Sunday, September 08, 2019

Proper 18 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

This week we have more from Jesus on what it means to follow him.  We have more instruction on the kind of life one should lead as his disciple.  Jesus is explaining what life is like if you are going to call yourself a Christian.  But as you well heard in the Gospel reading, if you take what we have in modern English, this reading isn’t very palatable.  Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate”.  That is a strong word, especially hard when followed with a litany of family members and life itself!  There is a lot to unpack in these nine verses, so I suggest we dive right in.

Jesus said to them, “‘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 disciple.”  The first point to make here is that the word ‘hate’ does not mean what we think of it to mean or how we would use it today.  Now, don’t be confused.  If you were sitting there listening to Jesus, you’d still think that he was sounding crazy.  But where we need to apply a little critical thinking is in the context and language use of Jesus’ time.  I’m not going to attempt to put you to sleep with Greek and Hebrew translation and language studies.  What we need to know is that in this culture family is everything.  This is all of the closest support you have.  These are the people you turn to if you are struggling, if you need a shoulder to cry on, if you are feeling alone in the world.  What Jesus is saying is to turn away from them.  He is saying that you have to let go of relying on them and seeking support from them.  This is a leap of faith.

Jesus is also talking about letting go of the attachments of this world.  When he talks about hating family and life, we should hear him say that one ought to be willing to lose those things to follow Jesus.  I don’t for a minute think that the same person who says love your neighbor as yourself, wants you to call up your family members to let them know you hate them.  What Jesus wants is for us to let go of holding on to our attachments which have nothing to do with the kingdom of God.  He wants us to put faith in God before putting faith in other people.  He wants us to stop putting our own earthly existence before living out the values of the kingdom.  It’s not an easy ask.  Jesus may not literally be telling us to ‘hate’ these things, but the thing he is asking of us is still as hard.  This also speaks to understanding everyone as part of your family, and not forsaking those in need to prioritize blood relatives.  The ideal Jesus is striving for is that we all find ourselves equally upholding each other through our faith and trust in God and his Kingdom.

Then Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  The impact of this statement cannot be over exaggerated.  Jesus says this before his crucifixion.  Jesus says this before the cross becomes the symbol of faith.  In fact, I wonder if everyone sort of looked around when he said that and thought, “Well that’s a weird object to suggest we all carry.”  The only ‘cross’ that the people hearing Jesus know of is the torture device that the Romans use to execute the worst criminals.  The only cross that would come into mind is the vicious, inhumane methods the Romans have to terrify the people of the countries they occupy.  This certainly foreshadows Jesus’ death which he is on the road to in this passage, but it also is a poignant image for his contemporaries.  If you aren’t willing to carry with you an instrument of death, your own death in fact, then you cannot follow me.  As Christians we must be willing to lose everything for the sake of God’s Kingdom. 

Jesus goes on to explain this in economic terms.  How can you buy something if you don’t know the cost?  How can you enter into any activity or venture without first preparing everything you need, or knowing exactly what it will require of you?  And we certainly don’t want to end up compared to the foolish people who do in fact fail to accomplish something because they failed to estimate the cost or the supplies or the sacrifice needed.  But wait a minute.  We’re human.  We do that sort of thing all the time.  We fail again and again at things.  Life is full of ups and downs and in fact I think we all fall quite short of living up to Jesus’ commands and the price he sets on discipleship.  Thankfully, what we are seeking is not as high stakes as what Christ did.  The crosses we bear can sometimes be too much for us, but the ultimate cross, the one that required the ultimate price and offered us hope and God’s grace, the one that we would never be able to bear, Jesus himself takes that one.  Yes, Jesus asks a lot of us.  He sets the bar incredibly high.  But the Good News that accompanies that is that God’s grace is abundant and salvation is already at hand.  So no matter how much we fail at living up to these expectations, we are still forgiven.  We are still saved.  We are still Christ’s own.  We are still following him, we just stumble on the path sometimes.

The decision to follow Christ should not be one that is done without serious contemplation.  It is no small thing to claim this path, to lift up your cross, and to willingly follow.  We will be asked to sacrifice, to rearrange our priorities, to go against the world for the sake of the Kingdom.  Each one of us walks a path catered to our own experience and needs too.  Though taking up your cross is ultimately about willingness to sacrifice your earthly existence, it also can symbolize the smaller sacrifices and challenges that we find on that path.  Mother Teresa is quoted saying,

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway. “

God knows what crosses we bear; God knows how hard our struggles can be to carry them.  Rejoice in knowing that Christ has born the one we could not.  Our salvation is assured.  What we do between now and the end of this mortal coil is the work we are left to.