The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost—PR 18—Year C; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
Oh, I’d love to preach on Deuteronomy today, or Psalm 1, or Philemon, but that’s not where we all went “Huh?” No, we gotta go with Luke.
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” so sayeth Jesus to the large crowds who were traveling with him, and not just like tossing this phrase over his shoulder. No, he turned to them and said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Hate? Really, Jesus, do you mean hate? I mean, I don’t want to hate my mother; I’ve spent the better part of my adult life apologizing to my mother for my attitude as a teenager and young adult. And I don’t want to hate my husband and children, I work hard at those relationships; and I sure don’t want them to hate me. And I’ve got great siblings, they are a blessing in my life; I don’t want to hate them. Really, Jesus, are you saying that to follow you, I have to throw them all under the bus?
And hating my life? But life is a gift, why would you want me to hate it? Oh, and by the way Lord, you’re not being ethically consistent here. You’re the one who told us to love one another as you have loved us. You’re the one who told us that you came that we might have life and have it abundantly. I’m confused. Are you confused? Good, we’re confused together.
So, let’s turn to the greek because the greek often clarifies things. So, the word for hate in the greek is μισέω, and it means “to hate, to pursue with hatred, to detest.” Oh, so hate means hate. No hidden meaning here to save us; no nuance in which we can rest today. Nope, we’re going to have to wrestle this one to the mat in order to find blessing in this text.
So, let’s unpack hate a little deeper. In fact, some of us gathered this past Wednesday to join others in our community for a conversation sponsored by the NAACP Unpacking Our Own Hate. We started with the question, “What is hate?” We talked about how it’s on a continuum with anger and resentment and how it’s a strong emotion. We talked about how betrayal can take us there. We talked about how, in hate, we don’t feel empathy for the other. We talked about how it has something to do with the story about another that’s running in our head on a constant loop that is unhinged from reality. We talked about how hate is a hardened place—hardened anger, hardened resentment, hardened lack of empathy. And many confessed that as good, southern, nice people—we just don’t do these kind of emotions.
Then, there’s the casual way we throw around hate. I hate Brussel sprouts. As a KY fan, I hate Duke basketball—that little matter of a basketball game 24 years ago, not that I hold on to things.
And then there’s the hate that cannot see the other as human in the same way that I’m human—that can’t see them as good ol’ flesh and blood, holy, beloved of God, broken just like me, and so we de-humanize them—we hate people of other races or religions or genders or sexual identities or social and economic classes or political beliefs.
Webster’s defines hate this way: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury; extreme dislike or antipathy. Antipathy—I think that’s like the opposite of empathy.
But here’s the thing about hate—hate isn’t just an abstract thought, or belief, or position, and hate isn’t just a really strong feeling; there is an energetic to hate. And much as we would like to believe that hate places distance between us and the object of our hate; hate actually binds us to that which we hate, just like a magnet. The energetic of hate is all about attachment.
So, let’s put a placeholder here, and look at the rest of this passage from Luke. Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Then he talks about assessing your resources and knowing your limits before embarking on a building project and how kings assess their strength before going to war. And then we come to Jesus’ closing statement, the summation of this chunk of teaching, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Carrying the cross, being willing to die; knowing your resources and limits, being willing to let go of a vision; knowing when to engage and knowing when to surrender. Being willing to give up all your possessions; being willing to give up possessing at all. Now we’re beginning to drop down into the depths of this confusing teaching from Jesus; now we’re getting down to the core.
If hate attaches us to the object of our hate, this can’t be what Jesus means when he tells us to hate families and our life; Jesus is using this intense language to grab our attention, and it works. He has our full attention this morning, but Jesus is not calling us to attach to our families through the energy of hate. Jesus knows full well that hate can actually become our most prized possession, and at the end, he tells us that we must be willing to give up all our possessions, including our hate.
No, Jesus is calling us to give up possessing. Jesus is calling us to sit loosely to everything. Jesus is telling us, “You can’t cling to your family, you can’t possess them, you can’t control them; and you can’t use them as an excuse to avoid the tough places that will surely come if you follow me. You’ve got to be willing to relinquish; you’ve got to be willing to release—be it your intimate relationships, be it your vision of what will be, be it the rightness of your cause—you’ve got to be willing to release, if you want to follow me, because my love is made to flow, and whenever you step over into the energetic of clinging, and attaching, and possessing, that flow stops.”
I don’t think Jesus is commanding us to hate the way we think of hate; I think he’s using this over-the-top language to take us to the brink, to take us to the foot of the cross, where we have to relinquish any notion that the people, or anything else, in our lives are our possessions. This whole passage is about surrendering the things we hold so that we can remember that to love and live like Jesus is to keep our hands open, always receiving, always releasing, always letting love and life flow.
Discipleship is costly because we surrender any notion that we get to possess anything. No wonder Jesus talks about this way being narrow. It’s hard, and very few of us willingly surrender anything without going to the mat. It takes time to discover the deeper truth that surrender truly is the way to life.
It takes time to understand, as Moses did, that daily, moment by moment in fact, come these decision points—this way leads to life, this way leads to death—and that the spiritual life is about choosing, consciously, the way of life.
It’s about understanding that we have rights to all kinds of things, just as Paul understood that, in his culture, Philemon had a right to own Onesimus as a slave, but that Paul was appealing to Philemon’s heart to relinquish that right, to surrender that right, for the sake of gospel love and to receive Onesimus as a beloved brother and not as a slave that he possessed, and then to free his beloved brother for service elsewhere.
So, in the end, these are the questions facing us today: To what do we cling? What are we holding on to for dear life? What are our possessions? Where is our energy attached like a magnet? Where is our possessing energy showing up? Where is Jesus trying to pry our fingers free, trying to loosen our grip, so that our hearts are in the flow of his love? Where are we stuck, and what do we need to give up, so that we are once again living the abundant life that he promises?
Following Jesus is costly because we have to discover, over and over again, that when you are a disciple, your life is not your own.
But in the giving over, we discover this sacred and holy space expanding in our being. And into this space, God pours this love that cannot be possessed, but only tasted, and experienced, and integrated and incarnated, and then, offered in the pouring out of our lives for the sake of the world that God so loves—John 3:16, for God so loved the world—we’re being invited into the passion of that loving.
Understanding the energetics of hate, understanding the power of our attachments, understanding the dynamics of possessing—this is deep spiritual work. We didn’t want to wrestle with these things on this last holiday weekend of summer, but this morning, Jesus has brought us face-to-face with these parts of our shadow.
So, tease out hate in your own life, wrestle with your attachments, come to terms with your possessing energy, and then surrender these things, give up these possessions. It’s not just that we have to give them up to follow Jesus; it’s that we won’t taste of the abundant life he promises until we do. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
September 4, 2016