Luke 14:25-33; Psalm 1; Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, from Jesus Christ our Lord, and from our Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have to acknowledge that beginning with such a greeting after hearing this gospel feels just plain weird.
“Grace, mercy and peace to you, but oh, yeah, to follow Jesus, you need to hate those who we have previously been commanded to love.” Is anyone else struggling with this seeming dichotomy? This contradiction? With these words Jesus turns upside down our expectations of what grace and peace and mercy mean for us. Why? Why did Jesus say them?
If we look very deeply into the life of Jesus, we find that faithful discipleship is definitely not for the faint of heart, for those w
ho like to straddle the thin, white line, or for those who might think that if I just have enough faith, then discipleship is easy and its challenges will slip away and life will be filled with light, happiness, fulfillment, contentment and prosperity.
Instead, Jesus points out to us that there is a cost to discipleship. And the cost is steep, not to be taken lightly. This is not the first or only time that Jesus has driven home the point that true discipleship is not only costly, but those who follow Jesus, commit to a new modus operandi shaped by the cross. In fact Jesus has to repeatedly drive this point home, because The Way is so contrary to our nature, we of fainting hearts and a deep desire for comfort – even in our witness to the gospel.
While we may chafe against the reality of the demands of discipleship, the other scriptures paired with our gospel today indicate that this teaching is not new, it is simply reshaped for those of us who know Jesus as Lord, who have been transformed through his life, death, and resurrection.
Way back in the wilderness of exile and in those wandering years, Moses speaks to the Israelites who prepare to enter the Promised Land and he tells them that while they are soon to enter that place promised to their ancestors, there are choices that they will make that will lead either to life and prosperity, or to adversity and death.
Following God’s commandments will allow for life in the midst of the sometimes harsh and difficult realities of this world. Turning away from God will bring a unique kind of darkness that can never be penetrated by blessing or the light of true life, both for individuals and for community. This call to trust in God and to obey God’s commandments is for the good of all God’s creation.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus speaks frankly about the serious costs of following the Way of the Cross – the way of Jesus – the way of discipleship.
But if you are like me, there is one particular word that sticks out in today’s text and gives you trouble, and that’s the word “hate,” in verse 26. Deep down, I ‘hate’ that very word and have a hard time imagining it coming from Jesus’ mouth, except to describe how he feels about sin – injustice – racism – and other sins of -uh, hatred.
After all, I stand here all the time and remind you that God is a God of love. Jesus’ greatest commandment is to what? – “to love God and to love one another as we love ourselves.”
So what room in this love-feast is there, for hate? Particularly hate mandated by Christ as a requirement of discipleship? Hate directed at our parents, our siblings, our spouse and children? Didn’t Jesus read the Bible? Doesn’t he know how the hatred of kin wreaked havoc in the Old Testament?
And yet, what does Jesus say his followers must do? Whom should they “hate?” – Father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sister, even life itself.
Wow. Faithful discipleship is NOT for the faint of heart. The question most of us probably wrestle with is, do we really have to follow this instruction to follow Jesus? Does Jesus mean this literally – the way so many of us process words? Can’t I follow Jesus and still love my family? My friends and neighbors? My life?
At this point I think it is helpful to know that the Hebraic understanding of the word Jesus uses here is something that requires single-minded loyalty. Jesus wants us to follow him, possessing such single-minded loyalty.
As followers of Christ, we cannot stand with one foot in the world and one foot on The Way. We cannot equally love our lives as they are and commit to being the disciples Jesus is calling us to be. Discipleship requires radically reorienting our priorities and our actions to single-minded loyalty to the way of Jesus.
While Jesus loved his friends and his mother and sisters and brothers he did not let his love for them keep him looking inward. He did not let it hold him back. Instead, Jesus looked outward, inviting them along, but making his primary action all about obeying the will of God.
Jesus calls his followers to look to the outside, to care more for the good of our neighbor than to the comfort of ourselves. That’s hard. That’s costly – it means giving up things that are very dear to us. It means recognizing that this work, this discipleship isn't about us at all. It I about, and for the sake of Christ.
Jesus calls this church to commit to reaching out, inviting in and opening ourselves up bearing the cost of all that discipleship requires, so that we and those who are not yet among us might see and know and be transformed by the radical love of God, and become disciples too.
Jesus calls Grace to be the church Jesus calls us to be, not overcome with preserving the status quo, nor immersing ourselves in the maintenance of the building that houses us or even the relationships that reside within. Rather Jesus is calling us to be of single-minded purpose – carrying the cross, and following him.
Jesus modeled how transformative mission worked. God has sent people into our world to show us what that kind of discipleship looks like.
One of those was canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic church today.
While we as Protestants, as Lutherans, do not pray to or venerate saints as our Catholic sisters and brothers do, we do look upon them as examples of faithful living, as individuals who have answered Christ’s call and dedicated their lives to a particular kind of discipleship, and single minded loyalty to Christ.
Mother Teresa of Kolkata was no different from any of us; saint and sinner, bound and free, recipient of God’s grace, mercy and love. She made a particular choice to follow Jesus’ example by ministering to the poorest of the poor. In photos taken of her in her work, you constantly see her touching people – poor people, starving people, homeless people, AIDS victims, dying people, orphaned and abandoned children. Jesus needs us to bear the cost of touching people.
St. Augustine said, “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” Our past includes the relationships that moor us to our beginnings. Our challenge and the joy that Jesus is calling us to is moving us into a future with single-minded loyalty to Jesus, always looking outward, always reaching out to others for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Sometimes that looks like a life singularly dedicated to relieving the suffering of others, like Mother Teresa’s was. Sometimes that looks like providing lunches, and meals, and clothing, and quilts, and canned food, and hospitality for the stranger, the homeless, and the needy. It looks like ministries we haven’t yet even begun to imagine or explore.
Jesus calls us not to comfortable membership in this church, but to fearless discipleship in his name. Jesus calls us not to maintain the status quo, but to engage in radical hospitality and ministry that will transform our lives and the lives of others, for the sake of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace and mercy, God promises in the midst of all this to be with us, blessing us, challenging us, sending us saints to join the priesthood of all believers of which we are a part, so that others can know the goodness of God. Let it be so.