It’s tough being a disciple
It's tough being a disciple of Jesus.
It is tough to follow Jesus.
So, I want us to think about this: For you what is the toughest thing about following Jesus?
Is it forgiveness? Are there people you find it hard to forgive? Is there someone in your life who frankly, you would just rather send to hell, than forgive?
I think forgiveness is one of the toughest things to do. I also think unforgiveness eats away at us inside and hurts our souls.
So, you may have trouble forgiving someone in specific…someone you know…someone who has hurt you…
Or maybe you have trouble forgiving a whole host of seemingly crazies in this world.
Do you have trouble with the concept of forgiving terrorists, rapists, child molesters, invading Russians into Ukraine, dictators who order secret executions…drug dealers…etc. etc.
I do emotionally. I know intellectually about forgiveness and we must forgive, but emotionally something else wells up inside me when I see or hear about innocents being mistreated, abused, enslaved, oppressed or killed.
Forgiveness is tough.
What about love for all? What about unconditional love? What about acting in the best interest of the other?
We pretty much all grew up and had someone who loved us. Most of us had a parent or parents who loved us and most of us have friends and family that loved us.
Wee mostly know how to give and receive love. But for most of us it is reciprocal. Someone loved us and we loved them back and you do good things for each other.
How hard it is to love, when they don’t do good things back, or the other doesn’t seem to love you.
Is there someone you find hard to love? In fact, maybe impossible to generate warm feelings for? As Jesus said, it is easy to love those who love you and are good to you, but real love is loving and caring and acting in the best interest of someone even if they don’t love you, or are good to you.
Tough to love unconditionally.
Or maybe you find the whole idea of sharing tough. I do. There are so many scriptures about giving to others and helping the poor, and reaching out to the down and out. There are scriptures about the rich being brought low and the poor being raised up.
There are scriptures about not refusing to give money when asked and not expecting anything back.
And some days to me it seems darn near impossible. If I gave money to everyone who came to the church door, I would have to have Bill Gates kind of money. If I gave to every homeless or street person I passed, it wouldn’t be long before I was on the street.
I have worked long and hard to pay off mortgage to save for retirement, to help my children…
And frankly many of the people who come to the church door are addicts and have problems, and giving them money to get another fix, just doesn’t seem to be really helping them does it?
And it is not that I don’t want the poor not to be poor, and that I don’t want to give some…
…it is just sometimes it seems so overwhelming and impossible to help everyone who needs help…
I find for one that sharing with the needy is a challenge. It is tough to be a disciple.
One time a few years ago, a friend of mine who came to church a few times, was outside his apartment and saw there was someone there with a flat tire.
He remembered that morning in church when his buddy Harry talked about helping those in need. This was his chance to be a Good Samaritan.
He went and got his car jack and lent it to the person who had a flat tire and went back to his apartment.
A little while later he came out to see how the fellow was progressing with his flat tire and putting the spare on.
Well, the guy had progressed so well, that he had changed the tire and left taking my friend’s car jack.
And when my friend told me the story, he said that he cursed.
In fact, his words were; “That blanking Harry, who told me to help those in need.”
I tried to tell him it wasn’t my fault, but God’s fault. Don’t shoot the messenger.
But the end of the story was that he went to Canadian Tire later that day and saw the guy there, and was able to get his car jack back.
I told him, that God worked it out.
But it raises the whole point of helping others. What is tough about following Jesus is that when you love, or forgive, or help, or turn the other cheek…
…you might get slapped, or cheated, or taken, or used, or sworn at.
It is tough being a disciple.
And it doesn’t get any easier today with the gospel lesson.
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.
On the face of it, it hardly makes sense. The people who love me most and I love most are my family.
And hate life? Hate life itself? What does that even mean?
And I confess, that I had to turn to commentators and look at the original Greek and do some deep diving into this text to try and wrap my mind about what it says and what Jesus is getting at.
It is surely one of those texts where just reading it is not enough.
You need to know the context and how the Greek word miseō is used.
First of all, some context. Jesus was becoming popular. Crowds were following him. They were following him, probably because of miracles and his stories and his compassion, and his good news to the average person, to the poor people, and to the disenfranchised.
But the Christian faith is not about popularity. It is about radical transformation where we die to selfishness and are born again to unconditional love, to radical grace, to universal forgiveness…
…concepts we already know to be difficult to practice…
And so, Jesus is giving them a hard reality check.
If you want to follow me you will have to change.
You will have to give up your possessions.
You will have to carry a cross.
You will have to hate father and mother.
Let us deal with that word hate. In Greek miseō. One of the verses also found in Luke, which I think is a key to help us understand this saying of Jesus about hating family is found in chapter 16 where Jesus says that we cannot follow two masters because you will hate the one and love the other.
Those who actually have two bosses will testify to the fact that one does not actually hate one and love the other. The context clearly show that this is about a choice and declaring one’s choice definitively.
Words in the bible, just as they are in English are complex and can have more than one meaning, or shades of meaning.
The word interest for instance in English can mean the money that is made on a loan. Or it can mean the state of wanting to learn or know about something or someone.
The word miseō or hate can mean making a choice where to put your loyalties, or it can mean to detest someone or hate them literally.
In the Old Testament you will find a texts where a Hebrew word for hate sone is used, and find that sometimes it means detest, or sometimes it means reject or turn away.
In Romans you will find the text: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. That is not about love and hate as we understand the words. The phrase is about choice and rejection.
One other thing to understand from a cultural perspective. Ancient societies like the Greeks and the Jews around the time of Jesus had strong families. The families often were independent economic units and you grew up in the family and you worked for the family and you obeyed the family.
