Sermon for September 8, 2019 | Pentecost 13
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
We hear three challenging remarks in today’s gospel reading: hate your father and mother, spouse and children; take up the cross; and give up all your possessions. Needless to say, many Christians, bewildered by these exhortations, have simply sidestepped them. Perhaps that is so because the context in which they were spoken has been unknown to so many.
Let us keep in mind that Jesus makes these remarks during a meal that begins the 14th chapter of Luke, the gospel reading proclaimed last Sunday. In the culture known to Jesus, his family, and his followers, the daily meal – the main meal – served two purposes: to affirm loyalty to the family and the family alone; and to welcome business associates for the sake of networking, for making deals over shared bread, contracts sealed with the sharing of a wine cup. One’s livelihood was embedded solely in the family and apart from the family one was lost, adrift, with no one to offer a word of recommendation on one’s behalf. In the family, everyone knew the details of everyone’s life; your parents decided who you would marry and it was never for love but rather to increase the status or wealth of the family; and you would never leave the family home unless you were the bride who had to move into your husband’s household and demonstrate that you were a worthy bride and wife to your mother-in-law. As you might imagine, life in the family was highly controlled and could be experienced as confining if not smothering. To prefer another household – and “prefer” might be a better word than “hate” – to prefer another household, the household of Jesus, might well be experienced as liberating, an emancipation from a life completely controlled by parents or in-laws.
But, there was an incredible risk in preferring the household of Jesus, for you would lose any form of economic stability and financial support from your family of origin. One would be called to bear the cross of an unknown future, wondering if there would be any food, any water, any shelter in this wandering household committed to a Way of Life so different than the customary one in which role and status were controlled by others. Yes: a measure of freedom but freedom in a household that held no property or possessions, in a household marked by voluntary poverty. The stability of blood ties and a reliable social network would be exchanged for reliance on the hospitality of strangers. This, dear friends, was the cost you would need to calculate in order to prefer and join the household of Jesus, a cost he affirms in his two short parables on building a house and going to war.
I have been reading The Cost of Discipleship written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and participant in the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer grew up in a household of incredible privilege, his mother a German aristocrat and his father the head of psychiatry at a distinguished Berlin hospital. The Nazis came to power when Bonhoeffer was 27 years old and came to power with the approval of the vast majority of German Christians. It was German Christians and their clergy by the tens of thousands who joined Nazi rallies at which Hitler promised to make Germany great again after its humiliating defeat in World War I. It was German Christians who applauded loudly the racial hatred espoused by Hitler and his colleagues. It was German Christians who defended Hitler and his intolerance of any criticism. And it was German Christians who supported the establishment of a Nazi state church in which the swastika replaced the cross on which hung a dying Jew.
It would have been easy for Bonhoeffer to do what his friends suggested: go to the United States and get a teaching job; take a lengthy cruise around the Caribbean and South America; move to neutral Sweden or Switzerland; lay low and serve as a chaplain at a school or nursing home. But all of this proved too easy for a Christian who had been raised in a family focused on service to others, on directing whatever privilege they enjoyed toward assisting those who were suffering under what Bonhoeffer called the crushing wheel of the state and its many cooperative corporations [Bayer, BMW, Chase Manhattan, Chevron, General Motors, ITT, Krupp, Mercedes Benz, and Nestle]. Rather than focus on how he might enjoy the safe and secure world of his many possessions and privileges, he became acutely aware of the needs of others and the tragic support of German Christians for a legally elected yet demonic regime. He became acutely aware of the risk, the cost entailed in preferring and following Christ alone, in giving up the security of family and privilege, of taking up the cross of an unknown future.
I think Bonhoeffer’s question is a timely one: What is asked of us who claim to be Christian in a time when hate groups are surging, when ethnic and racial minorities in our city continue to suffer the assaults of racial bigotry, when the homeless are brushed aside like dirty waste, when some in this parish can barely make ends meet and live with the anxiety of chronic poverty, when 25% of all school children in our county suffer with chronic hunger, when victims of natural disaster are deprived of government assistance so that contractors can build a wall across our southern border? What is asked of us who claim to be Christian?
I am aware of the fact that there are fewer years ahead for me than behind me. And such a realization makes me wonder, wonder if one’s purpose is to simply sit back and enjoy the fruits of retirement or engage the pressing need to which Christ calls us. I am mindful of the collect composed by the Anglican priest, Eric Milner-White, as he served in the trenches of World War I: “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.” Amen.
Fr. Samuel Torvend+
For corporations that served the Nazi Regime and cooperated in the Holocaust: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companies_involved_in_the_Holocaust
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Luke 14:25-33