Proper 18c, September 4, 2016

September 5, 2016

The Strong Language of Christ

Luke 14:25-33


25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.


Something I enjoyed about my time in campus ministry was getting to hear fresh slang. Of course by the time I tuned in to it, it wasn’t necessarily fresh anymore, but there was one student in particular who liked to say things that he knew I wouldn’t quite understand. I remember hearing him refer to a girl he knew as a hater, and what I knew about that situation was that he was a lot more interested in her than she was in him, and that clued me in to what it meant to be a hater.


I don’t know if young people still use that language. I found it to be an entertaining use of the word. Haters aren’t necessarily hateful people – they just don’t do what somebody expects them to do. And I actually think that use of the word is pretty close to the way in which Jesus used the word. Certainly Jesus wasn’t advocating for people to treat other people in a hateful way when he said that we must hate our closest relatives and even ourselves if we want to follow him, but I do think he meant that we shouldn’t let anyone or anything get between ourselves and God.


On a significant level you’ve got to be a hater if you want to follow Jesus. If you want to say yes to God you’ve got to say no to some others. If you said no to someone in 2008 that turned you in to a hater, and I think that’s the kind of hate Jesus was talking about in this passage of scripture.


Jesus used this strong language in order to describe the high cost of following him.  Jesus wanted us to know on the front end that following him is not a matter of tagging along on a sentimental journey. Some churches probably do a better job of highlighting the cost of discipleship better than we do in the United Methodist Church, but I’m not unhappy that we are as agreeable as we are.


Jesus says you can’t follow him unless you hate your family and give up your possessions, but we encourage family life in the United Methodist Church and we celebrate economic success – when it’s done in an ethical way. I’m not saying we should ignore what Jesus had to say about the spiritual perils that are posed by our most cherished relationships and our fortunes, but like most matters of the heart – it’s not so simple. It might be that we err on the side of reason at the expense of some commitment, but I like to think we United Methodists do a good job of encouraging people to integrate their faith with their family life and for people to allow their faith to inform their economic decisions.


I didn’t see the episode, but I understand that the comedian, Jon Stewart, once said that becoming a United Methodist is a lot like getting an online degree from University of Phoenix. I don’t know if any of you have a degree from the University of Phoenix, but if you do I hope you find it to be as helpful as it is to be a United Methodist.


I know that what Jon Stewart said is true on some level. We make it easy to join our body, and we aren’t very demanding of one another in regard to the way we live out our discipleship, but I don’t like the alternative. It seems to me that when churches become overly restrictive and highly judgmental they become hateful in a way that Jesus didn’t intend. Some say we United Methodists have more questions than answers and to that I say Amen.


We don’t pretend to have all the answers, and that makes it possible for a lot of us to embrace this community of faith. Our lack of hardline positions on various issues may make for an element of confusion, but I’ll take confusion over fundamentalism anytime. There’s an element of humility that goes with not knowing everything, and anyone who thinks they know exactly what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ hasn’t paid close attention to what Jesus had to say.


I find this morning’s passage to be particularly humbling. I’ve indicated that I think there is some hyperbole involved in what Jesus had to say, but what I also believe is that Jesus is all but impossible to follow in a perfect way. The cost of following him in a totally committed manner is more than most of us are willing to give. Few of us would say that we wouldn’t give everything we have to take care of a child or a parent or a spouse, and I dare say we all aspire to live in nice houses. Who can give what Jesus seems to be asking?


Who is qualified to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Who has made the kind of sacrifices Jesus seems to be requiring? I know I haven’t. I don’t know the inner life of anyone else, but on a significant level I can see what it costs to be a follower of Jesus Christ and I don’t measure up. To use his language – I don’t have enough raw materials to build the tower, and I can see that my army is no match for my enemy. I guess I could use this as an excuse to forget the whole thing, but I can’t. I’m guessing I’m like a lot of people in that original crowd who continued following Jesus on the day he uttered these words. They found what he had to say too hard to hear, but they couldn’t turn away.


Jesus was uncompromising in what he knew to be true about the path to true life – that it costs far more than we can imagine being willing to give, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t welcome to fall in behind him. Jesus didn’t want us to be misinformed about how difficult it is to find our way in to the bright light of a truly holy life, but he only wanted to put off those who expected it to be easy. What Jesus wanted us to understand is that there isn’t a shortcut to the life of spiritual abundance. Nor did he want us to think that pursuit was going to provide us with the kinds of treasures that we generally go after in this world.


