Sermon: Sunday, 08 September 2013

Sermon for 08 September 2013, Proper 18, Year C

The Rev. Theo Park

A printable PDF file of this sermon is available here: 20130908 - Proper 18, Year C - The Rev. Theo Park

There's a great saying in the South that goes like this: “That preacher's just gone from preachin' to meddlin'.” And that's exactly what the author of Luke has Jesus do in today's Gospel. He goes from preachin' to meddlin'. "If you don't hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, you cannot be my disciple. . . . none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." What could he possibly mean?

This charismatic Jesus gathers followers everywhere he goes because they see him deliberately include the poor, heal the sick, and talk a lot about love God’s all-inclusive. This charismatic Jesus is now telling these same folks that if they want to stay with him, if they want to be his disciples, they have to give up everything – family as well as possessions. We could almost imagine his listeners thinking, "I liked him a lot better when he was just preaching about love. Leave it there. Don't ask me to change my life." With this message, Jesus really has gone from preachin' to meddlin'.

This is another one of those tough Gospel passages. It's tough because it's so radical, and it's radical (meaning, “at the root”) because here Jesus lays out his program for total transformation, challenging his disciples to change their lives completely, to put what they say they believe about God before any of their own comforts. It's a jolt to our ears. We may wonder what his hearers were really thinking. Well, guess what? If we read into next Sunday, the evangelist tells us that, "...all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling." Those who were already living on the margins evidently weren't scared off. They'd actually heard this message before and seem to have been paying attention.

Chapter 12 of Luke had Jesus saying practically the same thing earlier this summer: if you want to be a disciple, your household may be divided. Deciding to follow Jesus, being a real disciple, is hard work. People may not like you for it. They may not agree with you. And the price you pay may be difficult, may even seem like death itself. All through Luke, Jesus points to the cost of discipleship. All through Luke, Jesus challenges the thinking and lifestyles of his listeners, and many—the rich, the powerful, the comfortable—revile him for it. But the tax collectors and sinners kept coming back. Could it be that even though Jesus challenged them and talked about the cost, they came back because he never stopped loving them, healing them, and showing them how much they were cared for by God? Even when Jesus really gets to the point of meddling in their lives, he continues to show them how good it is to live the way God wants us to live. Jesus was really doing no more than calling them to look again at how they were living their own law, their own Torah. Many of the religious leaders seemed to have fallen away from a true living out of the law God had given them. Many had let both their material possessions and their desire for power get in the way of living a godly life. They had no interest in this back-country preacher upsetting the apple cart.

But the tax collectors and sinners kept coming back. Even if they weren't living perfect lives themselves, they certainly understood what it meant to be rejected, what it meant to be oppressed, what it meant to be living a life that came with a cost. And because they kept coming back, they saw that in the midst of the hard times God was still with them. As we say in our current Eucharistic prayer, “You never ceased to care for us.” In the chapter before today's passage, Jesus reminds all of them that the kingdom of God is already here, in our midst, and that the kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed that will grow into a tree so big that the birds will make their nests in it. The kingdom of God would be a place of support for them, Jesus told them. "Go out into the roads and lanes, and bring people in so that my house may be filled," Jesus told them.

Lovely words, lovely images. But we still have that troubling part where Jesus says if you don't hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-- yes, even life itself--you can't be my disciple. That word hate just doesn't sound like Jesus. But in context, it isn't a call to hate at all, but a call to set the right priorities. Putting anything—anything at all—before God skews the rest of our relationships. The key to understanding this Gospel is to look first at how we act towards others. We have to look at ourselves. We have to look at our "Torah" at the promises we make to God in our Baptismal covenant. They tell us how we should act. If we really live out those promises, we'll find that many of our other relationships fall into the proper perspective. We won't be like the builder Jesus used as an example. We'll have the proper foundation to build on; our priorities will be right. We may even see our personal relationships grow deeper and more solid.

There will always be a cost to discipleship, yes, but there is also God's promise of resurrection. So how are we putting these words into action, individually and as the community of Gethsemane? First, I suggest we read over those baptismal promises, consider how we're fulfilling each one— and really, they're all about loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And that includes those folks who, like the tax collectors and sinners in the Gospel, are marginalized in our society. Let's look carefully at how we as individuals care for them, and how we do it as a congregation. In other ways, too, Jesus in our baptism challenges us to look at every aspect of our lives. For instance, how do we use—or abuse—the gifts of life and creation? Something as secular-sounding as how and where we shop has a place in our spiritual lives. The lives of people we'll never see are touched every time we go to the store. We need to think carefully about that, and many other things.

I'm sure that there are hundreds of other examples that each of us can think of. The important thing is to remember that this Gospel should make us take a good look at our priorities— take a good look at the place God has in our lives. If this passage really makes us squirm and think to ourselves that Jesus really has gone from preachin' to meddlin', we need to see why. I don't think that Jesus ever had squirming alone as his goal. Instead, Jesus sought—and the point of this Gospel still is— to energize us to get on about the business of being real disciples. And the question remains the same: Will we accept that call?

This sermon was created by The Rev. Theo Park for The Episcopal Church of Gethsemane, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sources are credited where applicable.

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