Pent 16 Lect 23 C: Hard Words




The phrase came out of my mouth with all the venom and loathing I could possible muster.

I knew as soon as the words burst out of my mouth that there was no going back.  I was committed to the actions I was about to take.

I stormed out of the camp dining hall, into the rain, down the sidewalk and promptly fell flat on my face.

I rolled over on to my back.  And as the hot tears mixed on my face with the rain droplets and the pain intensified in my knees and ankle, I realized that I had never thought that those words would hurt me as much as I hoped they hurt the person I spoke them to.

I’d heard the phrase spoken in movies and on television shows.  To be honest, the tone was generally whiney, petulant, or indignant.  Not so decidedly acidic as it was upon exiting my mouth.

I am, for the most part, incredibly reluctant to use the word ‘hate’ to describe my feelings about something or someone.  There is really only one thing in the world that I can say that I truly hate – evil.  I cannot stand evil for evil’s sake.  So, to say I hate someone or something is to equate them to the one and only thing that instantly makes righteous anger boil up from deep within me, and I don’t think that anyone or anything other than pure evil deserves that.

Which puts me in a very difficult place this week.

Jesus says: “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple.”

Hard words.

Immediately, I recoil from the harshness of those words.  Hate family and loved ones? Take up an implement of incredible torture and death and follow Jesus to crucifixion and sacrifice? Give up all possessions?

And what if we don’t do these things?

Well, you cannot be a disciple of Jesus?

I wouldn’t be surprised if those throngs of people getting onto the next big thing that is Jesus the Galilean Son of a Carpenter become Rabbi suddenly dispersed out of sheer offense.

Dust clouds settling and tumbleweeds blowing across Jesus’ feet kinds of reactions.

And that is one reaction.

Another, classically, is to say that Jesus didn’t mean to be as harsh and radical as it comes across in our language.  Perhaps Jesus is really just making a point to emphasize that we try our best to choose God and Jesus over all things.  So, I went to look at the Greek, and it reads “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes even his soul, he is not able to be my disciple.”[1]

It seems pretty clear to me in that language too.  To attempt to lessen the shock seems to lessen Jesus.

Yet another reaction is what I like to sometimes call the “both-and” – living in tension.  Specifically, to live the “tension of the faithfulness to God on the one hand and duty to others on the other, being sure not to go too far in either direction… being prudent with our possessions, giving out of overflow, perhaps, but certainly not giving it all.”[2]

Keeping everyone happy all of the time, because, you know as well as I do: that never ends badly, does it?

To be completely honest, none of those options are in any way how I want to react to these words.

So, I dug a little deeper.

The Greek word for hate is used 41 times in the Bible.[3]  The Gospel of Luke uses the word “hate” 7 times.[4]  Some of the uses of hatred are meant as a sort of enmity, but two of the instances, including this one, use hatred differently – as the immediate opposite of loving, following, or clinging to one another.[5]  In these two cases, hatred is the thing behind Door #2 – it is the other path, to the exclusion of that first choice.

What Jesus says to the many crowds who were beginning to follow him truly is radical and divisive.  This use of hatred is the magnifying point of the whole statement Jesus is making.  The many admirers who were stepping on the pathway that Jesus was walking may not have really understood what Jesus was about or what it meant to follow Christ.  Jesus is clarifying what he expects of his disciples.  The cost of choosing to be a disciple of Christ is such a radical choice that those who make this choice to follow Jesus are not necessarily going to be making decisions based on ‘what’s best for me, or family, or friends, or society.’[6]

Hard words.

Being a disciple of Christ includes taking the time to count the costs and consider what it means to set out on this journey of discipleship, rather than simply signing up at the peak of enthusiasm without considering where this journey is going.[7]  It means using wisdom and patience and having the heart to put every little thing that we might call our own on the line.

Being a disciple of Christ – living and moving and breathing as a member of the body of Christ – being church is a radical thing.  Church is not a social club, it’s not a hobby or an extra-curricular activity.  It is, however, life.

