of rule holds true for watercolor, except it is the reverse: the light comes first and then the dark is layered on top: there is still light and dark allowing for contrast.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem in today’s Gospel. On his way to Jerusalem and the Cross, and the vast crowds that are following along behind him do not understand what Jesus is about to face. And he turns to them and says some fairly hard things for us to hear. Hate mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters, hate life, carry the cross. Then he tells two stories about planning structures and warfare, and then concludes with telling us to give up all our possessions. That is all jaw-dropping harshness…if….if we take this literally.
In order to see light, we need dark. A tried and true teaching method, particularly in the culture in which Jesus was living and ministering, was to highlight an important principle by using sharp rhetorical contrasts. So, I do not believe Jesus intends us to take what he is saying literally. In particular when we look at the word “hate” Jesus uses in its original Greek (misein) we find something very interesting. The Greek word used is a more nuanced word than our translation as “hate” would indicate. This Greek word contains no emotion in its definition. The nuance to this word has to do with an attitude and action in regard to choices in life. This word contains no anger or hostility. What we are supposed to understand from the use of this particular Greek word we translate as “hate” is that if there is conflict, a choice between those things and persons we love and being a disciple of Christ, discipleship must come first. Jesus would never demand that we give up these deep and abiding feelings we have for those we love, but being a disciple, we may have no choice but to transcend them and chose God. Jesus is not going so far afield here. Think about the 10 Commandments: where does Honor your mother and father fall? Number 5. What are the four preceding? 1. I am the Lord your God, there shall be no other God’s but me. 2. You shall not worship an idol. 3. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain. 4. You shall observe the Sabbath. And then we have honoring mother and father…..Jesus is focusing on those first four in what he says to those four crowds.
For there is nothing more important than discipleship, Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that there is no love in our lives, no matter how precious, that compares to: 1) the love he demands of us; and 2) the love Jesus has for us. This same truism applies to the last line of our Gospel where Jesus says that any disciple must give up all possessions. What Jesus is saying is that possessions cannot control whether or not we are disciples of his. Those things we own pale in comparison to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus is declaring, quite clearly, that there is a cost to following him. And that is the purpose of the two stories he tells: one about planning for the building of a structure, and the second about planning for warfare. These two are metaphors having to do with the cost of being a part of the kingdom Jesus is proclaiming. Jesus is saying that to follow him is hard, that we must plan and understand what we are doing when we say I am a member of the Body of Christ.
This knowledge about clearly understanding what we are doing when we claim the mantle of Christian is not a concept that is foreign to us. Think about how a marriage service begins in our Church. At the very beginning of that holy sacrament the priest says marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted. The priest is saying to the couple and to those present that there is a cost to this service, to this union, to this blessing, and that everyone needs to be aware of that fact.
Jesus is saying with the strong rhetoric he is utilizing, that following him is hard. That being a disciple calls for us to do so with knowledge of the cost. We are called to have knowledge of the dangers, of the rewards, of the challenges and with full knowledge of where the journey is leading. Jesus is telling us that, as he has not started his journey without knowing the cost, neither should we. Jesus is saying that we must make a real commitment, not some part-time effort. Jesus is requiring everything we have if we are to be his followers and that nothing else takes precedence.
This discipleship Jesus is calling us to is personal and real and costly. There is nothing more important than discipleship and we must plan accordingly. As we change gears from summertime to program year, this Gospel is saying what we heard at the beginning of our service today in the Collect, that we are to focus our trust and love on God, resisting those things that take us away from God and the kingdom….. We are not alone in this endeavor: Jesus is right here with us. We also have each other, each of us being a part of this Body of Christ in the world today holding us up….We are holding each other up…. When we face those difficult choices between discipleship and self, we rely on prayer and just as importantly, on each other to chose discipleship. This discipleship, entered into reverently and deliberately will make us different: different in our personal relationships, different in our vocational choices, different from the world around us, marking us as Christ’s own…..forever.jfd+