More than we bargained for…

September 8, 2019

13th Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 18:1–11

Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18

Luke 14:25–33

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

14:25Now 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.’ 31Or 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. (Luke 14:25–33, NRSV)

God of power and justice, source of life and blessing, of garden, orchard, field, anchor us in obedience to you and nourish us by your ever-flowing Spirit, that, we might love you by serving others. Amen.

Excuses, everybody has got them.  We all use them to cover ourselves, if we don’t want to do something, if we are late, or forgot, or simply did not do our work. We offer excuses.  Instead of being honest, we believe that an excuse is better than the truth.  We all do it, thinking it is the polite thing to do.  Instead of truth telling we offer an excuse to cover for our breaking our commitments, declining our invitations, covering our mistakes, and justifying our wrongdoing.

How many times have you been late for work or an appointment and blamed it on traffic or something else “you had no control over?”

While being honest would sound like this: “Yes, I am sorry that I am late, I didn’t leave myself a reasonable amount of time for the traffic today.  It is entirely my fault, I apologize, and I will do a better job of leaving sooner next time.”  Excuses, everybody got them.

I feel like a broken record. Sunday after Sunday, preaching seemingly the same sermon over and over.  Following Jesus is hard, no it is really hard.  He keeps upping the ante, love your neighbor, love your enemy, invite the poor, lame, outcasts to your banquets.  Today he seems to go over the top.  Following Jesus is so hard that is causes us to well…come up with excuses.

I believe it will help by giving these challenging words of Jesus some context. If we notice what comes before and what comes after it in Luke’s Gospel it may make more sense.  Just before this very difficult passage Jesus tells about someone who gave a great dinner party and invited many guests.  But everyone he invited made excuses why they could not attend.

One could not come, because he had just bought some property, and needed to check on it.  Another could not come, because he just purchased five yoke of oxen, and said he had to try them out.  Another could not come, because he had just gotten married.  Jesus counts these as excuses. Why the big deal, Jesus?

Well, as we might remember, this great dinner party like other parties, dinners, banquets, and feasts, is a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. So, the point of Jesus’ message to the distracted, preoccupied invitees is crystal clear.  You don’t know what you are missing out on…it is so much better than what you are currently focused on.  Which sets up our Gospel text for the morning.

 In contrast to great dinner party that people chose to skip this story as Luke tells us, “Now large crowds were traveling with him…”[1] Luke makes it clear that Jesus is not impressed with the size of the crowd or of his own success.[2]  He is upset with the casual nature and easy approval the crowd offers.  So, to make his point he says to them, “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.”  Whoa! What did he just say? Did we hear that correctly? 

Yes, yes, he did. These are hard words that underscore that following him is not easy and should not be taken lightly.

This is in direct contradiction to everything Jesus says and does in the Gospels. He talks about love, love and more love.  Hate has no place. So, what we hear in these words is Hyperbole.  This may be exaggeration, but it still doesn’t remove the demanding nature of his words and its shock value.  So how can we make it more palatable? How can we soft peddle it? Commentators point out is that the word “hate” here is not like our English understanding of the word, instead think of it to mean to turn away, to detach oneself, remove oneself.  So what Jesus is saying is that following him, being a disciple is our primary responsibility more important than our most sacred of human relationships, spouse, children and family.  Wow, Jesus is very demanding!  In these demanding words he wants us to know what we are getting into if we sign on.  Don’t hear this as Jesus discouraging people from following him. He is being clear about the great cost.[3]

Jesus’ message is one of love, but he does not venerate the love within families.  He knows that family ties can sometimes get in the way of discipleship.  Remember the story of the man who wanted to be a disciple, but first asked to go home to bury his father?  Remember the story of the time Jesus was teaching and was surrounded by a crowd, and someone told him that his own mother and brothers had arrived and were asking to see him? He said, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”  His message is one of love, but love at a cost, the love of the nuclear family is not the highest loyalty for his disciples.  Instead the highest loyalty is to the Kingdom of God.  And in the Kingdom of God “family” means everyone who does the will of God. In the Kingdom of God, the whole human race is our family; and every human being, a brother or sister.  So, you see, Jesus isn’t saying literally that we are supposed to hate our family. He’s saying that his followers can’t put nuclear family ahead of God’s family.[4]

When we follow Jesus, we are invited to view life with a new set of loyalties and new understandings of love, commitment, and priorities. Those new commitments can break the tight hold on our loves and connections and even over how we live.   The challenges to choose life, discipleship and the way of the cross are ultimately about where we place our allegiance and our trust.  Following him must be radically more important to us than loving those closest to us, our own selves, and all the stuff in our lives. Jesus demands that we be fully committed to following him over everything else. 

In doing so, I believe that we will be free to receive the grace to love our families, friends and ourselves fully.  May we respond to God’s grace with lives of gratitude and discipleship and gladly follow wherever our Lord leads us.

Let us pray:

[1] Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr., A Homily on Luke 14:25-33 Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 29, 2004, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN 37205 quoting Luke 14:25.

[2] Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr., A Homily on Luke 14:25-33 Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 29, 2004, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN 37205 quoting R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 283.

[3] Reverend Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Counting the Cost: Lectionary Reflections for September 5th, 2010: Luke 14:25-33

[4] Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr., A Homily on Luke 14:25-33 Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 29, 2004, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN 37205