Speaking as the United Methodist that I am, I fully embrace the idea that it’s possible to be a fully engaged member of society who gets the kids to school and goes to work every day in an economic system that is far from perfect, and who also pursues life in the kingdom of God. I don’t believe it’s essential to renounce all that we generally hold dear in order to be a serious follower of Jesus Christ, but I don’t think we need to ignore how difficult it is to live in this material world and to seek a spiritual life.


We need to understand what we’re up against. Self-understanding and authentic spirituality are not encouraged by the socioeconomic systems that surround us, and it’s hard to resist the claims of these systems on our lives. To live a spiritually authentic, creative, and obedient life is to recognize the ways in which we are being lured in to serving false masters, and one way that this is manifested in our lives is our tendency to want to separate our material lives from our spiritual lives.


One of the great challenges we face is to resist the temptation to create dual lives – to think that our internal spiritual life is somehow separated from our external material life. With this kind of thinking there is this tendency to think that if we can somehow please God with our gestures of spiritual obedience through acts of worship and devotion we can turn around and conduct business in whatever manner will provide success – and that God will somehow reward our godless efforts. In some ways I think this is the primary characteristic religious life in our day and age, but that isn’t what Jesus taught, and that isn’t what we should expect. I believe what Jesus invited us to do is to engage in one pursuit. Our challenge is to live in this world as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and that means more than asking Jesus to bless whatever it is we choose to do. It means saying no to some of those powerful systems that expect us to be fully accommodating.


It’s hard to break out of powerful systems, and when people do break free from established systems their actions can be interpreted as forms of hatred for the people they were supposed to love and respect. We live in a confusing world, and it’s not easy for us to see the ways in which we are living those dual lives of loving God and serving godless systems, but that is what we are called to do.


I’m convinced that one of the great challenges that we face in life is for us to simply understand the double lives that we live. I believe we are conditioned to believe that this is the way God designed the world to be, but that’s not the way that Jesus saw it. Jesus made this strong demand for us to hate the claims that worldly institutions place upon us. He wanted us to see the way that godless systems shape our lives. He wanted us to understand how they not only define who we are, but they define who God is as well. In many ways our greatest challenge is to reject the way that God is primarily defined in this world. Our challenge is to understand God as Jesus did – which is not necessarily the way that any of us have been conditioned to understand God.


I’m speaking in some very general terms, but what I’m trying to say is that Jesus didn’t want us to sleepwalk through our lives. Jesus said some downright alarming things because he wanted us to wake up and pursue the truth. I mentioned how easy it is to be a United Methodist, and how I’m not unhappy about that, but being connected to a church is not exactly the same thing as being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The church is sort of like a clubhouse – it’s the place where we find refuge and encouragement, and where we get organized to do some things that serve our vital cause, but following Christ is a very personal journey. It’s good that we have this community of support, but following Christ is an individual enterprise.


The best we can do is to try to understand the challenges and the obstacles that stand between ourselves and our God. It’s not easy, but it’s a beautiful opportunity. It’s not just difficult to follow Jesus – it’s also the best thing that we can ever do.


Jesus spoke some difficult words to us so that we would not be inclined to think that things are as they should be. Jesus wanted us to remain hungry for the truth for our entire lives, and he didn’t want us to settle for an incomplete understanding of God.


The good news is that none of us are alone in this difficult journey of following Jesus. We are not alone in this challenge to move from where we are to where Jesus is calling us to be. The United Methodist Church is full of people who fall short of fulfilling the call of Christ to hate everything and everyone that stands between ourselves and our God. You’re in good company if you have some sense of not measuring up to what Christ calls for you to do.


But we not only have good companions on this difficult journey, we have access to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t just have hard words for us to hear. Jesus had genuine love for us, and he is with us on this journey. Jesus loves us, and Jesus wants us to continue to grow in our understanding of ourselves and of God. Jesus wants us to see the truth about this world, and Jesus wants us to understand how we can more fully integrate life in this world with life in the kingdom of God. It’s hard, but it’s the way for us to fully experience the greatest sense of belonging and to obtain the greatest treasures. The only thing Jesus really hated was our ignorance of God, and he loves us so much he did all he could to expose us to the truth.

Thanks be to God.



2 Responses to “Proper 18c, September 4, 2016”

  1. michael wilson Says:

    Thompson – again, another good one – makes me feel better about my shortcomings! – Mickey Wilson

  2. Earl Jones Says:

    Your sermon sums up my journey from Baptist to Methodist very well, have gone from the dont’s to the do’s. It has lead to a much more spiritual,secure life for me.

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