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A Sermon Preached by Rev. Gregory Hall at 
Clarence Presbyterian Church on February 18, 2018.


‘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.  Luke 14:26

   Today is the first Sunday of Lent.  The season of Lent began to be observed during the early days of the Christian movement.  In some parts of the Christian Church it was the custom to baptize once a year, during the Vigil service held on the Saturday night before Easter.  The forty days before the Vigil was a time to prepare adults for their baptism.

    As the baptism of infants became the common practice, Lent evolved over time to become a season of introspection for all Christians preparing to celebrate Easter.  It became a period of time when the followers of Jesus focused their thoughts and prayers on their personal spiritual conditions.  People prepared themselves to hear the difficult and painful story of Jesus’ passion and death.

    Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with the reading of a portion of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel.   In this passage Jesus lifts up three spiritual practices.  He assumes all his followers will pray, give alms and fast.   Many of the practices of Lent are built on these three pillars.  Lent is a time for increased prayer, sharing with those in need and fasting which can be interpreted as giving up something.
            We Protestants have a rather mixed relationship with the idea of Lent.  In some periods of our history we rejected the whole concept of Lent.  There have been other times we have sought to find meaning and purpose in this season. 

    Lent in any form is not easy.  In the larger scheme Lent lifts up the more difficult aspects of Jesus’ life.  We follow Jesus as he makes his way to his Passion and death. These are not easy events to recall.  It is always interesting how full the Sanctuaries are on Christmas Eve, Palm Sunday and Easter to recall the victorious events and Jesus’ life.  Yet worship attendance is sparse on Maundy Thursday when we remember how Jesus as abandoned by those he loved in the Garden and Good Friday when we read how Jesus suffered and died.  We prefer to focus on the positive and avoid the negative.

    This Lent we are going to focus on what I would call the hard sayings of Jesus.  You and I tend to want to read passages in which Jesus promised forgiveness or gives hope for eternal life or words that give the gift of peace.  These are words that fit with our image of Jesus.  Jesus for some of us resembles a cosmic Mr. Rodgers seeking to create a friendly world.  We can often think of Jesus never getting angry or raising his voice or saying anything harsh.

              We would like to avoid many passages.  There are many verses in which Jesus speaks words that do not seem to fit our image of Jesus.  These are words that we find hard to understand or words contrary to what we believe or commands that we do not really want to follow.   This Lent we will explore seven of these hard sayings of Jesus.

             Today we begin with the words: 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.

             These are shocking words to us.  They are not the quotes from Scripture we would put on a Mother’s Day card.  But they would have been even more scandalous to the Jewish people.  You and I believe family is important.  Being a son or daughter, father or mother, husband or wife, these we believe are part of our identity, but it is not the total sum of who we are.

             I would suggest that for most people during most of their lives, it is their work that defines them.  When you are in a social setting what are the questions we ask when we meet new people.  Almost always the question “what do you do?” will be asked in some form.  Our identities are defined largely by our work.  We are teacher, lawyers, carpenters, bus drivers, nurses, engineers and the list goes on and one.  This is especially true for men.  There is an old cartoon of two men sitting on a park bench.  One old man turns to the other and says, “What were you?”  We often define ourselves largely by what we do.

            Of course there are others questions asked at the social event.  Where do you live?  Do you have children? What sports do you play?  Where did you go to school? What religion do you practice?  These are all different aspects of our identities.  We have a whole host of elements that construct a person’s sense of worth.

            In the ancient world people did not understand themselves as individual agents who shaped their own identity.  Rather they received their identity from family.  Your birth into a large extended family determined your life.  It was your family that provided your sense of security.  It was your family who helped care for you when you were young.  You grew in your responsibly to the family.  You helped others in your family and cared for your parents and grandparents as they aged and then the next generation took care of you.

            Your vocation came from your family.  You did what your mother or father did.  You were a family of farmers or sheep herders or artisans.  So many family names are related to their trade like the Taylors or the Weavers.

            Your religion was shaped and celebrated in the family.  A very large part of the Jewish faith involved rituals in the home.  The family kept kosher, celebrated a Shabbat each week.  Passover was observed in the family setting and on and on and on.

            The first century Jews who made up the large crowd following Jesus were people who knew the most important thing in life is family.  It was the family that gave them support, protection and yes their very identity.

