Encore

According to this morning’s Scripture, I am not fit to call myself a disciple of Jesus – Listen!  “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” – Jesus of Nazareth; the Gospel according to Luke 14:26.

Do any of you make the cut?  I hope not, for this is one of those passages that should not be taken at face value – that cannot be delivered out of context, but too often is used as a weapon in the world of religious certainty.

I am afraid that I speak from experience: at my first certification interview, on of the committee suggested that I should be prepared to go to Seminary in spite of any objections my wife may have (for that had been the position he took).  I watched classmates ignore their personal problems because their journey to  ordination “was from God” (as though nothing else in life may have been God’s gift)  It is too easy for a people who claim the Holy Scriptures as their guide,  to fall into a dangerous fundamentalism – this morning, I hope to avoid that trap.

These conditions for discipleship are part of a larger argument Jesus is making about the cost of following him in the ways of God.  He is, after all, suggesting a very personal, very different approach to a life of faith than his listeners have ever imagined.  Direct access to God’s mercy; A child-like reverence for God as a loving parent.  Not only that, this experience will affect the way we treat one another – love thy neighbour, and all that.  Jesus is urging them (and us) to abandon the self-serving attitudes that so often inhabit religious thought.  There will be a cost for this, he says – and that cost is considerable.

Earlier in Luke, Jesus has warned that he came to start a fire – to bring, not peace but a sword (Luke 12:49 ff.)  He suggests that his approach will set loved ones against one another – and no doubt, that still happens.  But I don’t – can’t – believe that we are called to hate family in order that we might love Jesus;  there is something else at work here.

Everything we do, every action we take, comes at a cost to us.  This is a fact of life.  Love creates a kind of blindness in us – you see it in teenagers at the mall, or newlyweds at the front f the church – there is no one else in the world at those moments, and it is a powerful emotion.  It can also be destructive, and that (I think) is what Jesus is warning against.  The resolution is gently delivered – when compared to his opening statement, it’s no wonder that we miss it.  “So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Luke 14: 33)

It is, you see, a warning against what possesses us – a call to mind the commandments, and create no idols for ourselves (and love can do that).  Jesus only task is to keep the image of God before our eyes.  It is an image that provides a model for our behaviour; an image of such generous love, and such tender mercy, that we are fools if we don’t seek the same things in our personal relationships – so comes my insistence that I was called first to be husband, father, brother & son – so long as those relationships don’t seek to replace the relationship that God wants with each of us.  When one informs the other, it is healthy, and wonderful and glorious.  When one replaces the other, we may well hate life itself.

With the love of God guiding us, we are better parents, spouses and friends.  With a sense of God’s limitless love and mercy informing our relationships, we cannot be held captive by the idols we sometimes make of one another.  It is a delicate balancing act, and Jesus shocking words are meant to remind us where that balance might be found.  He calls us to a relationship with God that provokes love – that promotes mercy, and in the end, leaves us free to love in ways we could not have imagined.

It is the thing we say we want more than anything – true love – real happiness.  And here it is, offered in the gospel.  A gift of God, for the people of God.

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