13th Sunday after Pentecost
In the Name of the God of tender mercies: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The pastor asked Luigi to share some insight with the young couples attending their Marriage Preparation sessions. He believed that Luigi, who was approaching his 50th wedding anniversary, might be just the right person to tell them how he managed to stay married to the same woman all those years.
Luigi stood up and began, “Well, I’ve tried to treat her well, spend money on her, but the best thing I did was to take her to Italy for our 25th anniversary! One of the young women in the group immediately commented, “Luigi, you are an amazing inspiration to all of us. Please tell what you are planning to do for your wife for your 50th anniversary.” Luigi proudly replied, “I’m gonna go back and get her.”
Somehow, I don’t think that is the solution Jesus had in mind when he told the crowds that day that they could not follow him unless they hated father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even life itself. And while I know that some adults have very difficult and complicated relationships with family member, the idea of hating my parents and siblings is for me unthinkable. Too, life has its moments, but I am pretty attached to life itself.
This is one of those Gospel readings that I hope nobody who has had a difficult time with religion decides to come to church when it is assigned. In truth, to take this Gospel literally is insane. So, we wrestle here with this text guided by the fact that exaggeration was and still is a rhetorical device in the Middle East. We’re not a part of that culture so we don’t always get it and, quite frankly, taken at face value, the text might well evoke the response, “So why bother? Who wants to follow that kind of Jesus?”
For Jesus and for most of the leaders of the early Church, the cost of discipleship was very high. To let God rule meant that they would no longer let Caesar rule over them. If as a leader among Jews in Galilee and Judea or as a leader in the early Church you publicly rejected the authority of Caesar in favor of the authority of God, you would soon be carrying your cross to your own crucifixion.
You would have to give up all human relationships and give up your life at that point. The cost was very high for this depth of commitment and that is why we find the brief parables about being prepared included in this Gospel. Before you would make this level of commitment, you would do well to determine whether you possessed enough strength to make it.
Tomorrow is the national holiday of Labor Day. What in this Gospel might inform our thinking about our work in the world or in the home or school or here in the church. Think about it: One of biggest challenges most people face is to overcome the disconnect we can experience between what we do on Sunday and what we do the rest of the week. Do we find something in the sermon, what we do during worship, and what we hear in Scripture that actually helps us make sense of our lives in the world?
If you're not sure about this, ask someone whether they believe that what they do—at home, at work, as volunteers—matters, really matters to God. Then ask them if they think that what they do is holy and sacred. I’d wager that most people—even those who attend church—haven't been taught to see their labor as holy, to see their everyday efforts as important to God, to imagine that they are God's partners in doing God's work in the world.
Jesus taught us all about that by telling story upon story. We hear them every week. Eventually, we may realize that it is our story we are hearing. What we do with our life at home and work and school or how we minister in the world or in church is holy and sacred and can have a powerful effect on God’s world. Jesus just wants us to be clear that when we willingly do it with honesty, and integrity it may cost us. Whether we hear that as good or bad news is our choice to make.
And now we are about to do our holy work as the people, the family of God by welcoming into Christ’s holy, catholic church and this loving faith community David, Emmett, and Alexander. Know that our continued responsibility to them is to teach what has been handed down to us, to model for them our faithfulness to Sunday worship, our care for one another, our compassion for the most needy and marginalized. And to show them the kind of Jesus we follow.