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Pentecost 13C

Hating Father and Mother Losing Life

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Full-time, meaningful work you can do anywhere!

 Benefits start immediately and last a lifetime!

 Meet interesting people and travel regularly!

 Inquire now to join up for the job you have always wanted!.

 Do you think that sounds intriguing?  Do you wonder where you can get more information about this amazing-sounding job?  Then you notice there are four small, almost minuscule paragraphs at the bottom of the ad. Being a wise person, you know you should always read the small print. And so, you take a closer look.

The first one says: You will be working day and night everywhere you go because you are required to follow a man named Jesus, who is bringing about the Kingdom of God here on earth. This is a lifestyle more than employment: a calling – a vocation.

The second one declares: Once you go through the ritual of baptism and join your new family of Jesus-followers, you may perish by a number of means, usually being ridiculed and tortured first, and then being nailed to a cross (or stoned to death or imprisoned unto death or countless other ways). However, you will also be resurrected and have eternal life at some point… hopefully sooner rather than later.

Next, it says: In following Jesus, you will be required to travel—literally, mentally, and emotionally—to meet people where they are, and virtually all of those people are not in your family or friendship group. You probably will not like most of them because they are different than you, but that is part of the challenge!

And finally, the fourth one says: There is no ’phone number or website or address of any kind to aid you in your inquiry. Instead, look around your community and neighbourhood to see if anyone is behaving oddly (compared to what you are used to), especially in any of the above ways, and ask them about Jesus.

In our reading from the Gospel of Luke today, Jesus explains to the crowds that were traveling with him that they must come to discipleship with their eyes and minds wide open. The demands made by Jesus seem harsh—hating your own family and your own life, carrying your cross, giving up your possessions—and yet those demands are also crystal clear: discipleship is dangerous.

Following Jesus is supposed to changes lives, communities, and the world.

In the rural, world of first century Palestine – “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…”  were not just a family unit, but were the means of social stability; social security; economic viability – the very system that gave an individual lifelong social stability and security.   The Greek word for the term “hate”: μισέω (miseó), which was the original language of Luke’s Gospel – was a term used to suggest a way of valuing someone, or something, above another.  And so what we have is a statement from Jesus which means something like:  unless you value the task of discipleship more than your family system, which gives you social and economic security… you cannot be a true disciple of mine. 

Jesus says this – because he wants his would be disciples – that includes you and me – to know that the life of Christian discipleship is a life of sacrifice.  God’s kingdom of love cannot be built on our own needs, wants and desires. 

The two examples (“For which of you…”) of building a tower; or raising an army to engage a battle – are examples of the impossible.  How can one build a tower without sufficient resources and complete the job?  How can an army of ten thousand defeat an army of twenty thousand?  These are impossible tasks!  Jesus is giving us a serious and sober warning:  Do we really know what we are doing when we say we are following him?  Do we really know what we are taking on when we join the Jesus Movement?  It is not about following Jesus to make ourselves comfortable, contented, secure and carefully control the trajectory of our lives and often the lives of those around us.  No.  It is about abandoning security in favour of risk.  Taking risks; losing control; giving it all away – and keep on giving.

But that is impossible; we cannot do it!  Like building a great tower without the required resources; like defeating an army twice the size of yours – overwhelmingly impossible.  But wait.  Jesus gives us the key to the possible:

It is in verse 26 -  “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”   Carrying your cross – does not mean you have to embrace a life of masochistic misery, a life full of pain and suffering – no!  Carrying your cross and following Jesus means being FAITHFUL. (The first of the three Fs.)  We have to stick to our chosen path – the path of giving from the heart – giving our forgiveness; our repentance; our healing and our love.  And the Grace of God’s unconditional love will shine into our lives and make the impossible, possible.

Following Jesus is not a whimsical response to a moment of inspiration or feeling, but rather a deliberate, life-changing decision, such as beginning a new job; or committing to a relationship. We may respond immediately to Jesus’ call of, “Come, follow me,” but it will take a lifetime for us to learn how that decision plays out, and if we do not read the small print, we will fall away from the path and not be able to complete the journey.  It is a more serious decision than many of us may realize, and each of us knows what we must sacrifice in order to do it. We are called to put our faith in a process that is unknown to us, which takes immense courage in a time where we have more information than we know what to do with and often worry how to be in complete control of our lives. Discipleship is a journey; a process, not an instant transformation.

Faith is not believing in something unquestionably; Faith is continuing to be strong in hope even when the journey gets tough.  Michael Ramsey once famously said: “The true Christian disciple is one whose face is constantly dirty with falling into the mud.  But it is a face washed by tears; tears of joy knowing that God’s love is a source of the joy of everlasting hope and will lift us up to begin again”.  Amen.