Laying the Foundation,
Choosing Life

I want to take a few moments to explain the first part of today's Gospel lesson, in particular, verse 26 where Jesus states: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, he cannot be my disciple."

The word, "hate," of course, is what puts us off. Matthew, in writing his Gospel tones down the saying, but still does justice to its sense by reading: "He who loves father and mother more than me." Wife and brothers and sisters are not in Matthew's version. "And even life itself" is also missing from Matthew's version.

The section might be called "The conditions of Discipleship." They were so stern that the crowd of disciples (there were many more than just the 12 who were constantly close to him) was trimmed-that is, many found the conditions too stern, and left.

The word 'hate' is really a staggering word. Actually the word goes back to a root Aramaic word meaning to "love less." Jesus often used strong words to make his point. Often even paradox, but his listeners understood the use of paradox. It was part of the way language was used. They weren't afraid of the paradox, but some were afraid of its demand.

The word means that they were to act as if they hated loved ones whenever the claims of home came into conflict with the claims of Jesus. He demanded a primary and undivided allegiance. He was not despising natural ties. He blessed little children, taught us to call God by the name of Father, and gave his own mother at his death into the care of a beloved disciple. Yet he asked an instant and unqualified loyalty....We can see why: think about ships if they got their direction from the shore lights-it would make the ocean passages a threat; the only chance of safety on the sea is that all ships shall take their bearings from the sky. The same hold true for human loyalties-they clash when we get our direction from each other or worldly signs, and they become confused, conflicting unless they are unified and purified by a supreme devotion. (IB, Vol. 8, pp259-60) That is, we must put Jesus' teachings above all else so that we get good direction.

After this opening statement regarding "hating" family, Jesus then explains it by example. That is, in order to be able to put Jesus and his teachings FIRST in one's life, there has to be a good foundation. In order to build securely, one has to lay a good foundation. In order to choose life over stagnation, in order to be able to choose the things that will be beneficial to your life, enhance your life and your living; you need to lay a good foundation. Even the life of a family, its relationships, should be built first on a good foundation.

I'm going to give you some interesting, perhaps amusing, statistics that will give added credibility to the best way you can begin to lay a good foundation and choose life. First, avoid riding in automobiles because they're responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents. Second, don't stay home because 17% of all accidents occur in the home. Third, avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. Fourth, avoid traveling by air, rail, or water because 16% of all accidents involve these forms of transportation. BUT, you will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in worship services in church, and these are usually related to previous physical disorders. Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is at worship! Bible study is safe too! The percentage of deaths during Bible study is even less! So, the best way to get started on laying a good foundation and choosing life is to attend worship and study your Bible!

Amusing statistics aside, truly, when you lay a good foundation, you're saying that you choose life. Jesus said that he came so that we might experience life more abundantly. His teachings, over and over, give us the opportunity to do that.

However, in order to have it happen, there are certain things that need to be done as part of laying a good foundation so that you are choosing life, rather than some imitation or lesser form of life. For instance, we need to get rid of old ideas that no longer are part of our growth. Get rid of old habits that keep us locked in to old patterns of thinking and responding. It also means setting some priorities-especially that the teachings of Jesus are of paramount importance in our life. He gave them to us for our own best interest. They're not rules, but instructions to benefit the living of our lives.

If you had a tool or appliance that you had never used before you would certainly read the instructions to help you use it in the most efficient way, especially if it had lots of special features to ease whatever task you bought it to help you with.

But many times folks have seen it used at someone else's house or at a business, and they know how to basically operate it, and they don't read all the instructions that come with it. They go it on their own. So, they never get the full benefit of what they have available to them.

It reminds me of a story of a man who went to a hardware store and asked for the best thing to cut down a number of big trees. The salesman sold him a top of the line chain saw; it would cut the trees down in no time flat. A few days later the man returned with the saw. He said he had been lied to, that using the chain saw it took him hours and hours to cut down just one tree and he was exhausted. The salesman said he didn't understand. He took the chain saw from him and pulled the cord to start it and it roared into action right away. The customer said, "Whoa, what's that noise?"

Many people know the basics of their faith, but don't know the depth; don't know how much is available to them. Sometimes they don't even really understand the basics of their faith. Much of the Christian faith has become trivialized to little snippits of information that fit on bumper stickers or refrigerator magnets. Much of the Christian faith has been secularized and popularized and traditionalized so that it really says nothing about what Jesus actually taught.

