Proper 18C 2004 Luke 14:25-33
There’s an old story about a preacher in a mountain county in eastern Kentucky who was really hot against sin. Every
Sunday he would preach against the sin of the week, hurling Old Testament prophet judgements against it and all who had participated
in it – or even thought about it once. His little mountain congregation loved it. “Say it, preacher,”
they would yell; “Preach it, reverend; you’ve got it.”
But one Sunday he got to ripping and roaring about bootleg whiskey and moonshine. His little mountain congregation was silent,
and as they departed, one bootlegger said to another, "That preacher's just gone from preachin' to meddlin'." And that's
exactly what Jesus has done in today's Gospel. He's gone from preachin' to meddlin'.
"If you don't hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, you cannot be my
disciple. . .. none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." What could he possibly mean?
This charismatic Jesus gathers followers everywhere he goes because they see him deliberately include the poor, heal the sick,
and talk a lot about love. This seems like Jesus is now telling these same folks that if they want to stay with him, if they
want to be his disciples, they have to give up everything -- family as well as possessions. We could almost imagine his followers
thinking, "I liked him a lot better when he was just preaching about love. Leave it there. Don't ask me to change my life."
Jesus has really gone from preachin' to meddlin'.
This is one of those tough Gospel passages. It's a jolt to our ears. We may wonder what his hearers were really thinking.
Well, strangely enough, despite these tough and hard words, Luke tells us that, "all the tax collectors and sinners were coming
near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling." Those who were judged to be the greatest sinners weren't
scared off by these words. They'd heard them before and seem to have been paying attention.
But the tax collectors and sinners kept coming back. Could it be that even though Jesus challenged them and talked about the
cross, he never stopped loving them, healing them, and showing them how much they were loved by God? Even when Jesus really
gets to the point of meddling in their lives, he continues to show them how good it is to live the way God wanted them to
live. Jesus was really doing no more than calling them to look again at how they were living their own law-their own Torah.
Many of the religious leaders seem to have fallen away from a true living out of their law. Many had let both their material
possessions and their desire for power to get in the way of living a godly life.
But the tax collectors and sinners kept coming back. Even if they weren't living perfect lives themselves, they certainly
understood what it meant to be rejected, what it meant to be oppressed, what it meant to be living with a cross. Because
they kept coming back, they saw that in the midst of the hard times God was still with them. In the chapter before today's
passage, Jesus reminds all of them that the kingdom of God was already there, and that the kingdom was like a tiny mustard
seed that would grow into so big a tree that the birds would make their nests in it. T he kingdom of God would be a place
of support for them. "Go out into the roads and lanes, and bring people in so that my house may be filled," Jesus told them.
But we still have that troubling part where Jesus says if you don't hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and
sisters-yes, even life itself -- you can't be my disciple. That word hate just doesn't sound like Jesus. Hate is a hard word,
an uncomfortably extreme word that just doesn’t seem to fit in the gospels, the Good News. Especially in Luke.
One commentator has noted that the Gospel of Luke is essentially a love story. As you move into the love story, you discover
that you are the one who is loved. And, God, the Holy God, is the great Lover. Beginning with the nativity stories, Luke
tells us that God is coming in this little Child to reveal His Love for you. Then as you move into the ministry of Jesus,
the centerpiece is the story of the "Prodigal Son" which is all about how much the Father loves us and is waiting for you
to come home. Or if we are already home, He is waiting for us to appreciate our life with Him. This same basic theme runs
right through to the crucifixion. As the familiar events of the passion story unfold we understand even more deeply and significantly
that God is acting in this way in order to show us how much He loves us. Even in His death agony Jesus remembers the thief
hanging next to Him. And there is forgiveness and salvation and grace and love for that thief. Jesus looked down at those
who are killing Him and says "Father, forgive them." Most especially in the crucifixion story -- God's Love is the theme.
So what is this about "If anyone comes after me and does not hate ..." "Hate" is not primarily a feeling word in Aramaic,
one of the languages that Jesus spoke. The Greek translates it as miseo which is primarily about priorities. It means to
abandon or to leave aside; the way a sailor needs to abandon a sinking ship or the way a general needs to leave aside distracting
things to win his battle.
The scholars tell us that the reference is not to hate in the psychological sense but to disowning, renunciation, rejection,
as in turning away from someone or some thing. And so, those who become disciples of Jesus must be committed to him; they
must “hate,” – turn away from, abandon, renounce, reject, set aside anything that is in the way of a discipleship
committed exclusively to Jesus; they cannot be bound to any one or any thing lese that takes priority over that discipleship.
The term hate demands this level of commitment by the disciple and the warning not to love any one or anything more is the
test of that commitment.
Jesus never promised that commitment to him and his Good News would be easy. Instead, he promised that if you want to be
a disciple, your household might be divided against you. Brother against brother, father against son, mother against daughter,
wife against husband. Being a real disciple is hard work. People may not like you for it. They may not agree with you.
And the price you pay may be a cross. All through Luke, Jesus points to the cross. All through Luke, Jesus challenges the
thinking and lifestyles of his listeners, and many revile him for it.
In a scene from "The River," Jean Renoir's beautiful film of India, a crippled American soldier is outraged over the cross
he has been given to bear. In his anguish, he asks a Hindu woman if there is anything he can do to make life worthwhile.
She replies in a single word: "Consent!" In other words, "Be!" Be what God created you to be.
That is what Jesus is telling us in today's Gospel.
"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple ... whoever of you does not renounce all that
he has cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14:27,33). If you want to be the unique person God made you to be, then renounce your ego-centered,
cold, fear-driven, achievement-oriented self and follow me. If we want to make your lives worthwhile, take up our crosses
and follow us, Jesus is telling us.
In fact the whole Gospel message tells us that we all have been created for life with God. We are like branches that need
to be nourished by the main vine. And if we become detached we begin to wither and die. We cannot be who we're supposed
to be on our own, no matter how hard we try.
The important thing is to remember that this Gospel should make us take a good look at our priorities -- take a good look
at the place God has in our lives. If this passage makes us squirm and think that Jesus really has gone from preachin' to
meddlin', we need to see why. And then get on about the business of being real disciples. AMEN
Adapted from Selected Sermon for Proper 18C 2001 by the Reverend Susanna Metz at Worship that Works, dfms.org; What Makes
Life Worthwhile? Follow the "Man For Others!" from Voicings for 5 Sept 2004; “The Word “Hate”, John G.
Lynch, Troubled Journey, CSS Publishing Company, 1994, eSermons Illustrations for 5 September 2004, at eSermons.com; G. Kittel,
ed, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, IV, 690-691, entry miseo