            One can only imagine their shock when Jesus tells them 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.

They must have wondered what is Jesus getting at.  After all one of the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses was Honor your Father and Mother.  Would Jesus really be telling us to violate this instruction from God? Is Jesus preaching a new religion that rejects the Old Testament? 

We need to remember how Jesus taught.  He was speaking to a Semitic culture.  He was not a straight didactic lecturer.  Jesus used stories, parables, metaphors and hyperbole to teach deep truths.  When Jesus is telling his followers that they must hate their mothers and fathers, he is not instructing everyone to leave home and never do anything for the families again.  He is not suggesting that we sever all ties with those we love.

It is precisely that families were so important that Jesus makes this statement. I believe that Jesus teaches us at least three things in this passage.

The first truth Jesus reminds us of is that the first commandment reminds us that we shall have no other God’s before him.  We are not to make any other idol before him.  One of the most important theologians in the early church was Cyril of Alexandria. He was a bishop in Egypt who was at the center of controversy over the relationship of the divine and human in Jesus.  In commenting on this verse Cyril wrote:

It is plain that he permits us to love, but not more than we love him. He demands our highest affection for himself and that very correctly. The love of God in those who are perfect in mind had something in it superior both to the honor due to parents and to the natural affection felt for children.

Jesus is telling us that we need to get our priorities straight.  There are many interests that compete for our loyalty.  There are commitments to parents, children, spouses, work, recreation, community and country.  It is always tempting to put another good before God.  In his hyperbolic way Jesus reminds us our central and primary loyalty is to God.

A second truth that comes to us in this passage is that we are not to let our commitment to secondary goods to keep us from following God’s will.  When Jesus calls us to follow him, he does not promise an easy path.  He tells us to pick up the cross and follow him.  The path of spiritual growth if often full of stones and thistles. 

It is often the family that loves and cares for us that will discourage following God’s call because it can be difficult and they want to protect us.  This even happened to Jesus. If you remember at one point in his earthly ministry Mary and some other family members came to Jesus and wanted to take him home.

These family members may well have heard how Jesus was stirring up the people.  Some of his words and actions were beginning to upset the religious authorities.  They may well have wanted to take Jesus home for his own good.  They did not want to see him get in trouble.  They certainly did not like his talk about having to suffer and die.  If Jesus’ earthly family had their way-there would be no Good Friday, no Easter and no hope of salvation.

We have many commitments and loves in our lives that compete for our loyalty.  These other loves can crowd out our following Jesus.  Our family has a variety of demands upon our time and loyalty.  Our bosses want projects or jobs done on time.  The great idol of sports demands our carting our children all over kingdom come and being in front of our television sets at certain times.  Our daily overload of activities can crowd out any time or energy for God. So often the way we manage our personal calendars is to let every demand and request come in and fill in our time.  So often this means we are scheduled from early morning to late evening with no time even to pray.

In his statement 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. Jesus is calling upon us to rethink our priorities. He wants us to take control of our time and energy and before anything else write in time for God and God’s work in the world.

Finally, in this passage Jesus reminds us of our central identity as children of God. There are so many different elements that make up our personal identity.  There are so many different ways we categorize ourselves.  We think of our physical selves as old or young, male or female, short or tall, fast or slow, good looking or average, healthy or sickly.

We think of people by their various jobs, their ethnic background and their families.

We divide up people in different ways by skills.  Some of us are musically gifted, others are tone deaf.  Some people naturally athletic while other are clumsy.  Some people are good at math, others in writing, and others in science.

We think of others and ourselves as being shaped by life experience.  Some people seem to go from positive success to another; others seem to only experience loss.  Some people have only good fortune while others seem to have every event go against them.

I could go on and on listing various attributes and traits that people use to create their identity.  I could claim my identity as a late middle aged, married Presbyterian minister from Swedish/Scottish stock who is of average height, blue eyes, a slow runner, decent writer and an avid reader.  I could go on listing other traits.

But Jesus says this is not really who I am.  While all these attributes may be part of who I am, my core identity is a follower of Jesus and a beloved child of God.

That is the true identity that Jesus gives to each one of us.  Each one of us who calls ourselves a Christian has the same core identity.  This morning I would like to end in a way I never have before. So please repeat after me, “I am a follower of Jesus and a beloved child of God.”