Rev. Rosemary Webb
8th September 2013
Who does Jesus want us to love?

Did I hear it right? Did Jesus really say that we should hate our parents, our whole family? Where is the talk of love? These are not the kind of words we usually associate with Christ. Well, of course, he didn’t really say that, it is just that in translation the meaning became more dramatic. If we had heard it in Hebrew the meaning would have been more about the need to love God more than anything, not hating our families, but loving them less than God… I must say I find it hard to understand why modern translations still use the word hate.

The large crowds were still travelling with Jesus towards Jerusalem asking what they must do to become his disciple. They seem enthusiastic, but remember that God can see through the shallow statements, he knows our inner most thoughts. So what must they do, what is required of them? Jesus knew he had to get it through to them that following God is not like joining a fan club. Nodding in agreement at all that is being said without any true intention of keeping to the word, of believing it, is pointless.

I don’t think he wanted to totally discourage the crowd; it surely is more like shocking people enough to make them sit up and listen. I think he wanted to get through to them what the two main commandments mean. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbour (and that means those you love most) as yourself. Loving God calls for a total commitment, Jesus knows it can be hard, that it is very demanding and he wanted them and us today not to be under any illusion.

Tom Wright equates it with an expedition leader forging a way through a dangerous mountain pass to bring medical aid to villagers cut off from the rest of the world, telling his team to leave their belongings behind for the path is too steep, and to send cards home because they might not make it back home. Not something they would want to hear but something which has to be said.

Before we say we want to follow Christ we have to work out what it will mean for us; like building a tower we have to make sure we have the determination, all that we will need… If we were to build a tower we would need money or we would not be able to finish it. Following God does not call for wealth, it calls for faith, and I think it also calls for a true willingness to open our hearts to God. To let him fully into our lives, to trust him to guide and protect us whatever life may bring.

Joining Jesus is not being in a fan club, following the latest band, football team, whatever. It is about working to establish a different kind of kingdom. Changing the world, making it a fairer place, a place where following Christ leads down a path of compassion and care, not greed and domination. The parables of building a tower and going to war are about self-examination. They are about serious reflection on how we should lead our lives if we wish to follow Christ, and just as importantly how we encourage others to lead their lives.

When Jesus says ‘ any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple’ I don’t think he means we all have to live like hermits, but that we should work for an end to greed, work for a fair and just society. And not just in our own country but throughout the world. We must work to change attitudes.

Jesus said to build a tower you need enough money – people need enough money to live, for their children to survive. I have read that in the poorest countries 4 billion people worldwide live on about £1.60 a day, and there are many more people worldwide who really struggle to make ends meet. And that includes Redhill as we see through the number of people needing to use our food bank. Life can be hard, life can be unfair. But God strengthens those who love him. But if Christians don’t strive for the fairer society Jesus’ words must seem meaningless to the needy.

But poverty wasn’t the main item on the news at the beginning of the week it was the absolute opposite. It was about a young man from Wales who had been sold for 86 million pounds, put another way equal to a gift of £10 for each citizen of Burundi (more than a week’s wages)… Of course people enjoy football, of course footballers should be rewarded but why are they sold, surely only slaves are sold, why can people make money that way. Is his life more valuable than that of a small child, a child say in Burundi for who £10 may mean the difference between life and death. We really do live in a strange world

And how does that fit in with ‘any of you who does not give up everything cannot be my disciples’. It’s not just in football; it’s the lottery, so many things which tempt people to change their lives through money. In the affluent west we might wonder who then can follow Jesus. Most of us have far more possessions, far more clothes than we really need… The sad truth is that many people worship money not God.

So what does Jesus mean at the beginning of the passage when he says that those who want to be his disciples must take up their cross and follow him? He’s stressing that he is starting a new movement – the Kingdom of God movement. His Kingdom is about God’s justice and peace, about doing what is right rather than what might seem attractive. About keeping promises and caring for outsiders, including the weak and the small, those we find it hard to understand, to love. Jesus knew that not everyone is going to like this movement. The powerful may not want to share their power. The rich may not want to have to give their wealth away to the poor. Those who nurture hatred and resentment may not like to hear that they must love their enemies and forgive those who have hurt them.

Jesus is telling the crowd that all who want to be his disciples must be prepared to suffer for his name and for his cause. They must prepare themselves for the fact that the world around them may well call them outsiders and treat them as traitors. We live in a Christian country and any criticism we receive in very minor on the scale of things, but in the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world being a Christian is still a dangerous thing. But we need their bravery and commitment if God’s kingdom will be created here on earth, and we know it will come for it is Christ’s promise to us.

I believe that kingdom is worth working for. It will be a world full of love and compassion. It will be a world where there is no poverty, no war, no injustice, no oppression. No more pictures of children lying dead through chemical weapons, or dying of starvation in refugee camps. This day will come and we are being called to make our commitment to it, to be true disciples, loving God will all our hearts and our neighbours as ourselves. For that is the route to the creation of the kingdom of God on earth.

Luke 14: 25-33