Hate Your Mother (Luke 14:25-33)

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“Now large crowds were travelling with Jesus. He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he can’t be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27)

There are any number of scholars as well as ordinary people who will tell you that the Christian Scriptures cannot be trusted as a source of reliable information as to what Jesus really did and taught. The church, they will tell you, took those original teachings of Jesus and edited them to suit their own purposes – adding in stories that suited them and editing out the bits they didn’t like. If that were true, why did they not get rid of this passage?

Every three years we work our way through each of the four Christian Gospels and every three years we have to deal with this passage from Luke chapter 14 and every time I confront this passage it seems to me less palatable than the last time I dealt with it. Indeed, this time as I read and prayed my way through this teaching from Jesus I got a distinct chill up my spine.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his [or her] own life, he can’t be my disciple.”

It reads like a recruitment poster for the army, or rather, it reads like what I consider a recruitment poster for the army ought to read like.

If you’ve seen posters or television ads that try to recruit you to the army they tend to be filled with images of adventure and rugged challenge rather than with scenes of violence.

The army offers leadership training and all sorts of technical skills and so the military is depicted as a dynamic and challenging career path, and these ads never seem to mention that your fundamental job as a soldier is to kill people!

Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not some fluffy-minded pacifist. I speak as one who applied to be an army chaplain myself not many years ago. Even so, I do believe that if you’re going to sign people up as soldiers you really should let them know what they’re getting themselves into!

One of the things I appreciated about American Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest was that he was always frank with his recruits as to what they were getting themselves into! As was the pattern in those days, Forrest had to recruit his own troops and apparently he advertised for recruits through posters that said simply “see the country and kill Yankees!”

Forrest went on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Clan and did any number of things in his life that we might not admire him for, but at least he was honest with his men as to what the business of soldiering was about!  It was about killing people before you got yourself killed!

“Do you love your country more than you love your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, and more than you love your own life?”

That’s how a frank army recruitment poster would read. Do you love your country more than all the other things you cherish in this life, such that you would be willing to lose them all, and your own life as well, for the sake of your country? For that’s the demand that soldiering places upon you!

Of course nobody ever does ask you that when they try to recruit you for the army because the obvious answer to that question from almost all of us, I imagine, would be ‘no’!

Do I love my country more than father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, and my own life? Well … I’m not even sure what ‘love of country’ means in that context, but if it means loving my country enough to kill people from other countries, my answer is most definitely a resounding ‘no’.

I never did get the job as an army chaplain but I imagine that a fair bit of a chaplain’s time must be spent in helping young recruits come to terms with what they’ve got themselves into.

Perhaps that’s not an issue during times of peace. Perhaps during times of peace the army is primarily an avenue for developing your leadership abilities and gaining technical skills and advancing your career in any number of ways, but when all of a sudden you get deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria, and you have to say goodbye to your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters – perhaps saying goodbye for the last time – there must be an important role for the chaplain to play in helping young soldiers come to terms with what they signed up for!

Jesus seems to see discipleship in the same light, though He seems to be determined to see that nobody follows Him under false pretenses.

No one follows Jesus in order to advance their career or develop their leadership capabilities. On the contrary, “If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24) or, as He says here, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he can’t be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”

It sounds awful but the truth is that if you can’t let go of your family and your children and all the things you love the most, you’re never going to be a soldier and you’re never going to be a disciple. If you can’t put your body on the line then you’re never going to make it as a soldier or as a disciple. The issue is the same in both cases. You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice your life!

“When Christ calls us He bids us ‘come and die’”. So said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German pastor and theologian who stood up against Hitler in the dark days of Nazism, and paid the price with his own life before the war concluded.

The call of Christ is a death sentence, according to Bonhoeffer. That seems horribly morbid, yet the further I go on with Christ the more true I realise this is!

I look back on my time here at Holy Trinity. I’ve been here almost 23 years now, and the more I progress in ministry the more my life seems to be at risk!

There is an obvious irony in that, as the Dulwich Hill I arrived in back in 1990 was a far more violent place than it is now! I grew up in this area and, as a teenager, Dulwich Hill was an area I would never venture into!

I used to travel from my home in Newtown to watch the Jets play at Henson Park, but it would never occur to me to take the direct route and walk there via Dulwich Hill! I would go the round-about way via Sydenham, for Dulwich Hill was an area that was notorious for gang violence!

When we went full-time with the Youth Centre back in 1994, nine out of ten kids we were dealing with seemed to have heroin issues, and I remember well being at a clergy conference in those days where we were sharing what the major problems were that we were facing in our parishes. I had to say in all honesty that my biggest issue at the time was the amount of stolen property that was being traded on church premises!

