25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Family values. We hear a lot about family values, especially when there’s an election around the corner, but nowhere do we hear more about family values than in the church. I don’t know if you’ve been around the church for long, but the church looooves to talk about family values. There’s a popular Christian radio station here in Atlanta that has billboards all over I-85. Have you seen them? Do you know what they say? They say, “Safe for the whole family,” as if being the church were about being safe more than anything else.
I know that’s probably not all that fair, but seriously, if you are looking for safety, you ought to go someplace else, because following Jesus takes you to all sorts of unsafe places. I will remind you where Jesus’s journey ended, or would have, had it not been for the resurrection. The Bible is nothing if not full of people who serve as a reminder that a life spent in the presence of God is anything but safe. King Herod was swallowed by worms, the army of Gideon was crushed by hailstones, Sisera had a tent peg shoved in his head, Jezebel was trampled by horses, Jesus was crucified, Stephen was stoned, Paul was beheaded, and Judas just split right open.
Safe for the whole family. Ha.
Not all of these Bible characters are heroes, of course, but neither are we. A life spent in the presence of God is anything but safe.
And if you are looking for family values, well, I am not sure this is where you want to look, either. I was glad when I saw that Molly Nuttall had signed up to do the children’s sermon today, because I wasn’t sure exactly how to translate this stuff to a children’s sermon. Then again, if they are anything like I was as a teenager, they don’t need a lesson on hating their parents, or at least being tooootally embarrassed by them.
No, in seriousness, this is hard stuff, and I have to tell you that it is harder for me to read this sort of thing than it is for me to read a story in which Jesus suggests I ought to go sell everything I own and give the money to the poor. I mean, I may not be able to do that, but at least it seems in character. That’s the Jesus I expect, the one who cares for the poor, who wants me to love my family, who expects that I tell the truth in all circumstances and promises to love me, unconditionally, even when I am not quite able to love myself.
That is the Jesus I expect, not the one who says, “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.” So much for family values.
And yet here we are, trying to make sense of this whole business. Now, having read this story, I would argue that there are three ways we can respond to it. Here’s a chance to, you know, choose your own adventure.
Our first option is to just skip over this part. That happens a lot, and it is especially prudent advice when you are trying to put up billboards that sell your radio station. This business of hating your family does not sell records, at least not Christian ones, so if you are trying to cast the widest net, reach the greatest number of people, then this may be the strategy for you.
Or we could explain this part away. That’s certainly another option, and it has the appeal of being the easiest to deal with. If you ignore it, you’ll find yourself thinking you took the easy way out. But if you explain away the difficult parts of scripture, you end up with a Gospel that is neither particularly difficult nor particularly meaningful. “Oh, Jesus didn’t really mean to hate your family. Jesus would never say that sort of thing. You see, if you look at the Greek, and according to ancient loyalty codes, and the Septuagint says,” and all of that.
The third option, taking this stuff seriously, is the hard one, but it is the most interesting, because it turns out that when Jesus says that we must hate our family, hate even our lives if we are to follow him, he wanted us to actually pay attention. And just as if he knows that we are wondering what he is up to with this business about hating your family, Jesus gives us a story.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”
If you go forward without knowing the cost, you’re liable to turn back halfway through. This is the cost of discipleship. Carrying the cross. Declaring your allegiance to Christ. Going all in.
You know what I think this is all about? I think that maybe Jesus is using strong language—he does that sometimes—but I think this is among the more reasonable things in all of scripture, because life is not a series of choices between good and bad. You don’t have to choose between loving your family and walking through broken glass. You don’t choose between following God and following the devil. These are easy choices, of course.
Faith is much more difficult. It involves choosing between good and better, or more often, it can seem, bad and worse.
Does this resonate with you? It does with me. I am thinking about the times in my own life when the choice was simply not clear, when it seemed like there were simply no good options: only bad and worse.
Do you choose the surgery or the chemotherapy, or forego all treatment and just ride it out as best you can for as long as possible? Do you give your spouse the honest truth, something you know will cut deeply, or do you let him continue on, miserable, knowing that something is wrong, but not just what that something is? Do you put in the extra hours, even at the expense of your family, or do you quit and try to find something else, even if that means suffering the unemployment line?
--Deeply committed to peace
--Evaluated situation and determined he had to do something.
--Doing nothing was not an option.
--“ when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it...Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace."
(Syria: two bad choices)
--King who takes stock of his troops before going to war
--Two bad choices
--Now, I’m not convinced the only two choices are going to war or not going to war.
--Rabbi Arthur Waskow, gas masks
--I also have trouble with the idea that the way to secure peace is to engage violence. Those two things just seem totally incompatible to me.
--But regardless of where you land, here is a classic example of what it means to be a Christian.
--It is a choice between engaging and not engaging. Each has a high price.
I don’t mean to be glum, but I do think it is important to be honest. If we don’t acknowledge these difficult choices, we might as well start building a tower before we’ve talked to the bank and worked out the financing.
Faith is simply not as black and white as we would like it to be, and if this all seems a little overwhelming, let me assure you that this is not a new problem. In fact, just as Jesus was preaching, this very issue was coming to a head. Jesus was preaching a message that involved taking up your . . . cross, and following . . . him. You can imagine how his disciples’ families must have felt, and even if you don’t know exactly where the journey to the cross is going to lead, it is even worse than, “Mom, dad, I want to be an actor.” Or, I’m dropping out of school to study the art of the tattoo.
And not only does it sound dangerous—it was—but the whole society in Jesus’s day was centered around loyalty to family. You were loyal to your family, not just because it was the right thing to do, but because it was quite literally the only way society stayed afloat. The instant you show loyalty to somebody other than your family, the system that holds everything together gets blown to smithereens. Not only that, but because the family business tended to get passed down from generation to generation, when you left your family to follow a homeless religious zealot like Jesus, you were actually hurting your family’s livelihood. This was a real concern.
I mean, I’ve heard it said in recent years that the family is under attack, and I think there is some truth to that. But it was WORSE in Jesus’s day, and it was Jesus who was doing the attacking! He was calling into question the very thing that was supposed to have your ultimate loyalty. To follow Jesus, he said, required a reprioritizing of even your most basic priorities—even the protection of your own life.
I’m not suggesting you go tell off your spouse, or set fire to the family photos or whatever. But when I read one of the difficult bits of scripture, it does startle me, cause me to sit up and think about just how it is that I am attending to a faith that I claim is my number one priority, my ultimate allegiance.
So I want to leave you with a few questions, and you can go home, or go to lunch, and you can finish the sermon on your own.
What does this kind of thing look like in your own life? If someone you did not know were to spy on you all week except between the hours of ten and twelve on Sunday morning, would they know you were a Christian? Where is God calling you to be faithful, even when it means making tough choices?
And what about the church? What do these kinds of difficult decisions look like for a church? Are you willing to be faithful at all costs, to change the way you do church, even if it is painful, even if it hurts the ones you love, in order to follow Jesus? For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it, even if it is a good tower, even if it seems like we couldn’t do without it?
I wish I could tell you it is easy. There’s a reason this is one of the toughest of Jesus’s teachings, and it is not just the language he uses. God requires we go all in, to be faithful, sometimes at the expense of what we know and love, sometimes at the expense of whom we know and love.
And yet the promise is that if we do these things, if we take everything we’ve got and heap it upon the altar of Christ,
Jesus will accept us as his disciples,
the kingdom of God will reign,
and the great family of God—even those in the great cloud of witnesses—will cheer us on.
Those are family values the church does well to get behind. IN the name of the creator, Christ, and holy spirit, amen.