25 Now 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.’ 31 Or 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.
So, happy rally day! Happy beginning of the fall! Happy 25th anniversary of ELCA! And you know, nothing says, “Let’s celebrate and have a great start to the year!” like our gospel text for today. Jesus says, “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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple….none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
That’s like the most depressing Rally Sunday message….ever. Every year there are a handful of Sundays where preach feel like we need to really knock it out of the park. To really hit a homerun with our message. That would be Christmas, Easter, and Rally Day. And so all week, I have been like, “Arrgh! It’s Rally Day. What on earth am I supposed to say about this?!”
And I’ll be honest, while I’m not a big fan of this text in general, I find this text particularly ridiculous in light of the past week I have had. Really, Jesus, in order to be your disciple, am I supposed to hate my father the week after his brain randomly started bleeding? I’m supposed to hate life itself when I am so glad that there is still life inside my father’s body? I’m supposed to worry about giving up all of my possessions and grabbing my cross and following you, when that small elephant of grief and fear and anxiety over my dad’s well-being has just finally decided to stop sitting on my chest?
Honestly, I’d much rather preach on the Deuteronomy or Philemon texts.
But while I would like to preach on those two texts, I have always been taught that if there is a biblical text that you want to avoid. One that you would rather not have read in church on Sunday. One that you would rather act as if it does not exist, then it is probably the one you should be preaching on.
So what are we supposed to do with a passage like this? Because my temptation is to try and soften it up a bit. To tell you that Jesus doesn’t really mean we are supposed to hate our family members, but that it really means “turn away.” So he doesn’t mean that you need to hate your parents or brothers or sisters, but just that you are to turn away from them. But whether this is true or not, it does not change the fact that you are still being asked to give up your family. To turn away from them. To leave them behind so that you can follow Jesus.
Part of me wants to be snarky and say that because the texts references people hating their wives and children, then Jesus must only be talking to the men in the room, and everyone else is off the hook.
But in the end, I can’t. I can’t smooth this one over. I can’t make it say what it doesn’t say. In the end, Jesus actually demands something of us. Expects something of us as his disciples.
But maybe that’s actually good news. That Jesus is trying to tell us that our faith actually demands something of us. That God actually invites to have a role to play in this beautifully, messed up world. That God actually trusts us to be a partner in bringing about a love so divine that reaches into all our stone-like hearts. That it truly is God’s work and our hands. That God accomplishes more with us than without us. No, none of this works is so that we can get into heaven or so we can earn God’s love for us. Jesus doesn’t ask us to do good thing so that we can win a reward in the end. But that Jesus asks us to do hard things so that others might flourish in this world. And in the words of a friend of mine, we can do hard things.
So what hard thing might Jesus be asking of you today? What might Jesus be asking you to give up or sacrifice for the sake of a better world? What that looks like for you, I don’t know. You’ll have to figure that out on your own.
But as I think about Jesus asking his disciples to turn from the families and leave behind all their stuff to follow him, all I can think about is the millions of people in Syria who have fled their country in order to find safety and refuge in their surrounding countries. People who have left behind every single thing they own, people who have maybe even left behind family members who are fighting in a war that has become much to chaotic, in order that they might find a safer and better life.
Sometimes what God asks of us is really hard. But we can do hard things.
Yesterday, God asked something of me. And while it was hard, the message was simple: Jon – get over yourself. You see last night after coming home from our Confirmation retreat, I got caught in that downward spiral of insecurity where all I could think about was this tiny, insignificant thing about me. And like a virus, it just spread into everything I was doing. I was distracted during dinner about it, I was distracted while giving Elliot a bath (and then he slips a falls while I supposed watching him), and I was distracted by it while trying to read books with Elliot and the whole time there was this voice that I can only attribute to the Spirit saying, “Jon – get over yourself. It’s not all about you. This thing that your insecure about does not matter.” And I’ll tell you, I fought God for a long time on that one last night. But God won, in the end. I got over it. But it was still hard.
Sometimes, what God asks of us is really hard. But, you know what, we can do hard things.
So, again, what hard thing might Jesus be asking of you? Maybe Jesus is asking you to get over yourself and to quit worry about yourself all the time. Or maybe Jesus is asking to get out of whatever dangerous and chaotic life you’ve been living in for far too long. Or maybe Jesus is asking you to heal a relationship that’s been broken far too long. Or maybe Jesus is asking you open up your home to someone who doesn’t have one. Whatever it is, you’ll have to figure that out.
But what I do know is that as disciples of Jesus, he actually expects something from us. And that is the most beautiful part. That God actually calls you by name and asks something of you. God needs you. And sometimes God needs you to do hard things.
I’ll be honest, no matter what hard thing I might think Jesus is calling me to, the odds are pretty high that I’m not going to go home today and start hating my family. And I’m not going to sell all of my possessions either. And if that counts as failure in Jesus’ eyes, then so be it. But I think there is good news in failure too. You see, there was a large crowd there that day when Jesus laid out these great expectations. And we never learn how it turns out. The story doesn’t say what the crowd decided to do. Well, it doesn’t say it explicitly what they decided. But we can assume it. You see, later on in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ travels lead him all the way to Jerusalem and to the top of a cross. And when we look around, his friends and the crowd are nowhere to be found. They have scattered and are standing at a distance. And yet God still used those same people, like Peter who denied Jesus, to build God’s church. A church thousands of years ago that lead to the building of this very church.
Jesus’ closest friends failed him. And so will we. But God remained faithful to them, continuing to call them into partnership in creating a better world. And God will remain faithful to us. Even if we go home today and nothing changes, it doesn’t mean that God won’t continue to invite you use your hands for God’s work tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day. Amen.