16th Sunday after Pentecost—Lectionary 23C—September 8, 2013
Preached at Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
I spent this weekend with some our youth at the annual New England Synod Lutheran Youth Gathering at Hammonasset Beach State Park. Over 600 youth and chaperones gathered together Friday night to enjoy the Christian rockband, Starboarders, and the keynote speaker, Dani, to hear more about the theme: Word!
We talked about God’s word, how God is Word, and the power of words in general. We all are well aware that the words that we say have power, and that the words that others say to us can have power over us. Power for good, to build up, and power to break down.
The word in this morning’s reading from Luke that to me has extreme power is “hate”.
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.
Jesus says to the large crowds who are following him: hate your families. Around 30 AD, when Jesus would have said this, this command to hate the family, spoke to the family systems of the day. Families tended to live all together, multigenerational, and usually worked all in the same trade. That trade supported the whole family while the parents worked and the children were small. That trade supported the whole when the children got holder and took over, and the parents might no longer be able to work and the next generation was growing up. In the first century, you did not go to school for training for whatever job you wanted in the same way some do today. Everyone’s livelihood was dependent on the family system staying in tack. With younger siblings, there was a little bit of flexibility in moving away or changing careers, but was often done.
Therefore, it was a big deal for Jesus to have left home in his 30’s to travel the country teaching and preaching. In the same way, the disciples, who left job and family behind, interrupted the family system, impacting not only their own lives, but the well-being and survival of their whole family.
And so Jesus tells the large crowds that discipleship include hating your family, that is leaving home, putting following Jesus above the family business, sometimes to the extreme detriment of the whole family. Jesus warns potential and reminds current followers of the costs involved in the physically following him to Jerusalem in the first century.
But if you think about it, Jesus followers and the cost of discipleship were already quite different in the 2nd century, around the time the Gospel of Luke was written down. For the young budding church, hating your family looked different. No longer did following Jesus actually require following him physically to Jerusalem. Instead, in just 50 or so years, “following” had already become spiritual rather than strictly physical, more about attitude, belief, and behavior rather than travelling.
The community of Luke were facing divisions within families along religious lines—Jews against Christians—because of Roman pressure. For them, “hating your family” was a warning that you might be separated from your family of origin because of your beliefs. You might lose your home and support system because the Romans forced the hands of the Jews to separate themselves from their Christian family members. In the second century, the cost of discipleship sometimes included losing or letting go of your family of origin and clinging to your new family—the family of Christ.
But in the second century, with the hostility of the ruling Romans against the new developing Christian group, sometimes led followers to their death as well. Through torture, slaughter, martyrdom, and hardship, Christians died because of their beliefs. So Jesus’ warning to Luke’s community is that in addition to the price of family, they also might have to “hate life itself,” realizing they might die because of their discipleship.
Today however, most of these circumstances have changed, especially for Christians in this country. We do not tend to be separated from our family, our livelihoods, our ability to support them in our journey of following Jesus. We do not tend to threatened with martyrdom or bodily harm of any kind because of our faith. The Christian life is different now in the second millennium than it was in either the first or second century. The cost is different, but it still exists!
Discipleship still involves carrying the cross. There is still a cost to be estimated. As Christians, followers of Jesus, we might have to hate our family, be separated from them along our journey. We might face physical, emotional, or physiological harm from unbelievers along our journey, we might be called to hate life itself. But even if those are realities for you at some point in your faith life, I am certain there will be a cost, if nothing else, the cost will be you. For I am convinced that it is impossible to hear Jesus teaching and hear of God’s love and not be changed. Through the Christian life, how you relate to others will be changed, how you relate to the world and its material goods and possessions will be changed.
When you truly hear to the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time and over and over again, you cannot help but be changed, focus less on yourself and more on others, and be more humble. Because if we are honest with ourselves, we quickly realize that we are not actually able to carry the cross and follow Jesus ourselves. It is only through God that we can live now and eternally. It is only with our God given gifts that we can do God’s work with our hands. It is only with Jesus’ constant leading and sustaining us that we can be disciples. Our families cannot do that. Our possessions do not make it possible. We cannot do it ourselves.
And that is why, still today, we are called to hate our family—that is instead of seeing ourselves primarily as a Scanlon, or a Spinner, or a Petersen—and be part of the one family. We are called to hate our possessions—that is realize that God is the source of all life or every good thing, so we do not need to overly focus on building up our worldly possessions, for that does not gain us life. We are called to hate even life itself, the names that we have been called, the false idols that we have been told bring us life—for as I said, only God can do that, and therefore only one matters: a child of God.
The speaker at Hammonasset spoke about the name she primarily lived with throughout her childhood “the sergeant’s daughter.” As she told stories of not being invited to parties because her father was a cop, made me think of how the same thing happened to me because I was “the teacher’s daughter.” For her and me, those titles described us, but they also confined us. However, our title of “child of God” does not only describe us, it defines us, and instead of confining us, frees us from every tie that binds. From sin and death, from fear and worry, from thinking that we have to do it ourselves. There is a cost of discipleship, you have been and will be changed as you follow Christ and carry the cross, but at the same time, through God we gain so much—family, love, daily bread, and LIFE! Amen.
 Luke 14:26, NRSV.