This morning’s gospel is like a Facebook post.
It begins divisively, then starts to sound rational, and then ends with an unattainable call to action full of shame.
With a passage like this, Jesus could totally win the internet.
Proper 18C | Luke 14:25-33
I’m gonna guess that like any good Facebook post, there’s going to be something in here for you to reject.
Which is it going to be?
Is it the call to hate your family? Where we go “wait, does he mean literally?”
Is it the move in the middle toward prudent action? “That makes so much sense,” we say. “Jesus is just being reasonable.”
I know! It’s the end where he says to give away all your stuff. That’s just Jesus being metaphorical, right? The other stuff is real, but this is the metaphor part!
But what if, instead of focusing on the details which make us pause, we take a minute to ask ourselves a simple question. Why?
Why is Jesus speaking to this big crowd of people like this? What’s he getting at? What’s his motivation?
What is his purpose?
And if we deal with that, we can deal with the parts which cheese us off.
Let’s start there.
What’s Jesus’s purpose?
He tells us over and over, throughout each of the gospels in differing ways what he isn’t. He isn’t a king as we know them. Or a military general or a warrior. He isn’t merely a human teacher or one of the prophets. He isn’t another John the Baptist or a reincarnated Elijah. These are some of the things he’s not.
Jesus’s purpose isn’t to be labeled.
His purpose is to show us GOD.
What GOD looks like. What GOD is doing in the world. How we can find GOD. Jesus is the way to GOD. And all this other stuff, all the messiness of our faith hangs on this idea. Jesus shows us GOD.
So how does he do that?
What is Jesus’s strategy?
Let’s start at the beginning. Who is he teaching? Disciples. The crowds gathering. Church leaders. He has a pretty diverse group of people.
And what does he do with them? He walks around. He goes from place to place. By foot. By boat. And people follow him wherever he goes. And when he gets to where he’s going? More people come to him. And they follow him.
So a big part of what Jesus is doing isn’t just that he’s walking, he’s getting people to follow him. Not to go where he’s going. The end result isn’t the only thing here. He doesn’t coordinate a meetup. He doesn’t start a Facebook Event or say I’m going to meet you at 7th and Elm at 4:00. Bring your own cross.
It is the walk that is important.
Now let’s think about the way Jesus communicates. How does he teach them as they walk? Do they take notes? Does he make them memorize large chunks of scripture? Does he give them a long list of rules to follow? Or a faith statement or a denominational confession to profess before they can walk with him?
No, of course not! He tells stories. And he challenges them to see things in a new way.
When Jesus says to this crowd surrounding him that they aren’t true disciples if they don’t hate their parents, what is he really saying?
This isn’t literal. And it isn’t metaphor. Jesus isn’t making a rule that all should hate their parents. And he isn’t encouraging people to break the commandment to respect one’s parents. Those are all so narrow and exclusive.
He’s trying to show them, not about their parents, but about discipleship. Jesus is revealing to the crowd how hard it is to find GOD when we’re standing still.
We can’t find GOD by following our parents instead of Jesus.
Jesus is trying to take us to GOD and all this stuff we’re focused on is not going to work.
Now, if you’re like me, I get sort of tangled up in the middle of this story. Jesus is talking about being prudent with resources. It all seems so logical. What king would go into a battle he’s going to lose? And we start to think about resources and common sense. Just in time for Jesus to flip us over and say
“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Wait. Hold on. What?
Jesus doesn’t give us examples of prudence to be prudent, but to show us how attractive staying home is.
He’s trying to get us to leave home and follow him to GOD. To do what our great ancestor Abraham did: to hear GOD and go. To come out of our homes to follow the way laid out for us so that we might arrive at a new place as new people.
We can’t get there from our couches and we can’t get there from doing what our parents did.
Jesus is leading us to GOD.
Jesus sends us out. Like his apostles, like the 70, like all the followers. To go out to the nations of the world and do the same thing Jesus came to do: to show people GOD.
And we might reject that call and say we’re not ready like the disciples. Or say we don’t have the right gifts, like Moses whining back at the burning bush. But I stutter! You want my brother! Not me!
No matter what excuses we have, we are not called to sit on our hands and keep GOD to ourselves.
We aren’t called to an exclusive, personal relationship with Jesus. Like we’re exclusive, you can’t have him.
Jesus shows us to GOD and then he’s like It’s your turn. Show somebody else! Lead them to their version of right here.
Jesus knows it’s complicated.
Jesus knows it’s hard to do this on our own. It’s hard to break away. Or to see where we’re going on our own.
He knows we put on bracelets which say WWJD. That we need a constant reminder that maybe we should actually think about what Jesus would do!
Just like I wear one to remind myself that yes, I need to remember how many people in the world live in extreme poverty.
And if we all pitched in 1% of what we make, then every human being on the planet could have enough to eat every single day. That if we all keep giving we will all be able to eat.
Jesus knows this walk is hard. We’re trying to find GOD and there are all these rabbit holes and distractions along the way. We might get lost. We might get scared.
But then Jesus also reminds us that it is also pretty simple.
He says to us: you’ve got me.
It might seem hard. It might seem confusing or a swirl of what-to-dos but he says that whenever you get together with at least one other person, I am with you.
You’ve got me. I’m here. We’ll get through this. Just stick through this. And bring someone with you. Don’t go it alone.
This is the challenge of a savior who is far more sure of what we can do than we are of each other. We throw pessimistic barbs and tell one another what we can’t do and Jesus is like
Yeah, if you’re thinking like Rome, you won’t stand a chance. But with GOD, you’re like a bush which rises above the trees! And that’s not even the miracle of it. You, that bush, were once as tiny as a mustard seed. That’s your potential with GOD.
So we can’t sell ourselves short. Don’t think we can’t do it.
But we can do it.
With Jesus. Following Jesus. Finding GOD in our midst.
Getting rid of our anchors and our security. The things which not only weigh down our journey and distract us from seeing what Jesus is showing us, but dulling our senses. Stripping our creativity, destroying our souls. Give up the stuff that strips life from you!
This is what came after that giving up your stuff line, how this story really concludes. Two lines the lectionary cut out:
“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Listen! Walking with Jesus, following him is salty, it is rich! Vibrant. Eternal life. We have lives of grace! Of hope and faith and love! We can’t throw that away by taking the easy way out! By running back inside, never leaving home. Not following Jesus to where he’s going! Not taking up our crosses and heading to the city! And not facing the challenges of this world.
Make the most of life and of GOD’s love! Feel, love, taste, become! GOD is infusing our lives with grace and inviting us to share it with all the people we meet on our life journeys. Journeys of challenge and hope. Taking us to new places and giving us new experiences. Jesus is showing us the true freedom in GOD. Our GOD of liberation!
And through this journey, this sojourn of life, we have Jesus with us. He’s with us. But he’s walking on ahead. Taking us along to where he’s going. He’s got even more to show us about GOD, about creation, about ourselves. And I’m going with him.