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
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)
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…
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.
(1) 1 John 4.7a, 8b
(2) 1 Corinthians 13.4, 7