Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sermon for Luke 14:25-33

Here is the Scripture
A Strange Case of Identity

“Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister, yes, even life itself cannot be my disciple… None of you can be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions.”
You know, I could use a break from all these tough readings the lectionary has been giving us. For the past three months it’s just been one difficult saying of Jesus after another. You know: “Let the dead bury their own dead, this very night your life is being demanded of you, the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour, I came to bring fire to the earth!” And the zinger of them all: “You hypocrites!”
I could use a break from all these hard sayings. Why can’t we get the touchy-feely Jesus, where is the Jesus of the hallmark cards? Where is the Jesus carrying me on the beach? If I could choose which readings come up I’d choose one where he’s a real nice guy; maybe one of the infancy stories where he doesn’t say anything at all. That’s the Jesus that is best for me, the one that doesn’t say anything. But alas, no luck today; today we get the tough Jesus.
“Unless you hate…” I’ve wrangled with this passage all week and I can tell you it’s not good news. The Greek word used here is , it means “hate.” There’s no getting around it. Jesus is saying that we cannot be his disciples unless we hate our families, our possessions, even our own lives. The word is hate, if you wanted to you could squeeze a slightly softer definition of what Jesus says,  could mean, sometimes; detest. Isn’t that so much better? “Unless you detest your children and spouse, you cannot be my disciple.” Nice.
You know, in the gospel today, it doesn’t sound very Christian, but to me it certainly sounds a lot like Jesus. Can you hear that today? He doesn’t sound very Christian, but he certainly sounds like Jesus. I think that is what is so shocking about what Jesus is saying today, it’s because we have warped Jesus’ radical message to such a degree that we have equated Christianity with mere niceness, manners, and good citizenship. But here it is, it’s unavoidable, he says, “Unless you hate your life, you cannot be my disciple.” It occurs to me that Jesus would have done very well with a press agent, you know, someone to clear his messages before they went public. I mean, how exactly are we supposed to grow the church with such a strange thing to say? People like their lives, people like their possessions, people, generally at least, like their families. What’s he getting at anyway?
If you take away all my possessions, all my family, and even my life; you aren’t left with much at all. It seems that Jesus is stripping us of all our many identities so that we can rediscover our primary identity in him. Jesus is showing us how we need to be willing to let go of the most fundamental identities and subdue all of them so that we can be identified through him and him alone. To follow Christ means to let go of all other possessions all other identities. We have to be Christians first and foremost. We let go of being parents, and children, male and female, gay and straight, black and white, American and Southern, paleo and vegetarian, even Carolina and State! All these many identities which shape who we are need to be taken off in favor of putting on Christ.
And this following of Christ first and foremost, before all other identities, complicates everything! Some people think that when we follow Christ everything comes into stark focus, everything is “just easier.” We don’t follow Christ to get the easy answer to life, we follow Christ because Christ is true! And our following of him complicates life. Wouldn’t it be easier to carry grudges and write people off that have wronged you? It would! But instead we have to forgive and seek reconciliation. Wouldn’t it be easier to say about our enemies: Kill ‘em all? Yes, it would, instead we are supposed to pray for our enemies and be peacemakers; even though advocating for peace sounds utterly crazy right now.
The cost of discipleship is time, and energy, and life. This Jesus-life will cost you your life; meaning you may actually die as a result of living the Gospel, but more likely it will cost you your life as you now live it. Following Jesus will make you live in a different way that can look strange to those around you.
But God does a funny thing in this whole arrangement; he hides good news in the midst of all this hate and loss of life: when we drop our foundational relationships and our defining possessions and we enter into his heart, we find that we can love our family, neighbors, and our enemies more than we possibly could have on our own. All this hating of our families and our own lives actually gives us the wherewithal to love them all the more, but this time through the expanding heart of Jesus Christ.
It’s no wonder that C.S. Lewis used the peculiar symbol of a wardrobe as the access to the land of Narnia. Through this dark and confining wardrobe one is able to break through to a larger wondrous world. It’s through this difficult teaching of Jesus, through this dark work of detesting our families and possessions that we can get to the foundational and fundamental relationship with Jesus which will allow us all to, in turn love them all the more.
Step through.
Do the hard work of letting go of those people and things you possess and that possess you: your children, your relationships, your security, your pride, and even yourself. Do this painful work of going through the wardrobe so that you can enter the larger world of Christ’s unconditional love for all.
Leave everything behind. Leave it all behind and enter a world of so much more.

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