Christian Family Values?

A sermon, based on Luke 14.25-33, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, September 8, 2019

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John the evangelist writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…for God is love.”(1) From this spiritual substance that God’s very existence and essence is love, it necessarily follows, it makes perfect sense that love is the Christian value. In that regard, o’er the centuries, how many times – doubtless, countless! – have Christians read and reflected on the Apostle Paul praise of love that “is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude…(and) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.”(2)
LOVE spelled with hate

However, today, we might ask: Is hate also a Christian value? A Christian family value! “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple!”

A hard saying! Yet, as Jesus, the one who put the “Christ” in Christian values, said it, we, as his followers, are obliged to take it, to take hate seriously.

The Greek word translated “hate”(3) can mean to love less. Thus, whenever we encounter conflicts between discipleship and anything else, we don’t have to hate it, just love it less. We can do that!

But it can’t be that easy! And it isn’t! For “hating” or “loving less” isn’t about our attitudes, but our actions. When conflicts arise between discipleship and anything else, it’s not about how we feel, but what we do. And, again, the example Jesus uses for “anything else” is family; symbolically and existentially, the birthplace of our lives, the ground of our histories and the guide to our destinies.

Jesus is on his way to his destiny. Jerusalem. There, for the sake of his mission of proclaiming God’s kingdom, he will lose his life. Therefore, it is crucial that his disciples count the cost of following him, lest they walk innocently, blindly into a calling more rigorous, more dangerous than they imagine. So, Jesus speaks of carrying a cross, building a tower and knowing whether one can complete it or waging war knowing whether one has sufficient troops to face the enemy, and all in the context of declaring that the demands of discipleship can supersede the claim of the most precious thing: family and life.

But that was then. What do we, now, in our time, interpret Jesus’ teaching?

“Whoever does not hate family, even life, cannot be my disciple” illuminates the ever-present tension between two realities. On one hand, our values, symbolized by family and life, in which we find our identity and security. On the other hand, what I’ll term “our larger life” beyond the bounds of our identity and security, symbolized by discipleship.

A tension, even deeper, between the fact that we won’t, that we can’t hate or love less our values because they define and determine who we are and a life of discipleship that constantly calls into question…Jesus who constantly calls into question our always inherently self-oriented, self-interested values.

To put this another way…

clutching hands

To be conscious of this tension is to be aware that we always simultaneously are doing these two things. Holding on to what we value, what is real to us, lest we lose our sense of who we are and holding on to Jesus, who is our ideal, lest we lose our sense of who we might become.

To follow Jesus, to be a Christian is to live always holding on to the real while always reaching for the ideal, and always being prepared to relinquish the real that the ideal may become real.

 

Footnotes:
(1) 1 John 4.7a, 8b
(2) 1 Corinthians 13.4, 7
(3) Miseō

5 thoughts on “Christian Family Values?

  1. Dear Paul,

    This is a brilliant sermon. I have never heard anyone preach on this excruciating conflict before, and we NEED, NEED, NEED to have it highlighted at this moment in history. I have often fretted over the reality that we are all attached to particular people – family, friends, those we admire, etc – in deep and meaningful ways, but that the command is that we love ALL people, that we not pick out people to love and leave the rest to disregard or lukewarm tolerance or outright hatred and all stops in between. And what happens when our love for those we are close to, for whatever reason, conflicts with our ability to bestow benevolent love on strangers to our lives or apparent enemies to our lives or challengers to our lives? How do we reconcile the tension between those realities? And you have addressed that very question here. Thank you, dear friend and preacher! We DO live in tension, don’t we? It is how the world works. And when God’s love, Jesus’s example and teachings, and sometimes our own hearts set the challenge for us to move through, beyond, above our genuine, comfortable, valued attachments or beyond them or figure out a way to reconcile them with the law of universal love, that’s the challenge of being human and being loved into the discomfort of growing and developing a heart consistent with God’s love.

    Thank you for reminding me of the rightness of being torn, of being stretched beyond what my ego has decided I am and am capable of. Thank you for that marvelous picture of those agonized hands and arms; they convey so well how it feels to struggle against the walls that used to define us, to find a larger space, a larger heart, a larger commitment to live in the next stage of growing into the love with which we are held always.

    As always, much gratitude and love, Paul….

    Karen

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  2. Yes, yes, yes, my dearest Karen, you, so genuinely, so characteristically, for me have illumined a deeper depth of the tension inherent in hearing and (trying!) to apply Jesus’ teaching about hating one’s family and one’s life for the sake of discipleship. For, through the lens of your startling, stellar observation, for me to hate my own and my own life for Jesus’ sake necessarily commends, COMMANDS that I, in my (and, here, thinking of another dimension of discipleship, I will add) active discipline of loving, extend myself to all. I cannot say honestly that I was thinking that was I read and reflected, prayed and wrote, and then preached this text. Yet, again, with your salient insight, I see it now. And, yes, this is – not only an important, but – an essential word for all of us in this day and time!