We have to read the instructions. And if we go simply by what we saw someone else do we continue any errors the person might have made, and we repeat those same errors because we don't read the instructions. It's a pattern that's repeated over and over. We don't follow Jesus' teachings because we don't read the instructions he gives us. So often we follow what we see someone else do or what someone told us were the instructions. That can be good to help get you started, if they're a good example, and if THEY have read the instructions, but ultimately you still have to lay your OWN foundation, and still have to read the instructions for yourself.

For the most part American Christians are lazy Christians. They haven't really faced the oppression of their religion like people have in other countries. They only follow Jesus in half-measures. They follow as long as it isn't a hardship in any way to follow. So many times the choices we make are just an echo of Jesus' teachings, yet we call ourselves "followers of the way," that is, followers of Jesus' way-Christians.

We have politicians and leaders who make reference to God, yet they lie and mislead and cheat, or they do things that benefit primarily wealthy, privileged Americans. That happens at all levels of government, right down to local communities. And we get people who profess to be Christian, but have all sorts of reasons not to be at worship or support a church, and they drag God into their words to support their errant way of life. They don't have a clue what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

American Christians have become much like those disciples who followed Jesus until they couldn't deal with his stern words about the "Conditions of Discipleship." So we give lip service to Jesus, but only follow his teachings when it fits in with our own personal goals and aims. It always has to do first with what suits US, rather than what Jesus taught.

We need to choose life. We need to choose what Jesus taught. He didn't just give us a set of rules; he gave us so many tools to use in our lives that our lives might be abundant and hopeful. He wants us to choose life. Not a half-life, but a full, abundant life. We need to lay a foundation that will allow us to choose life, rather than choose a path that leads us away from living the fullest expression of life and who we were created to be.

One way to lay a good foundation is to actually study the Bible. I can't think of where I heard this, but I think it was a seminary professor was addressing a group of folks and he asked, "If a burglar broke into your home and stole just one thing, your Bible, how long would it take you to realize that something had been stolen from your home?" (Of course that is, assuming you own a Bible.)

Studying the Bible is essential to the life of a Christian. If you don't know what's in there, especially in the New Testament, you can easily be led to believe whatever someone wants you to believe if they have more knowledge of the Bible than you. Or even if they DON'T have more knowledge of it than you, they can use the parts they want to make their point, even if what they use is totally irrelevant, or totally taken out of context so that it means something other than it was meant to convey in the Bible.

How can you really be choosing LIFE if you don't have a grasp of the instructions? You're guessing. You're listening to how someone else does it and following them, rather than Jesus. You're making the same errors they make. You're living their faith, not your own.

You want to really know how to vote in this upcoming presidential election? Certainly not by listening to what the candidates have to say. Certainly not by listening to false rhetoric and slanted advertisements. No. If you want to know how to vote in this upcoming election, you need to know what the Bible says about choosing life. And I'm not speaking about pro-life issues surrounding abortion or death penalty.

I'm talking about choosing LIFE. Choosing what Jesus shows us is important in life. Choosing what will help you be the fullest expression of who you were created to be. I'm talking about choosing to be a steward of life as you were created to be. To be created in the image of God means that as God is our steward, we are created to be stewards of what God has entrusted to our care: our own lives, the lives of others, the lives of all God's created creatures on land and sea and in the air, and the very land and sea and air itself. We are created in God's image as stewards.

To choose to be a steward is to choose life. To follow Jesus' teachings on how to be a steward, taking care of yourself, others, the environment is to choose life.

There was a movie, and maybe it came from a book, I'm not sure, that was titled, "First Do No Harm." That's choosing life. The instructions on how to choose life are in your Bible, particularly in the teachings of Jesus.

So, choose life. Choose life for yourself and then you can benefit others in choosing life. Life over stagnation. Life over addictions. Life over anger. Life over fear. Life over despair. Life over revenge. Life over hopelessness. Life over leading your life as a victim.

Choose life. Choose Jesus. Choose to be a faithful disciple. Choose to read, study the instructions so that you understand them. Lay a good foundation so you can choose life rather than some imitation of life. Amen.

Read more sermons by Pastor Brie