A Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By: David H. May, Rector


I honestly want to say ‘thank you’ for being here this morning; and I mean this as something more than just an agreeable, nice, polite thing to say, which I hope will come clear by the end of this sermon. I’ve said on more than one occasion that Sunday mornings – to me – are just a miracle. When I get here on Sunday mornings, there’s no one here except for the few of us whose job it is to be here. But then, suddenly – there you are! It’s a miracle. Not one of us actually has to be here. The church is a completely voluntary organization. But you’re here.

Look around, at all these people, at all of us, you could be anywhere else; but here you are. Sometimes, I find myself wondering, what it is that has brought you here this morning? Why are you here? What are doing in church on Sunday morning? What are you looking for or hoping for?

If you knew beforehand that we’d be gathered to hear Jesus say to us, ‘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’ – would you still have thought it was a good idea to come to church? Is that what any of us wants to hear? It’s not terribly polite or nice.

If you read the commentaries about this passage, they sound a little bit like a political handler who comes behind their boss and says, ‘well, what Jesus really meant to say was…’

The big sticking point is this word ‘hate’. ‘Hate my mother, my children?’ I don’t think so! Ok, let me try to soften the blow a little with two possibilities. First, from one of the books on my shelf. It’s entitled The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament and tries to offer something reassuring to say about this passage. The Greek verb for ‘to hate’ is miseo which some Greek scholar quoted in this small resource volume helpfully says means ‘loving less’. Ok. A second possibility. In Jesus’ day, the rabbis would use this love/hate dichotomy as a teaching device as a means for cutting through the fog and giving moral clarity about greater and lesser goods. In this same way, you might say, ‘I love the beach and I hate the mountains’. Well, that doesn’t mean that I actually hate the mountains, it just means that when push comes to shove, you prefer the beach over the mountains.

There. Now, don’t you feel better? If you don’t, well neither do I. Jesus’ words are provocative and bring us up short. Let’s do him and his words the curtesy of starting from there: from that place of being brought up short.

We know that Jesus has begun to make his way to Jerusalem. We know that what awaits him there is the Cross, where our worst and most lost, and God’s best, meet. And along the way, large crowds of people have attached themselves to Jesus and are traveling along with him. And of them I wonder why were they there with him? Were they there to see what all the fuss was about? Was it just something to do? Were they with him because they were lost and needed finding? Sick and needed healing? Were they there because they thought they were running off with the circus that had come to town? Or were they just there for the free food? And maybe something else too – something they couldn’t quite say yet. But something about him.

Whatever it is that brings people to Jesus, he wants to be clear, whatever it is that has brought you to him, being his disciple and bearing the Good Shepherd’s love into the world will cost everything and yet give everything. He even tells two stories about thinking through just what it is you are getting involved with and weighing the cost and how you really should think it through first. Jesus is not here to tidy up our rough edges and make us nice and good. He is here to change us. He is here to make of you a ‘new creation’.

When I was in eighth grade I found that I had made some decisions about how I was going to get through what I called ‘the long dark hallway of adolescence’. I decided I would keep my head down, follow all the rules, avoid talking with others, be polite, agreeable, and just sort of pray I could fly under the radar and go unnoticed. So, it didn’t make for a terribly interesting life. I mostly lived in my head which is pretty limited. It wasn’t much of a life, but I felt like it was worth it if I could just glide along unnoticed.

One morning in home room, all of that changed. I was sitting at my desk staring at a doodle on the desktop like I normally did. Another day, same doodle. Then, the girl next to me slipped a folded up note onto my desk. I just stared at it. Other people got notes, not me. I decided to pretend that nothing had happened. I heard the voice of the girl who had slipped the note onto my desk said, ‘good grief! Read it!’ I looked at her and she rolled her eyes dramatically and said, ‘read it!’ This was exactly why I had decided to follow the rules, keep my head down, be polite, aggregable, nice, and try to go unnoticed as far as was humanly possible’. Now what? I know, keep pretending like nothing has happened. I could last til the bell rang.

Well, the next thing I knew this girl had reached over and unfolded the note to reveal the message and laid it in front of me which seemed sort of rude. I read the note. Oh no. The note read: “Marion Ikard thinks you’re cute. Ask her out.” I looked up and saw Marion Ikard smiling at me. And life, changed, forever. Only love has the power to do that.

These hard words of Jesus bring us up short, to change us too, for his love’s sake. His words aren’t nice and polite or agreeable in the least and aren’t meant to be. They are his Cross-shaped words that in him you are a ‘new creation’. Disciples of Jesus live his life and nothing less: bring light into the darkness, find the lost, overcome evil with good, lift up the lowly, forgive even as we are forgiven, costing everything, and yet we are given everything.

People are still gathering around Jesus to live his life – people just like you. That is why I said, ‘thank you’, for whatever it is that brings people to Jesus. For this miracle of his grace, to live his life, and nothing less. Amen.