Those of you who do not give up everything
Why,,, would Jesus say this. Why. Like, why. I don't want to hate my family -- I quite like my family and it feels so opposite from what Jesus teaches us. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." I thought we were supposed to love everyone, to love our neighbor -- all our neighbors -- as ourselves. Well, I think in our passage this morning, that's exactly what Jesus is reiterating.
Let me back up a little bit. It's the start of a new school year! What a wild and fun and nerve-wracking time. As a teacher or staff person or student, no matter how familiar you are with a place, it can be butterflies to re-enter it at the end of a long summer. But for some people, for some children at our schools in town, for some students at Mary Washington or Germanna, it is the first day or week or month in a new place, doing a new thing, and with new people. There may be folks in this church right now for whom this has been a very new school year, there may even be folks for whom this is their first Sunday with us. And even if newness is exciting, it is brave work to do a new thing, and it's hard, or weird, or uncomfortable. It's brave to walk through the doors of your new elementary, middle, high school, it's brave to meet your freshman roommate, it's brave to walk through the front doors of a new church for the first time.
If you're out there, I see you. We see you. It can also be a little lonely, right? I remember feeling the particular challenge of my first few weeks of college -- I missed the extensive list of inside jokes that my friends and I back home shared. I remember the first day of seminary, walking into orientation first thing in the morning and not knowing who to stand next to, or who to talk to, or who would talk to me. I remember when I moved to Fredericksburg for this job and I remember feeling just a twinge of worry -- remember this was at the beginning of the Delta variant -- worrying about if there would be anybody to bring me soup if I got sick, or if I got really sick, somebody to take me to the ER.
Its the big things and the little things about starting something new, somewhere new that can stack up. And a lot of that feeling is just loneliness. Or if not loneliness, aloneness. It is hard to navigate the gap between starting somewhere new, and having a community of support in place. It's wild flying solo for a little while, it is kind of surreal to think about how vulnerable you are when you're new somewhere, it's surreal to think about how much care we receive just by having friends and family. There are kinds of care and connection that we mostly only show to one another if we're close, which is tough because not everyone has people they're close too, but everyone needs care. It's stuff as basic as, like, who will bring you soup when you're sick? Who will take you to the airport? Who will process your very weird day at work with you on the phone? Uber and Instacart and TalkSpace and Doordash can fill in some of the gap (for a hefty price), but the idea that we would need to pay for care that other people receive through community is wild, especially when not every one has family in town,, especially when it can be so hard and weird to make friends.
Fr. Ethan what does any of this have to do with the Gospel of Luke??, well I'm getting there I'm getting there. I think one of the really beautiful things about Church, and one of the reasons Christianity still has it's legs is that we get to be a community of people that show that kind of care to one another. I think that Church at its best is shaped like friendship. But Christian friendship at it's best isn't always subject to the same dynamics as regular friendship -- normally you slowly make acquaintance with someone and through the course of getting to know them, decide if it's a relationship that you want to invest in and if it is, you invest, and if it's not, then you just, kinda, coexist. And I think that Church, at its best, fudges that calculation about whether or not somebody is friend-shaped, or worth my or your time, my or your or our attention. I think, sure, there are folks in our community that you connect with more and some you connect with less. But I think that Christian friendship is deciding that everybody is worth investing in, everybody is worth connecting with and caring for, just because they exist, and just because they are here.
In our Gospel passage this morning, Jesus delivers the truly shocking line that is as follows: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." It's shocking, it feels wrong, it feels counter to the res of what Jesus taught because aren't we supposed to love and care for one another? Well, I love a good scripture riddle. So let me walk you through how I approached this one. First, we get to look at this line and think -- which word or words are doing the most work in this sentence? For me, the friction is the word "hate". So I wonder, hmm, I wonder what that word Hate means here. In fact, I wonder what the word is not in the King's English. So I google "Luke 14:26 greek interlinear translation" and from bible hub dot com it pulls up the side-by-side Greek/English breakdown of this verse, and I look for the word 'hate'. And I find the word hate in the sentence and I see that in the Greek it is the word misei and we know that the work of translation is not precise work, so this word 'misei' means 'to hate', 'to detest', but it doesn't just mean it in general but by comparison. Here's the definition as it is explained by Strong's Concordance:
3404 miséō – properly, to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another.
So now I'm sitting here looking at this passage thinking that to be a disciple of Jesus you have to love your mother and father, wife and children, brother and sister, less than ... something...... love them less than what...? And so I hazard some guesses: what if to be a disciple of Jesus, you ought to hold your friends and family in less esteem than the Body of Christ, the whole community of believers? What if,,, to be a disciple of Jesus you have to love the exclusive nature of best friends, or family only affairs, less than the wide open terrain of all of us here together? What if to be a disciple of Jesus you were to stop hoarding the care and attention and affection that you show mostly to the people that you like, what if to be a disciple of Jesus meant that suddenly everyone in the whole family of God was to be treated like your own family, and if that sounds like a big and impossible task, it's okay because they would be expected to treat you like their family too.
This passage still feels hard but now for a different reason than just 'hate' your family, I'm just not sure if I have the nerve to actually do it,,, I genuinely don't think I have the bricks to build that tower. I don't have the soldiers to win that battle. So rather than puffing out my chest and acting like we're all bad somehow for not finding it easier or more believable, let me just invite us to imagine for a second what kind of a world that would be if we could somehow pull it off.
What kind of a world would it be if we all treated one another as family? What kind of a world would it be if we gave friendship and kinship away and it was given away to us and it was impossible to be 'new' somewhere when 'new' really means 'alone' because even if it was your first day at a new school or a new church we treated you like you belonged here, and we were expecting you? What kind of a world would it be like if everybody you encountered treated you like family, and so it felt just a little easier -- perhaps even viable -- to give that feeling back? We know what this world feels like when newness can mean slow and awkward and even suspicious. What if it didn't have to be that way -- what if we could make another choice?
A church family is a special thing. And in this new season of new things and new people and new places, it's worth thinking about -- and naming -- what it is like to be part of this Trinity community, and how it is that we welcome and receive new people into it. In this season of my own ministry at The House with college students and with young adults, everybody is new. I'm new. The oldest continuous running program we have is less than a year old. The longest standing friendship, less than a year old. So I guess my invitation to you Trinity Church is to climb aboard the U.S.S. Doing A New Thing and embrace the brave and the awkward for a season. I wonder what it would be like to imagine that everybody who comes through our red doors is somebody who could find a home here, if we were to welcome them into it like they belong here.
Because though you might not be father or mother, wife or child, brother or sister, you might just be our new church cousin.