Love, Hate, Family, Possessions
(Text: Luke 14:25-33)
When my older son was a preschooler, he got really mad at me for something I said or did one night. I don’t remember what it was, but he was angry with me and as I sent him into his room for a little time out, he shouted, “I hate you!”
I smiled to myself a little as I sat in the other room. What child has not said such a thing, what parent has not heard such a thing? I’m pretty sure I said “I hate you!” to my own mother at some point in my early life.
And then I heard something else - I heard my son pacing around in his room, engaged in conversation with himself. He was saying something like, “I am so mad. I want to [whatever it was] and she won’t let me. I hate her.”
Then I heard him say, “But she’s my mom. You can’t hate your mom.” He argued with himself for several minutes. “I’m angry and I hate her.” “But she’s my mom. You can’t hate your mom.” At last, he appeared in the doorway of the room in which I was sitting and announced, “I don’t hate you.”
And then he went back into his room. And I kept smiling....
It’s not just because I am a mom, or because I have a mom and children and a husband and all kind of other family - as you all do, too - that I want to assure you that Jesus does not want you to hate your mom. It’s also as a student of the Bible, the book I spend more time reading and studying than any other, that I assure you again: Jesus does not want you to hate your mom.
The word “hate” gets thrown around in all kinds of ways, as you no doubt have noticed. We often say, “I hate it when that happens” over something entirely trivial, like when your shampoo bottle leaks into your suitcase, or, with great irony, when you play the grocery store scratch off game and you don’t even win a dollar. My children sometimes tell me not to be a hater, or not to be hatin’ on their music, or clothes, or activities, and various political types argue about who hates America, at home and abroad.
In the case of Jesus, he uses hate here in opposition to love, and in the Bible these words DO NOT describe emotions. Loving one’s neighbor has nothing to do with feelings, and hating one’s family does not, either. These are words about decisions. Decisions about how to act toward God and neighbor and yes family, too; decisions about how to follow Jesus.
Jesus is saying something here about family that goes with the other things he has been saying about discipleship all along. He is saying, just as you shouldn’t put your job or your land or your stuff or your money before God, don’t make an idol of your family.
Just like you don’t make an idol of money or power or possessions. Let your allegiance to God come first; let your identity first be as a child of God, and if that offends or inconveniences a family member, so be it. Don’t let entanglements with family cause you to set aside Jesus’ invitation to follow him. This is also why he says we must give away all our possessions.
We must let them go so that we do not serve our possessions instead of God.
We are not to be entangled with our possessions and so using hyperbolic speech he tells us just to get rid of them. This is similar to the argument advanced in both Matthew and Mark when Jesus says that if your eye or hand or foot causes you to stumble, tear it out. Just get rid of the stuff that tempts you to follow your own desires.
Jesus is not always meek and mild - in fact, he seldom is - and he sometimes uses extreme language to get his point across. because he wants us to sit up and listen...
The best way to understand what Jesus is talking about here is to read the verses just before what we read today, about the parable of the banquet in which a certain man gave a great feast and invited many people to come, but the people he invited all had excuses for why they couldn’t come.
One said he’d just bought a field and had to inspect it. Another said he just bought some oxen and needed to test drive them. A third said he just got married and so (of course) he couldn’t come. All of these people refused the invitation to the banquet because they were focused on other things - work (fields), possessions (oxen), and family (new wife).
So in our reading today, Jesus speaks very plainly in response to that parable. Jesus invites everyone to the messianic banquet - into the very life of God - and most of us are too busy being distracted by other, lesser things to truly accept the invitation.
Luke always talks about God’s economy in terms of the great messianic feast - the feast is synonymous with the kingdom of God, it is an invitation into God’s own life, and focusing on our work, our stuff and our families instead of that invitation means that we have chosen the human over the divine.
In other words, Jesus does not say, I won’t let you be my disciple if you don’t do these things. He is saying that we will not be able to be disciples if we are busy doing other things. We will not be able to serve God and neighbor if we are focused on serving ourselves. Just as we cannot serve God and Mammon, so we cannot serve God and family; we cannot have but one master and that master is God incarnate, Jesus Christ.....
And how do we serve? By carrying the cross. This is another troublesome phrase. We have managed to mangle these words so that we think of them as meaning some kind of terrible thing we have to drag around with us - something that’s “our cross to bear” like a nagging mother in law or a painful physical conditionor illness. But that is not what Jesus means.
Rather, Jesus means we must be his standard bearers out into the world, we must carry the cross of Jesus as our standard, as our flag, as we live out our lives in the world. Carrying our own cross means showing how we ourselves live out the Christian faith, even if it means we have to sacrifice what the world calls success. Even if it means sacrificing things the world says we need to hold on to. Even if we are ridiculed for standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves - the powerless, the poor, the friendless, the needy, those whom society would rather simply shove aside or trample underfoot.
The actual list of the powerless in our day may include children, the elderly and the mentally ill, and also immigrants, and prisoners, and single teen-aged mothers. Standing up for some of these folks might be difficult for some of us; it may not be popular, we may take some heat and suffer ridicule or worse....
I think that on this Labor Day weekend, it’s also important to point out that we are to bear the cross of Jesus in the world as we go about our normal, every day work and play. As we go to our offices or schools or out into the community every day. As we volunteer not only at church but also at the library or the animal shelter. As we attend the county fair and shop at the grocery store. Because we are Christian disciples not because of what we do here on Sunday, but because of what we do out there every day. We are Christian disciples not because of how much we love our belief system and how we worship in church but how we live out the Gospel Monday through Saturday. How we live out our discipleship in the world every day through our regular activities.
This matters to God! How we live our ordinary, every day lives! Our every day activities are holy and sacred. To underscore this notion that we do God’s work through our regular activities, churches are beginning to recast the very old notion of blessing work implements before the harvest so that God’s blessing would go with people as they do their daily work. Thus, a couple of Sundays ago I attended a blessing of the backpacks at All Saints’ in midtown Atlanta, and today at St Timothy’s in Halifax Canada the rector is doing a blessing of the laptops and smart phones and other modern equipment that people use for their daily work these days.
These blessings remind us that it is through our daily lives that we live out our discipleship, so that we remember that we belong to Christ when we text or talk or email or make deals or buy and sell. The blessings are not for the inanimate objects but for the people who use them, that they might use them to live out their vows to love God and love neighbor.......
And so, finally, I come to the hard part of our Gospel story. Like my son and his argument with himself in preschooler terms about whether or not he was willing let go of the anger he wanted to hold so dear so that he could restore his relationship with the one guided him day by day, the one on whom he utterly depended, so we too have to think about what it’s going to cost us to live a life worthy of discipleship amid strong pulls from many directions.
We just have to know going into this that our versions of fields, oxen, and new wives - our jobs, our homes and property, our children, our parents, society at large - all are going to make claims on us and our attention, our time, our very souls. We have to know going in that we will be mightily pressured to attend to the needs of the powerful and the haves rather than the powerless and the have-nots. We have to know going in that we will have to make sacrifices and risk loss and ridicule if we are going to truly follow Jesus. Sometimes we can’t go along with the crowd if we mean to carry the cross. ....
And so, love God and love neighbor; live out your calling every day and every where, knowing that the things you do are holy and sacred because you carry the banner of the savior; and let go of the entanglements that keep you from following the one who gives us life, God incarnate, Jesus Christ.