September 4, 2022
13th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer, September 4, 2022
Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.
I must have been about 8 or 9 when I ran away from home. My mother saw me packing up my things, so I explained that things just weren’t working out. I would have to try to make it on my own. She understood. I filled my bag with things I knew were actually mine, not family hand-me-downs, so there wasn’t much to carry. And I headed out.
Apparently, I hadn’t counted the cost because I wasn’t gone long. I suspect I made it to about the boundaries of any place I’d ever walked on my own. But when the landmarks became less familiar, or the snacks in my bag ran out, or I just realized I was too lonely, and I returned home. I don’t remember any fanfare or warm reception welcoming me home, but there were never any words of reprimand or shame about it either. Things just returned to normal, and I somehow figured out how to live in the family.
These words from Jesus are about as tough as they get[i]. If only they were couched a little more ambiguously, in a more cryptic allegory or puzzling parable, we might be able to explain them away. This is the part of the sermon where the pastor tells you that the Greek word has a different nuance. But when Jesus says, “hate” – he means hate. There’s really no hidden meaning here. It’s not meant to be a vicious or violent hatred, but the word hate is the correct translation. There is no other sense.
“Whoever does not hate,” Jesus says. “Whoever does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, siblings, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple…. None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Ouch. Maybe I could do it for a few hours as a 9-year-old, but family, possessions, and physical comfort have become a bit more precious to me. The cost of being a disciple seems to be more than any of us could choose. Even if I had the courage of 10,000 troops, I could think of 20,000 compelling reasons to hesitate. We could name plenty of worthy excuses, family commitments, care of relationships, vocational responsibilities, and ethical obligations. Things that we value as good, worthwhile, life-giving, noble even, all kinds of valid reasons seem to prohibit us from dropping everything and picking up a cross.
Jesus dismisses all of them. Follow me, he’s been saying since the beginning. Leave your nets in the boat, and I will show you a path to a new future.
There’s an urgency in Jesus’s message. In some ways, he doesn’t give us time to consider the strength of our forces or the design of the tower. He’s fighting for our lives. Like a parent who sees us in harm’s way, he’s desperately grabbing us back into the way of life, into the reign of God. He knows that ultimately, that’s the only life that will work for us.
Jesus encourages us to value the goodness of God’s reign ahead of everything else. The principles of life in the kingdom of God — justice, compassion, forgiveness, health, wholeness, inclusion, are more important to him than any of our cozy comfort, our generational wealth, our privilege, our safety, or any of the other normal indications of prosperity and blessing. He calls us to realize that seeking God’s reign above our own needs will finally lead us to a life worth living, even if we have to carry a cross in its pursuit.
This cross-bearing sounds challenging because it implies loss and pain for us. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus keeps asking us to put our own interests behind us, and work for God’s interests instead. It can feel like we’re losing if we allow others’ interests to matter, if we invite the marginalized into the higher place at the table, if we put the wounded ones on our own animal and carry them to the inn. It can feel like loss if others receive while we lose. It can feel like loss if we ask God to send the rich away empty but realize that we are the ones who have many possessions.
Jesus keeps inviting us to see those in pain around us as our neighbors, to love them as we love ourselves, and to care for them before caring for our own needs. Jesus is ushering us into a world turned upside down, where the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled with good things, and God’s strength is offered to the powerless.
Jesus’ message is no cliché; carrying one’s cross isn’t the same as dealing with some unwanted hassle on behalf of our own best interests. Nor are we asked to suffer for the sake of suffering itself.
No, we’re asked to pick up a cross so that others can live, to expand our sense of family to include those who are disregarded, to visit those who are lonely so that the world feels less isolating, to strive so that future generations can inherit a cleaner earth and a safer community, to make space for perspectives that are traditionally overlooked, to give to those who have less, to challenge root causes of discrimination or poverty, to seek justice for those who don’t have the benefit of privilege, maybe to do something as simple as to fill backpacks each week so that neighborhood children have something to eat[ii].
Jesus calls us into a radical discipleship that will leave us, “for the love of God, with nothing, nothing that is, but each other[iii].” We talk about counting the cost, but don’t also forget to count the benefits[iv].
We’re not left like a lonely 9-year-old, wandering the reaches of the neighborhood on her own, but we’re welcomed into the vast and joyous family of God, where the needs of the lost and the least are met, where the desires of the forgotten and abandoned are filled with abundant grace, and where all people share in the extravagant love of eternal life.
As the people of God were about to enter the land of promise, Moses offers them a final choice—to choose between life or death[v]— Life not only for themselves, but for future generations. The choice for life, he reminds them, will require them to hold fast to God’s directions and purposes, not focused on their personal wellbeing, not relying on their own achievements or ability, or looking to their own interests, but clinging to God’s directions, walking in God’s ways, seeking God’s will in all choices.
The covenant is an invitation back into community, and back into family relationships, but shaped by a focus on God’s will for all people, not just our own tribe or immediate family, and not only for us, but for the very land on which we walk, and for all the generations yet to come.
This is the choice our faith continues to offer us – to experience and celebrate God’s loving purpose for us and all creation rather than narrowly focusing on our own self-interests or living solely for our own satisfaction.
It can sound radical for those of us immersed in a culture focused on immediate gratification. “We borrow against the future all the time[vi],”in the way we structure national debt, in the way we consume natural resources and add to the climate crisis, in the way we conduct our foreign policy, burdening future generations with problems we create.
God’s covenant invites us to care for all creation, and to live as if God’s promises can be for those who follow us.
This is the invitation of the baptized. We’ll be asking Makiah this in a few minutes, but we’re all asked to make affirmation of our baptismal promises whenever we witness a baptism: to continue in the covenant, living among God’s faithful people, sharing in the gifts of God in word and sacrament, proclaiming the good news through word and deed, serving all people, and striving for justice and peace in all the world.
When we can join Makiah and all the baptized in saying yes to that invitation, we find we are in the goodness of God’s reign, we are part of the wide family of all God’s people, we know the sweetness of God’s bountiful goodness, and we are claimed for life in fullness forever.
Thanks be to God.
[i] Luke 14:25-33
[iii] Niedner, Frederick. “From a Scholar,” Time after Pentecost – Lectionary 23, Sundays and Seasons Preaching: Year C 2022, ©2021, Augsburg Fortress, p. 233.
[iv] Skinner, Matthew, Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave “860: Ordinary 23C (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost) September 4, 2022.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/860-13th-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-23c-september-4-2022.
[v] Deuteronomy 30:15-20
[vi] Skinner, op. cit.