Sunday, 8 September 2013

Sermon Knox Church Sunday 8th September, 2013 Pentecost 16

Readings Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18 , Luke 14:25-33

Prayer:  May the words of my mouth and the understandings of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen
I spent most of my early parenting years persuading our children that it was never good to use the word ‘hate’ – it was too easy and emotive, quite indiscriminate, and a strong word for extremists to hang their hat on.  Rather, I said, use words such as dislike or ‘am uncomfortable with’ – for me ‘hate’ was a bit of a four letter word.  And yet here it is in the beginning of our Gospel passage –  Jesus seemingly telling us to hate our families, even life itself we want to do this faith thing properly. 
The sentiment expressed is unequivocal and out there – a statement we would expect from someone who is no longer interested in the balanced view, who is stirring others to a cause with extreme hyperbole and shocking statements – but not from our gentle loving Jesus.
So maybe the translations are wrong somehow – or our understanding of the word is changed – forsake not hate, a preference for a best way or a letting go of something (according to the Message version of the bible) – well yes to all of that but still, whatever the interpretation,  this is an extreme passionate and very uncomfortable statement of the cost of discipleship.  And it is really tempting to just pass on quickly and not engage with this particular passage in too much depth. 
The words of explanation following are just as troublesome – but in a different way.  Almost too pragmatic – telling us to be measured in what we choose to do, plan and predict consequences before we engage, be rational.  Know what you are taking on and be prepared to withdraw if you think you might not win.
Extremist statement followed by cautioning practicality – a paradox is it not, yet it is what we have come to expect from this man Jesus.
So - which one of us thinks that hating our family or giving away all our possessions are a pre-requisite of being a Christian?  Not a one I would say.
So how do we wiggle out of this one then with our theological integrity intact and our hearts telling us this cannot be so.  Perhaps by going back to that word I used earlier - hyperbole – that act of saying something more extreme than you actually mean to make a point, to introduce a new perspective, a new way of thinking – a point that often gentler words slide off. We do it all the time – like when we say ‘The whole city was there to watch Otago defend the shield’ offering a take on the depth of feeling.  Or ‘I have nothing to do’ to express a sense of indecision or boredom!   Likewise Jesus is using extreme language to make a very important point – which is: discipleship, following the way of Christ comes at a cost and it is important to take time to consider that before you commit to this path.  Hence the emotive and the practical in one place.  The shock statement and the caution.  Alienation from family, community, possessions, openness to personal and financial vulnerability are on the cards if you choose to follow the way of Christ so take time to understand that.  Be aware that if living in God’s way is your purpose as a Christian, then it will bring you into conflict and difficult times with the world you live in.
How might this show itself to us these days?  What are the things that might bog us down/hold us back so much that we need such a very sharp knife as these words of Jesus to cut loose – to be the people God calls us to be.
Often, sad to say this can be family, family of upbringing, family of church, and of community.  In all those contexts, there are views and strictures that either constrain us or send us off in the opposite direction to a straight jacket of rebellion,  times when the desire to please or to keep the peace overcomes that which we know is wrong, hurtful, when a fear of lost relationship or condemnation holds us back from speaking out for better ways.
And we all, I am sure could write out a list of times where our possessions, our need for financial security has compromised our choices to live to God’s purpose – where we watch with awe, and only awe I might say, at those who trustingly walk that path of uncertain provision for the future. When we put possessions above gifting, personal comfort above sustainability, future proofing above the hungry child who needs food today – then we are making choices that hold us back,  that need that same sharp knife applied to change how we think and act. 
And this has to be relevant in our church at this time  as we struggle and bicker over the response to same-sex marriages legislation.  I could even be tempted to say ‘I hate’ the way that some within the church are attempting to impose a particular binding on how I or any of us should act or believe – this within a church where the wisdom and understanding of – a bit of hyperbole coming up here - of forever has been to honour diversity of opinion.   But it is real – it has happened.  What do we do?  A very wise person said to me a few weeks ago as I was getting pretty angry about this – he said while it is understandable to want to face into the battle and one day prevail, is it not better, more the way of Christ, to simply live out that which we believe is right, even if it has some substantial consequences for us within the Church?  
Another wise person (yes I know a lot of wise people) said to me a couple of days ago – when did the church stop being a movement and become an organisation where enforced ‘right’ thinking took priority over being a mission filled community of Christ living as Christ would have us do?  And how do we become a movement again – where the way of Christ, the walk of faith in love, forgiveness and mercy as a people of God is the most important thing in our lives and we leave off those things within our church family or without, that prevent us being who we are called to be – let us treasure our heritage but be vigilant for that which holds us back, prevents us from putting God at the forefront of our lives.
And that is whatever prevents us being a people who affirm the right to life, love and hope for all people.
As we gather round the table today, re-membering that supper in the upper room, may we each one of us understand that we are welcome, who ever we are and wherever we are, that we are gathered as a people of God and nourished so that we might then go out to be the best we can be for God – and if that is not worth a bit of passionate emotive hyperbole, then I am not sure what is!

Margaret Garland

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