Sermon

Luke 14:25-33

Riot Control

By Dr. Randy L. Hyde

Just the other day I was having a conversation with a friend. She was trying to get a handle on spiritual things, and admitted to some difficulty in her personal understanding of God. I suggested to her that she think of God in terms that Jesus gave us. By how he lived and what he said, we can base our belief in God on that… that the best picture we have of God is through Jesus.

If that is indeed the case, the picture we get from our scripture this morning is that of a very demanding God.

“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.”

Could it be that Jesus is simply trying to thin out the ranks? Is this his version of riot control? After all, Luke tells us that “large crowds were traveling with him.”

And no wonder. Luke says in the previous chapter that Jesus was “casting out demons and performing cures.” That’s quite a show. It’s no wonder a lot of people wanted to be around to see it. “It was squarely in their self-interest to do so.”1 So, realize that many if not most of these folk to whom Jesus is speaking were those who had chosen to follow him. He had not called them, as he did his disciples, they were going after him of their own accord.

At this point, it is very likely they had no idea where Jesus was going or what his true purpose was. They just knew it was a good show, and they wanted to be a part of it. They had no clue his destination eventually would involve a cross.

Knowing this – knowing what they don’t know – maybe Jesus was getting a bit claustrophobic. He felt hemmed in by these curious folk, those seeking some excitement, looking to the Nazarene to provide them release from their daily difficulties or drudgery. To them, Jesus was simply a welcome relief from their humdrum existence.

And there is ample evidence that Jesus didn’t trust himself to those who gave him an easy allegiance. He wanted them to show how sincere they were in following him. He wanted to make sure that when it came to crunch time, those who stood beside him were his true disciples, ready to give up anything – yes, even family, even their own lives – to follow him to the cross.

“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.”

Whoa.

Barbara Brown Taylor says Jesus wouldn’t have made a very good parish minister,2 and by judging from what he says here, I think she has a pretty good point. And that was just for starters. He goes on to talk about carrying one’s cross, about counting the cost, about giving up all one’s possessions. “Whoever does not…” Jesus is saying to them, “cannot.”

Yeah, I would think that would thin out the crowd in a hurry, don’t you? In fact, some of you, after hearing these words, might even be tempted not to come back to church. We certainly hope that won’t be the case, of course, but you never know.

If Jesus wouldn’t have made a very good parish minister, you can also figure he wouldn’t be an effective church-growth consultant. I’ve been to the seminars, have read the books and articles. I know what it takes, according to the experts, to build a church these days. In addition to the right demographics (I wonder if Jesus would appreciate or use that word, “demographics”), you have to create an environment where people feel accepted and have their primary needs met. Coffee shops in the foyer, that sort of thing, with the church’s own unique “house blend.”

In other words, you have to give them what they want, which appears to be the exact opposite of what Jesus is doing. “Whoever does not… cannot.”

Imagine if we told our greeters in the foyer to welcome our guests by saying something like this… “Are you absolutely sure you want to do this? After all, the Jesus whose name we are about to invoke in worship says we’ve got to hate our families and ourselves in order to follow him, and we have to give up our possessions. Think twice about it now, three times even. This is a hard, hard life you are being asked to choose. Sit down right now, before you go into the sanctuary, and check off the list of things you like most about your life, and then be willing to give them up. So think about it. Really think about it. Oh, and just in case you don’t understand where all this leads, remember that you have to pick up your cross daily in order to follow Jesus.”

See what I mean?

So what are we going to do with all this? Well, this would be a good transition point in today’s sermon. By that I mean that this would be the perfect time for me to say something like, “Yes, but what Jesus really meant was…” And then I could launch into a rationale for what he said that would make following him sound a bit more palatable, would soften his demand, water down his strong language, make it less demanding, less either/or… make Jesus a little easier to take. Yes, this would be the perfect time for me to do that.

But I can’t – at least not yet – because to be honest to this scripture I have to tell you that the key word in this passage is hate. Now, you’d think that this word would never cross Jesus’ lips. But it does. He says that in order to follow him we have to hate. Hate family… that’s some family value, isn’t it? Imagine what the politicians would do with that. And we have to hate our own life.

