Listen to the sermon from Sunday, September 4, 2016 titled “Something Greater Than You” by Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune.
Almost every church I know bends over backwards to make following Jesus easy. Nothing is expected. Nothing is required. “Come as you are,” we say. Would could be stranger to our ears than this invitation Jesus makes in our Gospel today?
Whoever comes to me and does not hate cannot be my disciple. Hate? Hate? I hate the word. And whom he says we must hate takes our breath away as much as it did the original hearers of the Gospel.
Hate your parents? What about the fifth commandment: Honor thy Father and thy mother?
Hate your spouse and your children? What happened to “family values?”
Hate your brothers and your sisters? Wasn’t that the second sin mentioned in the Bible, when Cain killed Abel? Sounds like a major flip-flop to me.
Hate your own life? I would have to before I could hate my parens or wife and children or brothers and sisters. I guess Jesus didn’t read all the parenting books on encouraging healthy self-esteem. But maybe that is the key to understanding the whole idea.
I think of the high value placed on La Familia in Latino culture, but every human culture has valued family first of all and protected it with all kinds of sanctions. Hate is so foreign to the rest of Jesus’ teachings and to a Bible that assures us “God is love” that even the people who claim to take the whole Bible literally want to call this text hyperbole, an exaggeration meaning that our love for Christ should be so deep it makes all other love seem like hate by comparison.
And the more liberal interpreters will tell you Luke made it up in a time when synagogues were rejecting the first Christians and telling parents to hate their Christian children the way some churches have advised Christian parents to reject their gay children today. Families were torn apart and some commenters think Luke put these words in Jesus’ mouth to say, “Back atcha, haters.”
I don’t know about that, but I do think this difficult scripture wants to suggest there is something even more important than loving your family, which all the Bible and our Christian tradition agree is very important indeed.
Could there be something even more important even than family?
Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” This image was just as shocking in that day long before we romanticized the cross to the point of wearing it around our necks. The form of execution used by the Romans on the lowest criminals was so violent and brutal abiding shame was attached to anyone connected to it, even the condemn’s kin.
Then Jesus uses two more images to make his point.
Nobody starts a building project without first counting the cost lest the result become a standing humiliation and testimony of ineptitude.
No King chooses battle war against a superior overwhelming force because peace is a better option than annihilation.
Then Jesus sums the whole section with another stunning declaration:
“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Is there a single serious follower of Christ among us who has done that? We know with the materialism and greed that continues to divide our own country into a plutocracy of the ruling one per cent against the ninety and nine, possessions do get in the way of our spiritual health.
This Gospel reading today is shocking, confusing, and costly. To be honest, I was surprised you responded to “The Word of God for the people of God” with “Thanks be to God” because hey, were you listening closely?
On the other hand, maybe “shocking, confusing, and costly” is what it takes to get our attention. Could it be there is something greater than family, institutions, national security, possessions, and even life itself?
We get a small taste of this when we are part of a team or a group that accomplishes something together, and that is why I invited you to remember some group that made an impact on you. When you give yourself to something greater, you become greater yourself. We are always more together than we are alone.
I believe Jesus is calling each of us in this Gospel passage to see there is something greater than you. He is calling us to be part of it ourselves as our first priority putting everything else – even our best things – in their proper place. It’s easier to hear the way he puts it in the sermon on the Mount: “But strive first for the dominion of God and (God’s) righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 7:33).
The Jesus way is to give yourself to something greater than you, to God’s new creation, and we have as our model Christ himself, who gave himself for us. By his self-sacrificial death and resurrection for us, he created a people and started a movement to place God’s purpose above all else. That is why our forbears transformed the terrible cross into the symbol of life and hope we wear as our call to self-giving service. I still wish Jesus or Luke or whoever made this statement had chosen a different word besides “hate,” but then again, I suppose the language of all these teachings is designed to shock us out of our complacency and wake up to God’s way.
But you know, everything Jesus lived and died and rose for is not about hate. It’s about love. Love is the Jesus way – love of God, love of neighbor, love of enemies, for heaven’s sake, even love of self.
Love for your family, too, but love for all families in this world of every tribe and nation and ethnicity.
The Jesus way connects us with a larger family, the community of Christ and building institutions that serve humanity, communities dedicated to loving path Jesus led.
And rather than war, the Jesus way calls us to find the way of peace, with justice and wholeness for all people, not just you and yours. The Jesus way urges us not just to make a better nation, but to make a better world.
Yet there is a cost to following the Jesus way. He calls us to be all in with everything we have. It’s subversive to the chapter and verse of our modern models of individual success, countercultural to the narcissistic culture of our day. The Jesus Way is about giving yourself to others rather than grabbing what you can get. It’s about being part of something greater than you that will bring you love and life in rich abundance.
Christ invites us to follow his way. And we come to this table not only to remember and receive his grace, but to remember and respond to his call to be his followers in the world – in our families, in our groups, in our communities, in our whole lives.
In a way, it costs us everything. But it gives us everything in return. And it is an invitation to life. So it’s up to you. Will you follow him or not? The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. May we pray?
Lord, you ask for everything that we may receive everything you want to give us. Give us the grace to give ourselves more as you gave your all for us. We pray this as we would live, in your name. Amen.