From the Letter of Saint Paul to Philemon, “Refresh my heart in Christ.”
To love Christ means being His disciple and that means every aspect of life will be given to Him and made new. The joy of discipleship.
The Gospel lessons throughout the summer introduced us to a Jesus who was a teacher, a healer, and a man who seemed to be a purveyor of love and peace. What happened to Him? All of a sudden, in this morning’s Gospel lesson, it seems Jesus has become a hate-monger. Didn’t we just hear, If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple? It’s a little bit of a jolt. After all, we have heard the Gospel lessons through these summer months. In those passages the Bible shows us a Jesus is strong and direct, but not showing us how to hate. The passages through June, July, and August have included parables of how to love our neighbors, as in the Good Samaritan. In others, Jesus taught us how to pray the Our Father. He revealed that our treasure is truly in heaven and not here. He explained that humility is really the way to a life with Him in His Kingdom. To have gone from these lessons to a lesson on whom to hate is jarring. He even teaches us to include ourselves in the list of those to hate. …and even his own life, is included in the list of those who are near and dear to us.
Do not fret. We Christians have not tied ourselves to a teacher and founder of our Faith who wants us to reject those we love in order to follow Him. In closer examination of the way “hate” is used in the passage, we find that the Greek word “hate” translates is “miseo”. That word for hate is used in three ways in the New Testament. It can mean the kind of awful hate that is an unjustified feeling of utter disgust and rejection of a thing or a person. In the case of today’s passage on discipleship, it means more of a preference for one thing or person over another. Jesus will use “hate” in the same way in just a couple of chapters later. This other example of Jesus using “hate” to show preference is when He teaches that we cannot serve two masters like God and mammon. No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
The truth about today’s Gospel passage is how imperative it is to make the choice of following Him. Included in making that choice is weighing the cost of being His disciple. As if to say, “Please love me enough to follow me and in choosing to follow me, carefully weigh what it will take to follow me. Do you love your father, your mother, your wife and children, or brothers or sisters? If you know how much you love them, then it is to that degree and more that you ought to love me. We are to be bound to Him above all others. It is that kind of discipleship Jesus desires. He desires this out of love for us because He knows that joy, peace and freedom will be the result. The end of loving Jesus and following Him as a disciple, giving ourselves over to Him completely, is complete freedom.
It does not sound possible that discipline can be equated with love, peace, joy and freedom. Discipline, when we hear it, conjures up thoughts of unpleasantness, punishment, bearing a burden, drudgery. Jesus tells the great multitudes accompanying him, whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. He instructs the crowd to weigh carefully the cost before deciding to follow Him. Jesus uses the parables of the cost of the tower and the king entering into battle to emphasize the importance of the deep and heart-wrenching decision it may take to follow Him. The cost is the bearing the Cross. At the same time this kind of discipleship is true love, joy, peace, and freedom and those are available even now.
Love is ultimately the root of all sacrifice. It’s true in being a disciple of Jesus. We choose to love Him and follow Him. It was true for the nation of Israel. God loves Israel and asks Israel to love Him back by following His Commandments. I think that’s why we have the example from The Book of Deuteronomy in our lections for today. In this passage, toward the end of Moses’ life, he reminds Israel that God loves them so much that, He showed them all the Commandments. All of Israel is reminded that when they cannot give themselves over to the Commandments they are still loved so much that they can repent and come back under the Commandments. God will not only continue to love them, He will forgive them and they will prosper in the land that He gave them. Coming under God’s love through obeying His Commandments is choosing life, choosing goodness. Israel is free to grow and prosper by coming under God.
Israel knew this from the first time Moses revealed the Commandments to them. Go back and read the Commandments from the first time they were given to Israel in Exodus 20. Commandment Five which, appropriately enough for our purposes today, also addresses our nearest relations of mother and father, does not just enjoin us to honor our father and our mother. If you read the whole of the Commandment, it’s Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. Their lives will be “long in the land”. This implication is that a long life is a blessed life, a flourishing life, a good life. Submitting to a given law, that was given out of love and then obeyed out of love, will result in joy, fulfillment, and prosperity. Moses is repeating this practice of the love of God by obeying His Commandments. He reminds the people of Israel this is the way of God for them and it is ultimately the way of love.
