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Pentecost 16C Sermon
Luke 14: 25-33

September 4, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I realize that Jesus wants to grab our attention when he encourages us to hate our fathers, mothers, wife, children, brothers and sisters, but have you ever known anyone who has literally no family? Or whose family is fractured, split apart by dysfunction and deep wounds which could only be healed with some sort of miracle? Does Jesus really want us to live like that? What is behind his encouragement to live like you have no family? Last week in my sermon, I talked about how the Christians in the first century lived out of a “fictive kinship” – treating each other like brothers and sisters. Here, Jesus is talking about hating family in favor of discipleship. Are these two concepts conflicting? Actually, I do not think that they are. As a matter of fact, I think that they are complimentary. In his exaggeration, Jesus is encouraging us to not play favorites with our own flesh and blood, biological family. Rather, we are to carry the cross, giving of ourselves for all people, just as Jesus gave up his very life for all of the world. There are no classifications in regards to who is loved and who is not – by God, Jesus or by us! All are loved, and as we care for, encourage and speak up for those who seem unlovable by society, we carry the cross just as Jesus carried his. Remember, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and to his own cross, so everything that he does and says should be understood in light of this fact. So as he is on this journey, he looks around and sees all of these people following him. He has to be wondering why they are there – do they want to see some spectacular miracles that they have heard that they’ve heard him do? Do they want to hear him share some uplifting message from God’s word? Do they want to see him once again put the Pharisees in their place? Jesus realizes that if they knew what fate he was about to meet in Jerusalem, there would not be as many people following him. And so he warns them in advance that there are many things that will come in the way of following him to the cross, even things that on the surface seem good and admirable, like family. But just as nothing will get in his way of sacrifice and love, nothing can get in our way of
these things either.

In the same way, he must be wondering: if they know the fate that meets people who love all people like God loves them, would so many of them be travelling with him so eagerly? They are thinking more about the assets of God’s Kingdom without counting the liabilities in this life while following Jesus. Being a Christian disciple is an identity, not a hobby, job or passing fancy. And so, just as Jesus lived out his love for humanity with passion and sacrifice, so all people who follow him are called to do so. Living out a familial love for all people, not just the people to whom we are related, is indeed a challenging thing. It means that we see someone like Colin Kaepernick, with whom you may agree in his protest during the national anthems or not, as a brother in Christ – even though he is not a blood relative of any of us, and even though he may represent a movement or a position with which you disagree. We don’t dismiss him as useless, like a piece of garbage, which is what I have heard and seen people in the press and on social media call him this week. The same could be said of anyone – from Hillary and Trump to the Palestinians and Israelis. The news that God loves all of them is upsetting enough, unbelievable to some people, but then to take it to the next level and hear Jesus talk about the sacrifice that we are to take by loving them as God loved them is even more difficult to fathom. I would rather have to hate my father and mother than have to love some of the people that God loves in this world!

In God’s kingdom there are no “we and they” classifications. Everyone is a “we”. And on the surface, that seems like something that everyone can identify with, but Jesus knows that it is something that will cause many people, especially those who are in power, to do whatever they can to kill our love. Much of it goes back to is Moses’ parting words to the Israelites in our first lesson when he tells them to, “choose life.” As disciples of Jesus, we are called to choose life even when death is the popular, easy way. Choosing life means encouraging life for all people, regardless of your personal opinion of them, regardless of their worth or value to you, regardless of how big their family is.

This past Wednesday I was making some visits in the homes of some of our shut-in members, taking Holy Communion and helping them stay connected to their congregation. I stopped in at The Gardens, the assisted living facility of the Whetstone Care Center, to visit Bob Kindred. Bob has lived there for a couple of years, having moved from his home on Stanton Road when he just couldn’t take care of himself any longer. Bob was a member here since he was baptized and confirmed as a 15 year old boy in 1942, but he has not been here for worship for at least the 12 years of my ministry here. I officiated at his wife, Mary Alice’s funeral a few years ago, and have tried to visit Bob every few months. Neither he nor Mary Alice had siblings, and they never had children, so there really is no close surviving family - only one distant relative who they referred to as a “nephew.”

Anyway, I signed in at the desk and put down Bob’s room number. The receptionist behind the desk looked at the number and sort of was taken aback. She said, “Um … are you here for a visit?” I said, “Yes, I’m Mr. Kindred’s pastor. I usually try to get here every couple of months.” “Well,” she said tentatively, “he’s … gone.” I said, “Gone? You mean like, passed away?” “Yes,” she answered, “he died about three or four days ago.”

I have to admit, I was surprised. There had been times when I couldn’t get in touch with Bob – when he moved into The Gardens I didn’t find out for quite a while since I kept calling his house and he had no answering machine. While we always enjoyed our visits together and he always welcomed me, he didn’t make much attempt to keep in contact with us. He always requested that no carolers or visitors stop by at Christmastime. An occasional visit from the pastor was fine with him. And now, with no close surviving family to his name, there is only a lawyer to carry out his final wishes … and we will see in the coming weeks if those wishes included any kind of funeral service.

As a person who has had close relationships with most of my family, I find that sad. Jesus’ words to me sound like a challenge – that we are to be concerned about all people enough that we love them like family, knowing that one day we may very well sit across from them at the heavenly banquet, passing them the rich foods filled with marrow and the wine that has been strained clear! We are love and to serve even those who are different or live differently than us – poor and rich alike – knowing that they are our family in God. There is no more us and them. It is all us – God’s family. May we choose life – not only for ourselves, but for everyone that God loves and calls us to love as well; Amen.