16th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 9/4/16
first reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
second reading: Philemon 1-21
gospel reading: Luke 14:25-33
At the beginning of a podcast I try to listen to in preparation for sermon writing, one of the commentators said about our gospel reading, “This is a reminder of why Jesus wasn’t popular!” The words we read today were NOT meant to be comforting or reassuring. Jesus is not being a warm and fuzzy savior here.
At first glance he even seems to be contradicting himself. I mean, doesn’t Jesus tell us to LOVE one another? Yes. In fact, “love one another,” is the NEW commandment he gives to all who follow him. (John 13:34)
So, how can our savior, who commands us to love one another, also tell us that we have to hate our parents, spouses, children, and even life itself? And not only to hate those we are supposed to love, but also to give away ALL our possessions?
What are we to do with these words? If we believe that Jesus loves us and wants us to love each other, how does this make sense?
Jesus was trying to drive home a point here. He was dealing with these huge crowds who were treating him like some kind of rock star or miracle worker. He was dealing the disciples who expected him to lead a political revolution and free them from Roman oppression.
What he says to those crowds, and what he says to us, is that following him is no hobby. Being a disciple is not something we do with our spare time. It’s not something we “play” at when it suits us.
Because being a disciple is WHO WE ARE. All other identities play second fiddle – even the ones we mistakenly think come first.
Last month, when we welcomed little (S) through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, I said that he would be given a name that would come before all others. The same is true for us. WE have a name, an IDENTITY, which comes before all others – before son or daughter, before brother or sister, before husband or wife, before American or German, before Giants or Jets, or Yankees or Mets.
THAT name, that identity, is CHRISTIAN: follower of Christ. Cross bearer.
Our identity as Christians, children of God, saved by Jesus and forgiven of our sins – needs to come before ALL else.
That’s HARD. But when we think about it, God came first in our lives – God GIVES us life in the first place.
But still… to hate our parents, spouses and children? Give away all our possessions? How can Jesus ask us to do something that is clearly impossible? As I said a few moments ago – he is making a point. He is confronting us with the fact that we often get our priorities mixed up.
Jesus is using the most basic human relationships, and our greatest temptation, to confront us with our idolatries.
THIS is what the reading is really all about – Jesus confronting those crowds, his first disciples, and his 21st century disciples, with our idolatry. And when dealing with idolatry Jesus can’t be warm and fuzzy, because idolatry KILLS, and he knows it.
What is idolatry? Simply put, idolatry is the worship of an idol. And an idol is an image or object of that worship. Anything can become an idol for us – a thing, an idea, a person. Anything or anyone that becomes the focus of our lives, that we build our lives around, besides God, is an idol.
And we DO have them. Some are the same as those that people wrestled with in the first century. Family, being at the center of the lives of so many people, can still be an idol for us. This is a tough one, because family commitments DO take up HUGE chunks of our time.
And that’s ok. Families should “be there” for each other. The trouble starts when our whole universe begins to revolve around that. When our identity becomes all wrapped up in being mom, husband or daughter. When we lose sight of the fact that we are something MORE, that we belong to something “bigger,” something more basic.
With all that our families are involved in within our communities, in clubs and sports, all the “stuff” we DO – it’s easy to get wrapped up in it. Instead of controlling our schedules, our schedules control US – to take the words from our confession, “we are in bondage [to our schedules] and we cannot free ourselves!”
And speaking of “stuff,” Jesus tells us it’s not just people or stuff we DO – our material stuff can also become idolatry. This is easier for many people to understand. I know I would be lost without a lot of my stuff, but to say “give up ALL our possessions? Again, Jesus is making a point.
So many of us don’t own our stuff – our stuff owns us. We get caught in the vicious circle of thinking we need things, when we really just want them. Wanting the latest and greatest and keeping up with our neighbors. “We are in bondage [to our stuff] and we cannot free ourselves!”
In the end idolatry kills us, because it blind us to our true center. The idols we create are just illusions. They are all temporary – family, the things we do, the stuff we accumulate – they’re all transient – here today, gone tomorrow. Idolatry kills us because it distracts us from remembering our primary identity as baptized children of God.
This is why worship is so important. Worship helps us to re-orient ourselves, to slow down and remember WHO WE ARE.
This is why a community of faith – a church – is so important, so that we surround ourselves with people who will help us remember.
And this is why hearing Jesus’ words are so important. Not always warm and fuzzy, but ALWAYS about giving us life – now and forever.