They were violent days, and unfortunately our Youth Centre was the scene of more than one riot, as well as overdoses, frequent police raids, domestic violence, and more. Even so, I never felt at any great personal risk.

Certainly I had one or two people threaten to kill me, but they weren’t threats that could be taken seriously. Our property was at risk. Our house broken into on numerous occasions and I had my wallet stolen by people we were working with on more than one occasion. Even so, for the most part I enjoyed the goodwill of this community and I didn’t feel at any great personal risk. But then we cleaned up the neighborhood and got rid of most of the drugs and I shifted a lot of my energies from trying to help local kids to trying to support kids in Gaza, and all of a sudden I wasn’t enjoying the same degree of goodwill!

As I said to a group of activists that I addressed recently, when I poured all my time into working with at-risk kids in Dulwich Hill they called me a saint and nominated me for Australian of the Year. When I tried to support the kids of Palestine they called me a Nazi and threatened to kill me!

I’ve been listening to some of the early sermons of Martin Luther King Jr. over the last few days, and I love listening to the recordings of that wonderful fellow disciple of Christ. One thing that I only learnt recently about King was that (apparently) it wasn’t his fight against racism that got him killed!

According to the commentator I was listening to, at any rate, his fight for a more inclusive society, where people weren’t judged on the basis of their skin colour, certainly earned him plenty of resentment and numerous threats, but his life wasn’t seriously at risk in those days. It was when he challenged the Vietnam War that he signed his own death warrant!

Making people angry is one thing, but it’s when you challenge the principalities and powers that you really put your life at risk!

I see the same thing playing out in the life of Jesus. Jesus made lots of people angry. He made the people of Nazareth so angry that they wanted to throw him off the edge of a cliff (Luke 4) but that was never going to happen! The townsfolk of Nazareth were never going to be the ones to kill Jesus. But when He challenged the people in power …

I wrote to the Archbishop this week and invited him to come to Damascus to be a part of a human-shield program. He hasn’t got back to me yet.

I’m sure some of you will be thinking “I bet I know what he’s going to say!” I’m not so sure. He’s a man of prayer. Why wouldn’t he be open to the voice of the Spirit of God? For the truth is that a handful of prominent people in Damascus over the next few weeks just might prevent World War III!

Why shouldn’t he come? Why shouldn’t we all go? Yes, it’s a horrible risk and yes, you’d have to be willing to let go of father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, and even your own life, but you knew what you were getting yourself into when you decided to follow Jesus!  We all knew what we were getting ourselves into. Jesus didn’t leave us in any doubt in terms of what it would cost us!

I put the same proposal to Anthony Albanese yesterday when I saw him at the polling booth. He was telling me about his concern for the people of Syria and I told him that I’d been invited to go to Damascus as a human shield and I asked him if he’d be willing to join me there.

He said “the Deputy Prime Minister of the country can’t do things like that” and I said “Yes, but if things don’t go as we might hope and you’re not the deputy Prime Minister for much longer, then maybe you could go?”

At least I got a straight answer from the former Deputy Prime Minister. I hope to get an equally straight answer from the Archbishop. But the truth is that it would only take a handful of people like that – prominent politicians and leading ecclesiastical figures – to gather in Damascus and we could be reasonably confident that the Americans would hold their fire!

It’s a difficult situation at the moment for those who are trying to organise the human shield program. I’m following an enormous number of emails that are flying about each day between the various people who are trying to make it happen, and the big problem is that you need a solid core of courageous people there to begin with before others will come!

Apparently once you have a core group of a thousand or so people on the ground to act as human shields, all the other more tentative supporters accept that there are now enough people there now to act as a real deterrent, and so they come in their thousands, but while you only have a few hundred it’s very hard to reach that tipping point!

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he can’t be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

We live in very volatile times. Our country is at a very volatile point in our history. Our world is at a very volatile point in its history. It may be that what happens between now and Christmas will determine what sort of world our children will inherit, or whether they will inherit any world at all!

We are at a very volatile point in human history, and the darkness seems to be overwhelming at times, and yet the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out! (John 1).

We are at a very volatile point in history and yet it is a time pregnant with possibilities for followers of Jesus everywhere to rise up and show the rest of world what we are capable of and who we believe in, and to show the rest of the world that even our love of father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, and our love of our own lives will not hold us back from fulfilling the high calling we have received as disciples of Christ!

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he can’t be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

It reads like a recruitment poster, but it is, in a sense, the opposite of a recruitment poster, for while the recruitment poster promises adventure and career advancement, even though what it delivers may be death, the death Christ offers us is one that leads to resurrection and to the triumph of love in the world! Amen.
First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, on Sunday the 8th of September.

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.

www.FatherDave.org

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About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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