This principle of giving oneself over to a law in obedience and discipline that leads to love, harmony, peace and freedom can be recognized even in our daily lives. A simple example of this is punctuality. Showing up on time for something. As part of training in pastoral care beginning back in the 1960’s, it was necessary for many seminarians and divinity school students to be trained to visit in a prison, hospital, or nursing home. The training was usually under the guidance of a counselor trained in the Jungian method of psychoanalysis. The method required that each student take a turn having his or her responses in pastoral situations analyzed. This would enable better responses to those needing pastoral care. Each student would each take a turn being dissected psychologically, as painful as that was, to explain why we did what we did and said what we said.
One of the seminarians in my group had to take his turn being grilled by the Jungian analyst, himself a Congregationalist minister. The question the seminarian had to address was why he was perpetually late. He would always be a few minutes late in visiting hospital rooms, for chapel services, for these group sessions, and would hand in papers a few days late. Why is that and what is the solution? It was a productive session, I think. The seminarian revealed how he felt about being late and it was explained to him how everyone else felt about his tardiness. The seminarian recognized what a burden he was bringing on himself and the others around him by his tardiness. Without going into the deeper psychological reasons of why some persons are perpetually late, we found that the solution is really simple. Show up on time. When that happens there is a freedom from the burden of all the negative results of tardiness. Taking on, or giving himself over to the limits of time and a schedule, is really a means, for this particular seminarian, to joy, peace, and harmony. It generates peace with his other group members. It’s a sign of caring and concern for those with whom he’s meeting. He will free himself from the burden of tardiness. Simplistic? Yes. True? Yes.
Discipleship, and the discipline it requires, is the Christian path of love, freedom, and indeed new life even in this fallen and imperfect world. Discipleship, or following and learning from Jesus, is more than an intellectual exercise or following some warm feelings about loving Jesus our Brother. It is more than attempting to copy some of Jesus’ behavior. True discipleship, we find out today, has sacrificial love at its core. True discipleship will have to involve giving of oneself; one’s whole self. As Jesus says, If any one comes to me and does not hate…even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. True discipleship is a matter of learning, but not learning only as students in an academic setting. This is learning that is life changing.
When one is a student in the form of a disciple then one has given oneself completely to a discipline. Remember when subjects like music, or medicine, or mathematics, or logic and rhetoric were called disciplines? This means they were not simply subjects that you injected into your brain through study and memorization. They were considered ways of life and if you wanted to learn that way of life you would have to give your life to it. You gave yourself over to the discipline of music. You made a life of the study and practice of medicine. Your discipleship was actually being a student of the discipline. You gave away the other parts of your life. That is the sacrifice. You sacrificed your life for the good of taking on the discipline. A disciple of Christ does the same. He or she gives up the old life and takes on being such a good student of Jesus that the likeness of Christ comes through the new life.
We can know the benefits of a life following Jesus now. To love Jesus enough to give ourselves over to Him will mean bearing not the Cross, but bearing a number of crosses. It is not easy to be a Christian sometimes. We know that from Jesus’ parables today. In giving ourselves to Him, though, we can know what real love is. We can know the joy of sharing His life with others. We can be released and freed by asking for His forgiveness from the sins that hinder us even now. That is the joy of taking the steps to be one more of His disciples.
What better way to walk through this world than as a disciple of Christ. This new life in Christ, born out of His love for us and our love for Him, makes all things new. Bearing our crosses and following Him as disciples becomes “a privilege and a joy”. According to our meditations on The Stations of the Cross in Lent, that’s what Simon of Cyrene came to know as he bore the Cross for Jesus on the way to Mount Calvary. For him it was “a privilege and a joy”. Yes, even in the midst and among the unpleasant, nasty, wicked, and sinful parts dealt to us. Even the awful parts of our lives visited on us by chafing under the consequences of our own sins, we can know the joy of having our lives buried with Christ.
A life buried with Christ as His disciple will include the freedom of forgiveness. The grace of forgiveness can be known to us in two ways. We can confess our sins to God, to each other, to our priests in the confessional. The freedom from the burden of those sins is lifted. Also, we can take on the difficult spiritual work of forgiving others. If you have ever truly forgiven another who has sinned against you, you will know the good will and even happiness that grace of forgiveness provides.
If our lives are buried with Christ then they are not buried unto death and an awful end. Our lives are brought to a new beginning. They are remade so we can now know the ease and relief of forgiveness. The grace of forgiveness that is available to us now. We can know the thanksgiving that results from healing and healing in every possible way; mind, body, and Spirit. What a sign of love that God made us in such a way to be healed. We can know how pleasing it is to reach out in the Name of Christ and help those who need a hand because their lives are in a difficult period. We do not have to wait to know and enjoy this rebirth and refreshment. Every aspect of our lives in this world as a disciple is made new and refreshed by love.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.