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Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.
What about this word, "hate"? I have to say, I really hate it when I read Jesus using that word, "hate". And yet, here Jesus is, at a stop along the way to Jerusalem, as his followers continue to grow in number, he is saying to them that unless they hate their family, their spouses, their lives even, they cannot be his disciple and follow him where he is going.
And that's not the only rough thing that Jesus seems to be saying to the people following him this morning, things I doubt that many of them really wanted to hear. Because after all, these crowds who have been following him to Jerusalem (is he ever going to get there?) have been growing in number. But not all of them are ready to take on the cloak that he is offering.
Jesus uses the example of building a tower, and whether or not one is prepared to make the effort to build it. Whether one is ready to take on the cost of building the tower, lest they finish the building at the foundation and become an object of ridicule to all who would see the half finished foundation. One almost wonders if there was a particular building that had been started at that point in one of the nearby towns of which the people following would have been familiar.
And then he uses the example of a king going off to war, setting out to defend himself against his enemy neighbor only to find out that he has half the number of soldiers the opponent has, and deciding to use diplomacy instead. That king will survive to fight another war, but is incapable of setting off on the current campaign.
It was in this way that Jesus explained that the cost of discipleship was hard, and those who were not able to pay such a cost would not be able to follow him. Jesus was indeed offering some harsh words, and many of those who had been following him were not at all ready to receive them.
Hate your family? Give up all your possessions? Or don't bother trying to follow me as my disciple.
How do we deal with all the hate here? While some people who have commented on the gospel want to say that the word here is really something that means "love less", Luke chose a word in Greek that was somewhat strong and has some clear implications. The word "hate" seems to be intentional. And so how do we reconcile the God of Love with a Jesus who is telling us to hate our families, our friends all the people we come from?
But this is the kind of saying we hear from Jesus that was remembered as it was said. Jesus was frequently prone to hyperbole. If Luke is telling us Jesus said "hate" Jesus probably said something that was intended to be understood as our definition of hate. But the early disciples, and particularly Luke's audience would have been in a place where they understood some of the consequences of following Jesus. Your old lives are now gone. Your new life is one where you have to decide to give up all those old things, putting away those old relationships that are going to keep you following either an oppressive system of law or cultic pagan worship that was all too often mixed up self-indulgent practices.
But most people did not actually know what they were signing up for when they made that decision to take Jesus' path. When the going got tough, people dropped off. Sure, they had made an impulsive decision to leave what they knew all their lives, but when they finally considered the cost, that they were burning bridges back home and that not everything was sunshine and daffodils on the trip forward...no, in fact you had this person everyone was telling you would be king of kings and savior to all and he was yelling at those around him, and you started to see that the authorities were not at all happy about him either. And while Jesus is using hyperbole, he does so in order to make it crystal clear that the good news he was carrying, that God was here and there was a golden hope at the end of road and nothing should come between them and God. There would be sacrifice. They would have to give up their possessions, because all those things could do little more than get in the way.
But does our savior, the one who is telling us to proclaim this gospel of love, that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, want us to truly "hate" our families of origin? Because when you truly got down to it, even the greatest of his disciples were not always strong enough to give up everything, and we know from other places that God's forgiveness is unconditional. That we don't always give everything to God that we should, that we often fall short of meeting the requisite requirements for living the life of good discipleship.
What will discipleship cost you? Christians in the early centuries understood crucifixion and its implications. The public execution of Jesus of Nazareth was not the invention of crucifixion, it was common throughout the Roman empire. And even the people of Israel were familiar with it. During a rebellion a generation earlier, some two thousand Judeans were crucified by the Roman governor of Syria. So they knew what it meant to carry a cross around. So when you tell someone that something is your cross to bear, that you have a troublesome best friend or are dealing with a cranky client, are you actually minimizing what that particular saying means? Something that is a cross to bear is something that not only you take to your death but it will be the death of you. That was the cost of discipleship for many early Christians.
But today? The 20th century German theologian and scholar Dietrich Boenhoeffer wrote an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount entitled the Cost of Discipleship in which he describes the difference between cheap and costly grace. He talks about the unconditional forgiveness that God provides to all of us in terms of the cost for us. Bonhoeffer writes: "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."
It is the notion that once having sinned, one can hear the gospel that says everything is forgiven. Stay as you are and enjoy the fruits of that forgiveness. It ignores the understanding that faith without works is dead, that a grace that is given freely without the power to change one's life is likely not the true grace given to us by our lord and God.
Bonhoeffer then talks about costly grace: "costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'"
Bonhoeffer is often described as a Lutheran martyr, because he was executed by the Germans in 1945, only days before the liberation of the camp he was at, because his faith led him to oppose the regime and denounce the evil that pervaded the conflict in Germany. Bonhoeffer paid the ultimate cost for his own discipleship to Jesus Christ, whether he intended to or not
There is nothing which denies that the grace that surpasses all understanding is freely given from God. The question comes, therefore is that when we receive grace are we truly open? God's forgiveness is not like human forgiveness. God's forgiveness is a grace that is so powerful, our lives are changed. We become his word in the world and live out the powerful good news that seeks in us to proclaim to the world around us.
The message of Jesus Christ is hope. It is in that desire to follow Christ, to give up what makes us comfortable, to say good bye to our old ways of life and thinking that is the evidence that we are harbingers of God's costly grace. Remember that, while tomorrow is holiday, that God's work continues in the world and he calls on us, his disciples to be his hands for his work. The cost may be great, but it is not impossible to bear, and in our gratitude for the fulfillment of God's promise to us, we may be ever joyful in that cost.