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
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
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 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
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
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.