Saturday, September 3, 2016

Whom Do You Love? Reflections on Luke 14.25-33

Whom Do You Love? 
Reflections on Luke 14.25-33

RCL Proper 23C
4 September 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

            25 Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, 26 “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.  27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?  29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’  31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?  32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.  33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

            Here we are, the last weekend of the summer, and Jesus throws a stink bomb into our lazy, hazy days of summer:  “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  I think that Paul Hoffman, a Lutheran pastor and preacher, sums up what every preacher facing this text today is actually thinking:  I hate it when Jesus says hate.[1]  Why do we hate it when Jesus says ‘hate’?  Because it makes us realize that believing in Jesus and following his path of discipleship is more complicated than we think. [2]  We have to reconsider what ‘believing’ actually means.

            There is more to believing than our intellectual assent to a series of principles or ideas.  Believing requires a commitment of one’s total self because believing is a way of loving.  The verb ‘believe’ itself comes from the same ancient English root words meaning ‘to be dear to, to trust, to value, to hold valuable, to love’.  To declare that we believe is to answer the question, ‘Whom do we love?’

            Throughout all of today’s readings the question, ‘Whom do we love?’, is asked in one way or another.  Jeremiah asks the people of the southern kingdom of Judah who are facing the greatest political crisis in generations, ‘Do you love the God who created you, who brought you out of Egyptian slavery and gave you this good land?  Do you love this God enough to change?’  Paul, writing to a wealthy Christian convert named Philemon, asks him, ‘Philemon, do you love the good news of God in Christ enough to set aside your rights as a slave-owner and to take back Onesimus, not as a slave but as your brother in Christ?’  Luke, telling the story of Jesus to new Christians living decades after the apostles, asks them, ‘Do you new disciples who want to follow the way of Jesus love him enough to risk everything you own and everything you are?’

            These are not the questions that I want to hear on the last weekend of summer as the awareness of the many tasks that the autumn will bring begins to dawn upon me.  But these are the questions that you and I are called upon to answer every day by what we choose to do and to be.  The bad news is that each one of us, despite our best intentions and efforts, will fail to love Jesus and to follow in his path of discipleship.  The good news is that each one of us, having made the decision to love Jesus and to be his disciples, knows that we do not need to be afraid to say to God, ‘I’m sorry’ and to carry on with God’s grace and compassion.

            Loving Jesus and being his disciple is, after all, a life-long process of metanoia.  Metanoia means ‘changing one’s perspective and seeing the world through God’s eyes’.  When my perspective changes, I have little choice, if I have any integrity, but to change how I live my life.  The way of Christian discipleship is the choice to commit oneself to a life guided by the promises of the baptismal covenant we made two weeks ago.  It is a manner of life that no one should undertake lightly because the potential cost is dear.

            What do I believe?  Whom do I hold beloved?  I really do hate it when Jesus says ‘hate’.  Each time I hear or read him say this word, I have compelled to pause and to take measure of how much I love Jesus and the path of discipleship.  To love Jesus truly has only one consequence:  it only deepens my commitment to love my ‘father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters’ as God loves them and seeks their growth and well-being.  And this is not an easy thing to do.

            No one can truly love without changing.  No one can change without cost.  Sometimes the cost is deeply-held memories of hurt or loss.  Sometimes the cost is hopes for a future that will never be.  Sometimes the cost is my illusions about who I am.  Sometimes the cost is the recognition of my limitations.  But the cost is not God’s last word.

            Next week we will celebrate the sixty-ninth anniversary of the founding of this Parish.  We will remember those who gave generously of their time, their talents and their treasure to build this place of help, hope and home.  We shall celebrate our present life together and the ministries God has entrusted to us in this place and in this time.  We will baptize two children who, we hope, will shape the next chapters of our story.

            But most importantly, we will renew our baptismal covenant, our commitment to love Jesus and to walk in his way of discipleship.  It will be our answer to the question asked in today’s readings:  Whom do we love?  It’s a complicated, costly question, but answering it is the only thing worth believing in and doing. 

[1] Paul Hoffman in Sundays and Seasons:  Preaching (Year C) 2015, 237.

[2] Paul Hoffman in Sundays and Seasons:  Preaching (Year C) 2015, 237.

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