Cling to Christ Alone

KanugaA sermon offered September 8, 2013
St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church, North Port, Florida

16th Sunday after Pentecost
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 1, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33

(1st Sunday back after vacation!)

It’s really good to be back with you today!!  The vacation time was good; the first week or so I stayed at the Kanuga Conference center near Hendersonville, NC – up in a beautiful part of the world – God’s sanctuary to be sure!

I was reminded that vacation time for me is more than a necessary physical and mental rest.  Taking a vacation is a good spiritual discipline as well.  It took me nearly a week to settle into a slower pace — to be able to let go of that self-inflicted drive to work hard and achieve much – work like there’s no tomorrow.  Do you ever find yourself caught in that trap?

As you well know,  we can’t work our way to heaven – but that temptation – that wrong minded need to fix it, control it, secure it  – it can trip us up so easily!

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

These words are Jesus reminder to us to let go of that need to achieve – a reminder to let it go and let God take care of it.  This is an often needed spiritual correction for most of us – but at the same time – on the other side of the scale – Jesus is not telling us to just stop, do nothing.  In fact God’s very own work in creation comes down to co-creative action with us – God working through us . . .   As you’ve heard me say before, quoting St. Teresa, “We are God’s hands and feet on this earth . . .”

But now on to the words we heard in the gospel today – Jesus says:

“If you come to me and you don’t hate your father, your mother . . . your husband, your wife . . . your children, your sister, your brother, — and even life itself, your own life — you can’t be my disciple.”

Pretty hard saying  – wrong-sounding words to our ears –  to our way of thinking.  And the idea of hating family would have been even harder for followers in Jesus’ day.  Individuals in Jesus’ day were even more dependent on their families for their status and sustenance than we are today.

So did the writer of the Gospel of Luke get it wrong somehow?  Doesn’t this call to hate our families directly contradict one of the ten commandments – to honor our father and mother?  And as for hating even our own lives, how can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we hate ourselves?

Yet it’s difficult to make the argument that Jesus didn’t actually say these words – or that he didn’t mean what he said.

There may be some small comfort in comparing this passage to the similar passage in the Gospel of Matthew.  There Jesus says that “whoever loves their family more than me is not worthy of me.”  But this actually no great comfort . . . who would really want to be forced to choose?

The easiest way to begin to explain this teaching about hating our families is to try to understand the use of the Greek word miseo which is translated as hate.  It doesn’t mean quite the same as our word hate, which is an emotionally or psychologically charged word that means to “actively despise.”

The Greek miseo comes closer, perhaps, to our word renounce.  So in the context of our relationship with our families, Jesus is insisting that we need to make sure that our families don’t hold an inappropriate control over us – the dysfunctional relationship of codependency, for instance.

When it comes to our relationship with ourselves, we’re called to be aware of the motives that drive our actions.  Are we acting out of selfish or ego-centered desires and addictions?

In the end, it’s a matter of priorities.  Do we cling to human relationships?  Or are we focused and ready to let go of whatever it may be that gets in the way of complete devotion and surrender to Jesus?

——————-

In the gospel reading today Jesus gives us two conditions for being his disciple.  The first condition is the one we’ve been considering – the requirement to hate or to renounce  self and family and friends  – to let go of human attachments.

As for the second condition for being Jesus’ disciple, Jesus says:

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

This is also a hard saying.  Carrying the cross means that being Jesus’ disciple will involve suffering.  There’s no way around it .  And following Jesus:  that depends totally on our being able to let go of the baggage of the past . . . and following requires us to listen in order to hear his call.

Think back for a moment to those first disciples that Jesus called – the fishermen by the Sea of Galilee.  How quick those folks were to respond to the call! They dropped everything immediately and followed Him.   For Simon Peter and Andrew, then James and John that instant when they heard Jesus call their names (their moment of conversion) –  – it must have been very powerful and pointed.  Immediately they followed, and it seems they never looked back!

For me – that’s the miracle of their discipleship. The miracle is that they left everything behind, definitively and immediately. When I observe, when I talk with people who are struggling – and when I reflect on my own proclivities to hold back, to doubt, to procrastinate, to find excuses – to cling to the past — — those early disciples’ immediate move to follow Jesus seems even more miraculous!  Peter and Andrew left their jobs, left their source of income. And James and John left their father and perhaps the rest of their family as well.

Our ability to follow Jesus — however and wherever he calls us – even our ability to hear His call – depends totally on our willingness to let go, to leave the past behind, to put our relationship with Jesus first, even before family relationships. And to do this we have to be willing to see our selves as new creatures in Christ – as Paul wrote:

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

Jesus has given us a ministry of reconciliation . . .  The great gift of reconciliation is freedom – and the freedom to follow Jesus when He calls our name comes only when he comes first in our lives.  Only then are we totally free to really follow . . .

We’re not all called to leave family and friends behind – but we are all called to put our relationship with Jesus first.  It’s a call to let go of anything that is not of Christ, a call to cling to Him alone.

Are there human relationships that stand between you and Jesus?

Pray for grace to hear, grace to discern . . .
Pray for grace to let go . . .
Then pray for grace to follow.

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