Families while providing support were at the same time, patriarchal, controlling, even abusive.
It was a big deal to leave your family and start out on your own. You would probably be cut off and not loved any more.
To follow Jesus there was a real chance your family would say no and tell you that if you follow Jesus, you will be cut off from your family.
So, we are being encouraged to live lives of radical discipleship. Most of us live lives based on providing for the best for our own loved ones. It is pretty admirable, but Jesus invites to lives that are based on love for all. To put his way of living ahead of our way of living. And Jesus puts it in pretty strong and tough terms. It is not about me and my little family and group of friends. It is about all of us.
So, for the first piece of soul work today I ask?
What are we willing to “hate?” What customs, beliefs, or traditions have I inherited that I need to renounce in order to follow Jesus? What baggage must I abandon? What ties must I loosen? What relationships must I subordinate?
And now let us turn to the word possessions. You cannot follow me, Jesus says, if you don’t give up all your possessions.
The real problem is really our sense of possessiveness. God give us our lives as a gift. God gives us parents, children, siblings and family as a gift. God gives us food, shelter, education, medical care, gifts, homes, possessions as a gift.
The problem is when we think we own these things, that we control these things, that they are ours, and we can refuse them to others.
Even with people…we sometimes think we own the ones we love, and we try to possess them, even control them, or not share them.
What do we think we own, control, possess, have… and think that it is our right?
Money, possessions, theology, time, political beliefs, relationships?
What do we cling to that is not God?
What do we hoard, control, keep away? Who do we dominate, control, keep close or smother?
What would it be to live non-possessively? With people to love and set free to be themselves.
With possessions to share and appreciate, not exploit and hoard?
Paul’s Letter to Philemon illustrates this, I think. Slavery which still happens today in various forms was common in the first century.
Onesimus was a runaway slave and came into Paul’s orbit somehow. He became a friend to Paul, a brother in the Lord. Paul didn’t treat him as a slave, or as a possession.
Paul treated him as a gift. And he was a gift to Paul and helped Paul while Paul was in some kind of house arrest.
Paul is tempted to be possessive and keep Onesimus, but he decides to send Onesimus back to Philemon, in hopes that Philemon will welcome Onesimus back as a brother and gift and not as a possession.
It may seem old-fashioned or irrelevant to us today to think about slavery. We don’t have slaves do we.
Well, we don’t legally, but sometimes we have emotional slaves. People we control, manipulate, exploit, use or manage…
...and sometimes that is people at our church family, or people in our own family…
...and it is always a challenge to see others as a gift and not people we can possess or use.
I remember a little girl from many years ago went fishing for tadpoles with her dad.
She caught them and had them in a pail. Towards the end of fishing, dad thought he would have a hard time explaining that they couldn’t keep the fish. If they kept the fish they would die.
So, he gently told her that they would have to let the fish go.
She looked up at dad with the innocence of childhood and said: “I already let them go, dad.”
I think it is the same for people and for children. We have to let them go to be themselves.
Paula D’Arcy, the author, whose husband and daughter were killed in a car accident in which she survived, tells the story some years later of accompanying a friend Susan to the hospital where Susan’s son lies dead after a car accident.
This is what Paula wrote:
Susan asked me, “He never was really mine, was he?” She had had the experience of owning things and deserving things.
“Susan, none of them are ours. It’s all gift.”
“If that is true, then he can’t be taken from me. If he was gift, then at this moment I will give him back.” And Susan took my hand and one of her son’s hands, raised her eyes to the heavens, and prayed, “God, before me is the greatest gift you ever gave me. And now I give him back. Thank you. Thank you for all these years.”
I don’t know that I could pray that pray given similar circumstances, but I do know this as a minister and spiritual director…
...that one of the goals of spirituality is to stop thinking, acting, speaking and being as if life is something we control and possess…
…and treat whatever comes as gift; and see the oneness of all things, and experience grace, even in moments of sorrow and loss.
It is tough being a follower of Jesus.
Jesus invites us to hate our families and to stop possessing, because he is inviting us to a different way of life.
A life that embraces more than our families and our possessions.
Jesus is asking us to embrace a bigger “We”
Jesus is asking us to stop having a narrow circle of friends and family to care for…
And embrace a bigger “we” …embrace a larger human family that is more than blood ties, or church ties, or culture ties.
Jesus is asking us to embrace a “we” that transcends race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexuality and other socially constructed categories.
I read this little parable the other day. There is a huge cruise ship with thousands of people on board sailing in the ocean, on its way to places of paradise and joy.
One of the passengers who is in the lowest cabin on the ship on the outer hull of the ship, had brought along a drill and drills a hole in the ship and water comes in.
The captain sees an emergency light go on, and he and some crew go to see what is the matter.
They go in the cabin and see the passenger drilling holes in the ship.
“What are you doing?” They cry.
The passenger replies. “This is my cabin. I paid for it. I’ll do what I like.”
And the cruise ship starts sinking.
The uncomfortable truth that Jesus is making us face today is that we don’t have a little cabin called family and friends or First Presbyterian Church, where we can do what we like.
We are all on the ship called earth and everything we do, everything we say, everything we possess and own…
Everything we believe and worship…
Everything we control… Everything we use or use up…
Everything we cherish and hold dear and keep safe.. …affects everybody else on the ship.
There is no “us” and “them” on God’s ship.
If we are following Jesus the captain then there is no private cabin where we can do what we like.
We are part of a huge “we” and our job as disciples is to recognize that we are one with everyone else on board, and do our best to love, and care for and respect, and share with, and cooperate with everybody else on the ship.
But let me tell you. It’s tough.