Sermons

"Widening the Circle": Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

"Widening the Circle": Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

Sep 08, 2019

Passage:Luke 14:25-33

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Pentecost

Category: Love, Hope, Discipleship

Keywords: love, faith, discipleship, hope

Summary:

Jesus instructs the crowds that to be his disciple the must "hate their families" and "give up all their possessions." This is a pretty anxiety-provoking passage for us Christians who consider ourselves disciples...but still own possessions and actually LOVE our families!!! This sermon addresses these issues.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

This morning, I admit to having had some anxiety because of our Gospel reading. Perhaps you felt a little bit of it as well. We jump right in hearing Jesus saying to the crowd that's following him: "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."

What?

Wait a second!

I want to be a disciple of Jesus… In fact, I consider myself a disciple of Jesus! What do you mean I have to HATE my FAMILY?!?!

Then, after a couple of quick parables to illustrate the nature of counting the costs—which, by the way, doesn’t make my panic any better… Jesus then concludes this little discourse by saying: “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." 

Wow!

So, let’s sum this up… Jesus starts off saying “whoever does not hate your family cannot be my disciple…” then finishes with “none of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

This causes me anxiety! This causes me panic!

I definitely want to be a disciple. But, come on Jesus!

HATE my family?!?

Give up ALL of my possessions?!?

Perhaps you are like me and your initial reaction when you first hear scripture like this is to worry.

Am I doing something wrong?

Maybe I can never measure up.

Maybe there is no hope.

Maybe the bar is too high.

Maybe I can never truly be a disciple. After all, I’m no saint.

And what makes this worse is that when we have REAL difficulties in our lives, we hear a scripture like this one, and it makes it FEEL even worse.

I’ll give you an example.

I have a good friend I’ve known for a long time. He’s going through a lot of problems in his life right now—I’ll call him Sam. He’s a family man—a Christian man—who has built a successful career by the standards of this world. He has a nice house, a couple of cars, a beautiful family, and many friends. Like all of us, he has had his ups and down in life. But generally, he’s done good things in the world.[i]

Recently, and quite suddenly, he lost his job.

So here he is, in the in the throes of crisis… anxiety… panic…

What does it take for him to continue to be a good Christian? … A Disciple of Jesus? A faithful follower of Way of Christ?

Does Jesus expect Sam to turn on his family? We heard Jesus say “hate your family to be my disciple…”

Does Jesus mean that Sam needs to sell his home and his cars if he REALLY wants to be serious about being a disciple?

Did Jesus take away Sam’s job to show he means business?

This is pretty panicky and anxiety-provoking stuff, right?

Let me just go on the record as saying, I can’t imagine actually hating my family. And I can’t imagine actually giving up ALL of my possessions.

AND, I can’t imagine Jesus wanting that either--particularly in the midst of the kind of crisis Sam and his family are already going through. 

So why IS that?

Why does this sound so foreign to us? Why is this so strange to think about Jesus wanting hate of family or loss of everything we have?  

Well, perhaps it’s because every other time we talk about Jesus, we talk about “walking the Way of Love.”

And, of course, that’s the key.

We have to recall that with Jesus, everything, ultimately, IS STILL about love.

So perhaps, we are called to read this scripture and hear these words knowing that Jesus IS about love.

The first question we have to ask is: are we REALLY supposed to hate our families!?

After all, what about the Ten Commandments!?

Honor thy Mother and thy Father!

What about being my brother’s keeper?

What about LOVE?

So, perhaps, this statement about hate for family from Jesus in Luke is not exactly as it seems.

First, we have to remember that by this point in Luke’s narrative, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He will die on the cross there. This crowd that's with him here are not all disciples.

Many in the crowd are people who are hanging around to see what happens next. They are simply curious. Jesus is trying to tell them what's going to be necessary to move from being just part of the crowd to being a true disciple. How do they go from being stuck in their day-to-day lives to actually "following him" and all that entails?

Second, it’s also important for us to understand that kinship ties were tremendously significant in the time and culture in which Jesus lived. So, when Jesus uses the word "hate" here, he does not mean it like we use it in terms of an emotional or emotive quality--say like the opposite of love. He means we need to broaden our horizons. We need to shift our focus beyond just our own families. We need to open our circle.

Of course, we should continue to love our father, love our mother, love our wife, love our husband, love our children, love our brothers, and love our sisters.

But, commitment to discipleship, Jesus says, means being able to broaden our loyalties as well.[ii] It means love of neighbor is just as important. It means being a servant. It means being humble in spirit. It means being open to helping and loving others. And that’s hard to hear if your whole world-view consists of only seeing life through the lens of your family… through your own tightly knit circle.

Love outside the circle…Jesus says!

Keep trying to widen your circle.

So, what about giving up all our possessions?

If you think about it, this is the same message. Just like our family relationships might hold us back from walking the way of Christ, so might our possessions.

Jesus wants us to take a hard look at those things, those qualities, those attitudes that “possess” us…weigh us down…hold us back… from loving our neighbors.

If we are stuck in place by the things that we own to the point that “they own us” … then we need to let them go. We need to be free of whatever is holding us back.

What keeps us from walking with Christ into the world? What’s keeping us from healing our relationships? What’s slowing us down from being the reconciling love of God to others?

That's what Jesus asks of us.

What is “possessing” us?

Jesus did not take away my friend Sam’s job. But my friend Sam is now devoted to taking a hard look at his life in the midst of this crisis. If anything, Sam is holding on tighter in love to his family—and that’s a good thing…a Godly thing. He’s also reaching out with care and humility to friends—that’s a good thing…a Godly thing. And finally, Sam is also starting to look around at other people he encounters, and he sees their pain and their struggles in a new light because he’s widening his circle—and this most certainly is also a good thing…a Godly thing.

You see, my friend Sam is being a disciple. He is following Jesus by loving God and loving his neighbor. He is working on this every day. That’s what disciples do.

Sometimes I think we get the picture that being a disciple means being like the martyred saints of the history books … In other words, here’s some impossibly high standard, so forget it!

But here’s the deal. Jesus simply calls us to love one another as he has loved us. And, as we say in our Baptismal Covenant… “when I fall into to sin, I will repent and return to the Lord…With God’s Help!”

So, remember, when we have anxiety… when we have worry… when we have panic…

… there IS Good News…

…push through…widen that circle anyway, because…

… we are actually walking in the Way of Love…

…and Jesus is walking with us!

 Amen.

[i] I obtained “Sam’s” permission to tell his story in this sermon but chose not to identify him by his actual name.

[ii] This argument about verses 26 and 27 comes from Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 565.