    Love, always and in all ways,
    Paul

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  3. Holy Cow!!!! What a sermon!!!! I love it, AND Karen’s response too!!! The tension raised in the sermon is a constant battle for me…. when I became estranged from my daughter because I was giving things to her that she actually didn’t need, one of my first thoughts was that I hated her….. in the aftermath of course and as time went by, I no longer hated her, BUT I don’t much like her as a person but I do love her as a daughter… But that’s not what I really wanted to share. When I searched for WHY I was so mad about my daughter deceiving me, was the fact that I could have helped many other people, including my own Mom, people who could really have used the money I wasted on my daughter. In some respects I felt that she prevented me to doing more service to God by helping those. I eventually got over that too… so am now looking just towards moving forward.
    Karen’s point about us needing this sermon right now is so on point!!! There is so much HATE in the world today, but I think that some of what we need to do is look at where the hate is coming from and how we can turn that hate into love, maybe not in loving the person directly, but by taking action to serve them in some way. One of the things I keep trying to do is to “understand” the person in the White House. I listened to all of the talk about the Alabama story and the sharpie to try to figure out “what could he possibly be thinking needing to be right” when so many people were suffering. I can’t serve him in any way, BUT I keep trying to be present and understand. I don’t think it fixes at all the tension you described, but it certainly allows me to work on the issues you raised including looking differently at Hate and its role in Christianity.
    So what’s next week’s sermon going to be about??? Whew!!!
    Much love to you both!!
    Loretta

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    1. Thank you, Loretta. Yep, you hit the nail on the head about the difficulty of loving what we think we have every reason to hate. It is SOOOO hard not to cleave to our own little band of agreeable sisters and brothers and parents and spouses and children and friends and let go of the rest, because they don’t fit with our idea of ourselves, isn’t it? And yet, I think it’s that pull against just the normal affections that is the catalyst that changes us if we let it. I agree with you wholeheartedly about “the current occupant,” and yet, I also know that it’s people who have been terribly wounded by the people they were “supposed” to be loved by who challenge and threaten us most but also most need our love, our benevolent thoughts and actions (which may not be at all what they want but what they need).

      And you’re right. I’m wondering where our dear Paul is going to go from here! I can’t wait to find out!

      Hope you have a good week!

      Much love to you, my sister,

      Karen

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  4. Dearest Loretta and Karen,

    Always, I thank you for reading and reflecting on my writing/sharing. I consider our cyber-dialogue a http://www.SermonSeminar.

    (Karen, I’m not sure if I’ve written anything about Sermon Seminar or whether Loretta may have mentioned it – I cannot recall at this moment. Sermon Seminar is a feature of St. Mark’s, DC, Sunday mornings that I inherited from my predecessor and, I believe, still happens. At 10 a.m., the preacher preaches, and then folk, as they are led and choose, share their thoughts and feelings – at times, what “got stirred up” as they listened, at times, questions that arose, at times, critiques of sermonic content or emphases. For me, I always enjoyed the commentary when I heard from others their thoughts and feelings, which indicated what mattered to them, which, often enough, were other than/beyond anything that did occur or could have occurred to me given my particular individuality and way of being.)

    When I read your – Loretta and Karen – comments, you oft reveal facets and dimensions of an issue that hadn’t occurred to me. I am grateful, therefore, for your expansion of the dialogue…

    In this case, again, Karen, I wasn’t thinking (at least, not consciously!) of the connection between Jesus’ admonition about hating one’s family and one’s very life and discipleship AND how that relates to expanding our field of vision, indeed, field of action regarding those whom we love. And, Loretta, your focus on a real-world (your real-world!) example of your relationship with your daughter, for me, brings the contemplation of love-hatred/family-discipleship, well, home!

    AND as you look out at the world today and all the hatred that has been and is fomented, particularly, I think, in regard to our current political stew, your – both of you – advocacy of the love-ethic could not be more timely AND necessary.

    As to where I go with this…hmmm, who knows (surely, I don’t!). Though this coming Sunday, with the gospel text, Luke 15.1-10 (Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin), I’m driven to contemplate being lost and found. (And, by the way, it’s no accident that, as one continues reading chapter 15 of Luke, the next parable, generally reserved in our lectionary for its own stand-alone focus, is the prodigal son. Jesus had a lot to say about being lost!)…

    Thus, when I think about our current political scene, I consider it – among many things – an expression of the worst of human nature (and I do not mean only in that of the behavior of our president, for he, I believe, has a tight and expansive circle of enablers and encouragers; some in vociferous support and others via their silence) in that the characteristic dominant-subordinate, blame-and-shame victimization of “the other” via the demonization of “the other” is part and parcel of the political and cultural, individual and communal personality of our time. In a word, the beasts of our lesser human nature(s) have been unshackled. Always, they are present within us and whenever they have been given free rein (indeed, whenever they have been unchained), it takes time to corral and confine them again, for they do not yield willingly.

    Love with respect and admiration for you and with apprehension for these our times,
    Paul

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