If that seems strange to you, and very non-gospelish, imagine how it feels to me on the Sunday after we buried my dad. Right now, more than any other time in my life, I want to be surrounded by family and friends, to be warmed by the nurturing hearts and kind words of those who love me and are loved by me. And yet, Jesus is telling me I have to be willing to give it all up in order to be his disciple.

Quite frankly, this is not a good time for me to listen to Jesus when he tells me, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother… cannot be my disciple.” It is not a good time at all.

As far as I know I’ve never been tempted to resent Jesus and his demands, but I’ve got to tell you, this is as close as I’ve ever come, and it’s not a very good feeling.

But the word hate in this context is a way of expressing detachment.3 It doesn’t have the same meaning as when your pre-teen screams, “I hate you!” because you won’t let her have a cell phone or wear make-up. Believe it or not, when Jesus uses the word hate, it does not displace the word love. In a strange sort of way – in a way that perhaps only the gospel of Christ can do it – hate becomes a partner of love. This may just be the only case in which these two words – hate and love – go together.

But still, that doesn’t remove the tension, does it? There is a real honest-to-goodness tension that exists when hate and love decide to become good friends. And to be a real honest-to-goodness follower of Jesus, you have to live with the tension that comes when Jesus demands your primary allegiance. It means you have to turn your back on living life on your own terms and not his. It means you have to let Jesus be the Lord of all your relationships, “and of every last penny.”4

I think that is at least something of what he means when he says we have to hate our own lives. And sometimes, admittedly, following Jesus creates tension between ourselves and those we love the most; especially when they don’t understand – and don’t want to understand – our desire to walk with Christ. And I can guarantee you that it creates tension in your pocketbook.

Have we made it clear enough? It is not an easy thing to follow Jesus. But I’ve searched the scriptures for an option clause and have never found it. Nowhere in the Bible does it ever say that being a follower of Christ – an honest-to-goodness disciple of the Nazarene – is an easy thing to do.

Tuesday, at Rotary, as we were filling our plates in the buffet line, Jim Pappas offered me his sympathy on the death of my dad. Jim, a retired surgeon, then began telling me about his father who died a number of years ago. Jim told me his dad was an immigrant from Greece. The very fact that he made such an important decision as to leave his homeland and come here to the States reveals his courage. And though he has been gone quite some time, Jim still, when faced with the need to make a decision, finds himself thinking constantly of what his father would do in a situation like that. “It’s made all the difference in my life,” he told me.

I think I know what he means. My dad was an immigrant too… from Mississippi to Arkansas. But I doubt that from now on I will consider anything of any importance without wondering what my dad would do. Here is where I am truly blessed. When it comes to my dad’s behavior and what Jesus said to do, I won’t very often have to make a choice between the two because they were so frequently the same.

So sit down and count the cost, Jesus says. Consider whether you are willing to pay the price of following him. And the price is this: hate family, hate self, count the cost, give up your possessions.

You know what? When I let that sink in I feel like maybe I ought to turn in my ordination certificate right now and just walk out the door, because I don’t think I can measure up to Jesus’ demands. In fact, I know I can’t. How are you feeling about it?

And then I am reminded that Jesus’ last words on the cross – on that cross he tells us to carry ourselves – were words of grace, and that is when it dawns on me… measuring up isn’t what he wants us to do. What he wants us to do is open up… open up our hearts and be willing to say yes when the moment comes for us to be counted as those who claim his name and his way of life.

“Whoever does not…” Jesus says, “cannot.”

It may thin out the crowds and control the rioting, but it will also reveal those who really and truly want to follow Jesus. Will we be numbered in those who remain to hear what else he has to say?

Lord, when it comes time to number those who stay with you, even when life gets really, really hard, we pray you can count on us. We cannot do this of our own strength, so lift us up that we might follow you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Notes

1Bruce Wollenberg, The Christian Century, August 24, 2004, p. 17.

2Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 1997), p. 46.

3Fred B. Craddock, et. al., Preaching Through the Christian Year (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International), p. 401.

4Wollenberg, Ibid.

Copyright 2007, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.