Jesus Says to do Whaaaaat?

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16th Sunday after Pentecost; Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, Year C

Deuteronomy 30.15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1.1-21; Luke 14.25-33

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson


Grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to discipleship, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Ida Pollock, a now 105 year-old author has written 124 novels.  In an interview she says, “My books are full of hope and romance…they are a form of escapism: You can escape the parts of the world that you don’t like (The Week Magazine).”

Sometimes I wish I had a form of escapism with Scripture, where I can escape from the parts of the Bible I don’t find to be to my liking.  When Thomas Jefferson came across a passage in his Bible he didn’t want to read, see, hear, or deal with, he simply took a scissors and cut it out… seriously.  In the end, what he was left with was a predictable, controllable God, a cuddly Jesus, and a wimpy Holy Spirit.

I would never do what Thomas Jefferson did to his Bible in a million years, but if I could take a scissors to the pages of Scripture, our Gospel reading today might be the first one to go.  In our reading today, Jesus leaves me feeling uncomfortable, hesitant, and moderately defeated. I can honestly say that more than anything in my life I want to be a faithful follower of Jesus (as I desire all of you to be as well), yet he makes my insides churn when he speaks of hating those I love and cherish the most on this earth; when he says to carry the cross and follow him; when he commands the giving up of all possessions.

After I concluded the Gospel reading with, “…none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions,” I said, “The Gospel of the Lord.”  Somehow this reading is the good news of God in Jesus Christ for you and for me?!

Musician and songwriter, Ben Harper, has a song called, “Power of the Gospel.”

 It will make a weak man mighty

it will make a mighty man fall

it will fill your heart and hands
or leave you with nothing at all
it’s the eyes for the blind
and legs for the lame
it is love for hate
and pride for shame

that’s the power of the gospel

that’s the power of the gospel
that’s the power of the mighty power
that’s the power of the gospel

I love my family.  I love life.  I enjoy my home and the things within it that remind me of people I love and places I have been.  All this said, I love and trust God and I recognize that I would not even have the breath in my lungs today if it were not for the Source of all life.

If this God that has given me life as I know it asked me to turn away from or detach myself from family, to be committed to a way of the cross, the way of following Jesus no matter what the cost, and asked me to give up everything I have for the sake of the Gospel, the good news in Jesus Christ…it is only by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit that I can even entertain the thought or whisper trembling: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

I have been thinking a lot this last year about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  I have even asked the question: “Do I consider myself a disciple of Christ?  As you pastor I ask: Do all of you who make up Heart River Lutheran Church think of yourselves as disciples?  If not…why not?  And if so, then what does it mean for your life and for mine?”

Before diving in too deeply, I need to briefly address the “H” word Jesus uses…hate.  “Unless you hate members of your family, even life itself, you cannot be my disciple,” Jesus says. There is not much I can do to sugar coat Jesus’ words.  I can just tell you that the word, “hate,” that is used here does not have the same meaning we think of when we say, “hate.”  Hate in this context is an “expression meaning ‘to turn away from, to detach oneself from (Brian Stoffregen notes).”

This gets played out when Jesus calls his first disciples.  Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee and he sees James and John, and simply says, “Follow me.”  They leave their father, Zebedee, and their livelihood of fishing to journey with Jesus to the cross.  Jesus doesn’t mean to literally “hate” your family.

From the very beginning of hearing about the light of the world, the Word of God taking on human flesh in Jesus, we know that God is up to something real and exciting, something that has the capacity to transform lives and gift people with grace and eternal life.  Nothing on earth is more important than sharing the news that “God so loved the world that He gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16),” not even family…not even life itself.  And for this message, one must be willing to leave family and life as he or she knows it in order to be a disciple of Jesus.

Next is the “C” word: the cross.  You and I, disciples of Jesus are to carry it.  Unfortunately this invitation from Jesus to carry the cross has been incorrectly used to keep abused people in abusive relationships, or has persuaded people to bear suffering silently, thinking an illness, disease, or some other burden is their cross to bear.  This is not what Jesus is saying, nor is it what he means when he invites us to carry the cross.

I appreciate Gail Ramshaw’s insight as to what Jesus is talking about: The “cross is a sign of the end time, the protective mark of one living already in the freedom of the reign of God.  The ‘cross’ [Tau}], traced on our forehead at baptism, is a sign of strength on our forehead, not of a punishment borne on our back.  What we pick up and carry is our baptism, not a mode of death, but a way of life (Treasures Old and New, p. 123).”

The big underlying question in this Gospel reading is this: What is worth your life?  Would you give it up for your family?  Greater yet, would you give it up for your faith?…for the sake of the Gospel…for God?

What Jesus is trying to get us to understand is that more than anything in our lives, even more than family, you and I need God.  More than anything, more than a roof over our head and possessions, you and I need the good news of Jesus Christ.  More than health, more than life itself, you and I need the cross.

Disciples are called to lay their lives down for the sake of the Gospel…the sake of the work to which God calls them. Martin Luther says, “In the morning, as soon as you get out of bed, you are to make the sign of the holy cross and say, “Under the care of God, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  Whether one lives or dies, this is the way of the cross; this is what it means to carry it.

Now for the “P” word: possessions.  This week I came across a story of a woman named Shauna Hannan, who happens to be a baptized disciple of Jesus, someone who identifies herself as a Christian.  Shauna was backpacking by herself through Bolivia in South America and needed to take a bus.  She could take a bus that would travel on a direct route to her destination or she could choose the less expensive option of in her own words: “the make-every-stop, two-persons-and-a-chicken-per-seat, cross-your-fingers-you’ll-get-there option.”  She chose the cheaper, unpredictable option in which she was the only non-Bolivian on the bus.

“Packed with people, poultry and produce, the bus wound around slowly through the Andes Mountains.”  Interestingly enough, the bus she was on encountered one of the “nicer,” faster, more expensive buses stranded on the road.  The driver of that bus stopped the bus Shauna was on and proceeded to have a conversation with her driver, insisting that all the people, animals, food, and possessions, exit the working bus and let the passengers of the stranded bus on so they could be on their way.  Appalled at the audacity of the demand, the driver of Shauna’s bus refused, along with all the passengers who now were shouting, “No vamos a bajar!” which means, “We are not going to disembark.”

“This prompted the other driver to open the lower luggage compartment of the bus and threaten to throw its contents over the cliff…People whose livelihoods depended on the contents of the bags and suitcases were willing to part with their possessions for the sake of principle.”

Shauna reflects: “Then it all became personal.  I looked out the window and realized that the insistent bus driver was now holding my purple Kelty backpack in his hands!  He was using my relationship to my possessions (all that I had for weeks) to lure me off the bus…Next thing I knew I had joined my fellow passengers in chanting, ‘No vamos a bajar.  No vamos a bajar.’  In that one instance I was willing to give up my possessions.  I felt terribly vulnerable yet surprisingly freed…I experienced that vulnerable freedom to which Jesus is calling us.”

–        The Christian Century Magazine, September 4, 2013, p. 20.

So, do you consider yourself a disciple of Christ?  How about your neighbor sitting next to you?  My goal today is not to detour you from following Jesus because of how hard it can or may be at times, but to be honest about what it means to follow Jesus and to encourage you to keep listening, keep following, keep praying, keep questioning, keep loving, keep trying.  We all need each other in this cross carrying way of life.  In the struggle, in the willingness to follow, we are promised abundant life beyond what we can ever imagine.