Mission Does Have Its Cost
by Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: Luke 14:25-33
If you take a walk in the cemetery of a Moravian Church that has buried their members in the traditional manner, you will notice something very different than most cemeteries. If you can’t find one of those cemeteries to walk in, look at the picture accompanying this text. You will notice that the grave markers are uniformed, flat stones arranged in straight lines. In other words, they are all lined up neatly. With an even closer look at the names and dates of burials, you will also notice the Moravians did not bury in family plots. Instead, they bury in sections divided by gender and marital status. As a result, you are buried next to the church member in your gender category who died before you did. Why did they do this? Were they neat freaks who liked straight lines? Did they want to make things easier for the lawn mowers 200 years later? No, Moravians took our Gospel lesson from Luke very much to heart. Our primary allegiance to not to family or clan; it is to the greater kingdom of God as manifested by your church family.
At first glance, you might ask yourself if we must take Jesus’ words literally. Must we hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even life itself if we want to count ourselves as one of Jesus’ disciples? Why would Jesus have said such a thing? After all, the passage begins by saying that large crowds were following him. Why would he have said something so crazy and scare these folks away? I love it when I have the privilege of preaching to a crowd. The last thing I would say to a sanctuary full of people is that they need to hate their family members.
So, what is going on here with Jesus? He is making sure that people are listening. Jesus more than once affirms love for family and certainly for the children. Still, he is telling his listeners here that they must put the kingdom of God ahead of anything else in their lives, even the essential things such as familial relationships, life itself, and, God forbid, even our possessions. All of it must be second, all of it.
As radical as that statement is to our ears today, it was even crazier in Jesus’ day. Jewish society was based on familial ties. The most important member of any family was the eldest son. To him, all leadership would fall after the father had passed away. To him, would fall most all the family property and business. Most especially under his care would come his mother (now widowed) and any unmarried sisters since none of them had a primary relationship with a male. For 30 years, Jesus did the family thing; but then walked away from all of it. At one point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ family shows up trying to take him away, insinuating that he is a little off his rocker. So, Jesus had already done what he is now asking all of his listeners. Jesus’ first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, did the same thing when they left their nets to follow Jesus.
Putting our relationship with God first is part of the cost of discipleship, which is what Jesus is getting at. So why did Jesus use the word “hate” here? Most scholars tell us that Jesus used a common teaching technique of his day of stating things in their most strident fashion to grab the attention of his listeners. If you back up and take a boarder look at Jesus’ teachings, you will see the bigger picture. Jesus also taught his listeners to care for their children and to honor their marriage vows. Truth be told, if we put Jesus’ teachings to work in our lives, our relationships with our family will grow stronger because we will be better able to forgive, serve, and appreciate our family members’ gifts.
Any of us that seeks to live a life of mission in response to God’s call will have to make some sacrifice. Mission does come at a cost. Perhaps it might take away some of your free time or mean that we might have to get up early some mornings or stay up when it is late. The sacrifice might be a financial gift to someone or some ministry needing help. Anytime we give money for a charitable cause, we sacrifice something we could have used for ourselves. Any time our hearts are moved with compassion for others, we offer our own time, financial resources, and energy.
As Jesus says, taking up the cross is done anytime we choose to sacrifice a part of ourselves for the good of others and the kingdom of God. In my book, that is the best definition of a life dedicated to God’s mission.