It means sometimes stepping into the dark places because we are vessels of light for God and potential gracious presences.

It means sometimes speaking truth in the midst of chaos and lies because we are voices for justice, peace, and love.

It means sometimes making the unpopular choice despite the protests of the people we look up to because we know, deep in our being, that God is calling us down a different path.

Hard words.  Terribly hard words.

But, here’s the really important thing:

The choice to take up the cross and follow Christ and give up all your possessions is never entirely on you.  The responsibility of a disciple life is not all on you.

Because God sees us and knows us.

God laid out the cost of discipleship, not so much as a fee or burden, but perhaps more of a duty or trust of relationship.  And through relationship, God has gifted each of us with faith and the Holy Spirit through baptism; with Christ through bread and wine; with the promise of eternal life with God through the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Saviour; and with the claim that we are God’s children.[8]

My hope is that we may lift those crosses and carry those realities, knowing that our lives are altogether involved and intertwined through our relationships with God, through our relationship in community, and in our walking in the way of life that is a commitment to working for the kingdom of God.

My hope for each of us is that we may lift our crosses, not of crucifixion and sacrifice, but the representation of new life.

My hope is that we would all welcome and eagerly respond to the call to follow the One who shows us Life.

Filled with the choices we all face in our every day;

Filled with opportunity to witness Christ and be a witness for Christ;

Filled with the gifts found in the trust of a deep and meaningful relationship with the Trinity;

Full of the promise of God.

Let us pray,

Holy Trinity, you call out into our hearts and into the depth of our being again and again.  Grant us the courage to leave behind whatever keeps us from you and to trust you with our lives.  May our heart’s connection to you be so strong and so true that we would daily risk the road of following as your disciples.  Keep us open to the adventures of life where we meet you, day by day.  Remind us often of our goodness and help us to believe that you look upon us with love.  Always.  We thank you for the call of discipleship and the untold gifts of relationship with you.  Amen.
(adapted from Joyce Rupp’s “Discipleship” in out of the ordinary, 2000.)

Sermon Inspirations

  1. Brown, Jeannine K. “Commentary on Luke 14:25-33” Gospel Reading, Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.
  2. Davis, D. Mark. “Holy Hating.”  Left Behind and Loving It: Living as if God’s steadfast love really does endure forever.
  3. Gospel Stream: Learning from The Master; Week 1: Let All Possessions Go.” Discipleship Ministries.
  4. Jacobsen, David Schnasa. “Commentary on Luke 14:25-33.”  Gospel Reading: Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.
  5. Lewis, Karoline. “Carrying The Cross.”  Dear Working Preacher.  Working Preacher.
  6. Luke 14:26” Greek Interlinear Bible. Bible Hub.
  7. Rupp, Joyce. “out of the ordinary: prayers, poems, and reflections for every season.”  Ave Maria Press, Inc.: IN, 2000.
  8. 3404. miseó” Summary. Bible Hub.

This week’s image is “On Family” from the Brick Testament Online by Brendan Powell Smith.  You can find out more about the work of art here, and of the artist here.  This image is modified and used in part for this blog post without permission.  My intent, as always, is to introduce readers to a new form of art that relates in some way to the sermon message.

[1] D. Mark Davis. “Holy Hating.”  Left Behind and Loving It: Living as if God’s steadfast love really does endure forever.
[2]Gospel Stream: Learning From The Master; Week 1: Let All Possessions Go.” Discipleship Ministries.
[3] Strong’s Concordance.
[4] D. Mark Davis.  “Holy Hating.”
[5] D. Mark Davis. “Holy Hating.”
[6] D. Mark Davis.  “Holy Hating.”
[7] D. Mark Davis.  “Holy Hating.”
[8] David Schnasa Jacobsen.  “Commentary on Luke 14:25-33.”  Gospel Reading: Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.


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