The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 4, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
The following translation comes from the Ancient Labor Day Scrolls.
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them,
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate your family, your friends, even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up everything you have.”
And the disciples muttered, “Jesus, you really need a vacation.”
Happy Labor Day Weekend everyone.
Aren’t you glad you came to church today to hear these uplifting words from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
You know when I first read this gospel, I looked back at the original Greek and said, “Please God, tell me Jesus didn’t actually mean hate your life, hate your family.” Much to my chagrin, I found out…no he meant it. What’s more, he meant hate with a pursuing, even persecuting hatred. Hatred born of true intent. Hatred that you really mean. And I thought Jesus was the one who was all about peace and love!
Jesus has been grumpy in our gospels for awhile now. Over the past few weeks we have heard Jesus say, “I have come not to bring peace but division.” And today we hear his cheery cry that even hatred, suffering, and poverty are part of discipleship, part of the cost of what it takes to follow Christ.
So what does it mean to hate, to suffer, to be impoverished for our faith?
The longer I live, the more I realize that life ain’t all that easy is it? There are times when life hands us more than we can handle. Times when we experience financial hardship, illness, injury, trauma, divorce, the death of a loved one. Times when we experience what it means to care for someone with extraordinary needs.
Times when we struggle with the day to day prejudices of others—prejudices that say you are not white enough, not male enough, not American enough, not young enough, not old enough, not smart enough, not good enough, you just are not enough like the rest.
When we get swept up in these whirlpools of life, we become disoriented—uncertain of who we are or where we belong. And when that happens, we feel anger—even hatred.
Hatred towards others, even those close to us. Hatred towards ourselves.
During those difficult doldrums, we hate the changes life brings. We hate that we ourselves and others can no longer live up to our expectations. We hate the added needs and burdens placed upon us. Perhaps most of all, we hate that we are vulnerable—
that we are human. And so we begin to hate life itself.
Jesus affirms there will be times in our lives where we hate our families, our friends, ourselves, even life itself. But he takes it a step further…
In saying that such hatred is part of our ongoing journey with God, Jesus reminds us that we don’t have to stay stuck in this place of hatred forever. Rather moving with God through this place of hatred we find we are walking the way of the cross.
Think about hatred and suffering as a potter’s wheel—a place where new creation and transformation are possible with God. A creative space where God breaks us down
and remolds us more fully in his image. Where God strips away those things we don’t need, and carves out new spaces for God to dwell more fully.
Now you don’t walk the way of the cross like this: [ball up fists in fighting stance].
This is how you walk the way of the cross: [arms and hands open in shape of cross].
Walking the way of the cross is to walk in a way where we possess nothing, and yet possess everything.
When Jesus asks us to give away all our possessions, I don’t think he’s talking about giving away all the things we own. Rather, I think Jesus is asking us to give away our need to possess something other than God. To let go of our need to cling to someone or something as our salvation.
Put simply, Jesus calls us to walk the way of the cross with open hands and open arms—
to open ourselves and our lives—all that we have and all that we are to God. This is not an easy task. For the more we open ourselves to God, the more we will experience things about ourselves and others that we don’t like. We may even begin to hate the things we notice. Because after all, we are human. None of us is God, none of us is perfect.
Think of this stage as the kiln of the potter. Having been remolded in God’s image on the wheel, we now pass through God’s holy fire that purges us of those things we possess
on a deeper psychological, spiritual level. Walking openly into that holy fire, God burns away and heals all the deep, dark, hated things that are not of God—things like perfectionism, workaholism, our constant need for others’ approval, our prejudice and false judgments of others, our emotional, spiritual wounds from past trauma, neglect, or abuse.
Walking openly into that holy fire, we emerge from the ashes transformed, transfigured, and filled more fully with the light of God. A light that becomes what the darkness was. (Psalm 139) A light that strengthens us to love ourselves and others—strengthens us to love even that which we hate.
This is what Christian discipleship means: to walk the way of the cross—to be crucified with Christ and rise again to new life. Amen.