Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2016
A life spent following Jesus is a blessed life. A person cannot have more joy, deeper meaning, richer love, or greater hope in any other life. The life lived as Jesus’ disciple is the best life a person can have.
Note the emphasis on following Jesus. People can come every Sunday and not spend their lives striving to live in full submission and obedience to the Lord. People can be baptized, but then turn away and not live under Jesus’ rule.
The best life is the life of a disciple. However, it is not the easiest life.
A Middle Eastern man, “Musa” grew up in a Muslim home, but heard the gospel and put his faith in Jesus as Lord. When Musa’s father found out, he threatened to kill him. He kicked him out of the family’s home. Musa has since tried to share the gospel with his sister, but when his father found out, he said to Musa, “I will slaughter you.”
One of my best Christian friends was raised by parents who are committed Buddhists. They tolerated his participation in church, but he always feared that if he were baptized, his parents would forbid him from bringing his younger siblings and cousins to church with him.
Following Jesus costs. Maybe this is not the case in your family. Maybe mom and dad and grandma and grandpa are all in the same church – three generations. The day I was baptized 1981, at 11 years old, my relatives all came to celebrate. An entire row in the congregation was filled with Tennants. From an early age my parents taught me to follow and worship the Lord and they modeled this life.
But some families are actively opposed to following Jesus. If a son or daughter turns to Jesus, the family may kick that one out, or worse. In Musa’s case, his father threatened to kill him. A young person, even a young adult, should be able to turn to his father for support and protection. Musa’s father wanted him dead.
In our country, we say “Christianity is under attack” because in December, store clerks say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We say it because our same sex marriages are a reality, and our society includes people from other religious background.
Really? Are we seriously pointing to things like this to make our case that Christianity is under attack?
I have never heard anything so lame in all my life. To use such examples as evidence of a threat is utterly spineless. No one is telling me not to say “Merry Christmas.” I don’t care if someone else says it or not. Who someone else marries does not affect who I marry. I have never had a gay person try to convert me away from heterosexuality. And the presence of Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, and Atheists does not weaken my faith. If anything religious plurality strengthens my commitment to Christ because I have to know why I believe He is Lord and is the path to salvation.
Musa knows what it is to be threatened for being a Christian. Most American Christians do not. Parents and bosses and friends do not threaten to slaughter us for our faith. They might fire us or disown, although that is extraordinarily rare.
When American Christians say they feel threatened, what they really mean is that as Christians they no longer feel like they are in the majority and they don’t like that feeling. When American Christians cry out that they are threatened it is because they feel they have lost the power and privilege of being the controlling group in society. They have lost hegemony, they feel. It doesn’t feel good.
But, why would minority status surprise us when Jesus told us the cost of discipleship?
26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Following Jesus is the best life a person can have – no question about it. But, wait! I don’t want to hate my mom or dad. They are two of the biggest supporters of my life as a Christian.
Yet, Jesus says, “whoever does not hate father and mother … cannot be my disciple.” We know he wasn’t looking for admirers. Jesus had no interest in people acting as his fan club. He wanted followers. He lived and then said, “Look at how I live. And you live that way.”
“I am bound to die on the cross. You take up your cross and follow me.” Luke 14 is a challenging collection of ideas and we must face this challenge if we are to truly become people who walk the way of Jesus.
Listen to the thoughts of a well-known Biblical preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor.
She looks at Jesus words in Luke 14 and she says, “I have to conclude that [Jesus] would not have made a good [local church pastor.] So much of the job depends on making it easy for people to come to church and rewarding for them to stay. Talk to any of the church growth experts and they will tell you how important it is to create a safe, caring environment where people will believe their concerns will be heard and their needs be met. The basic idea is to find out what people are looking for and to give it to them, so that they decide to stay put instead of continuing to shop for a church down the street” (Bread of Angels, p.46).
We embrace part of that statement at HillSong. We promote a safe environment in which people can come to Jesus as they are, broken, confused, lost, uncertain, anxious. Come to Jesus and receive love from his people.
Where we resonate with Barbara Brown Taylor’s playful irony is the part about giving people what they want. Most the time, people, me included, don’t know what they want. We offer to introduce people to Jesus. Come just as you are and receive Jesus. Give yourself to him in fully and He will make you a new creation.
Come to Jesus, not to get saved, or to get found, or to be made whole. That will happen, but come and reorient your life so that He is Lord in all things.
But, “hate your father and mother?” Really? In Jesus’ day, a rhetorical technique was to indicate a preference by holding two things side-by-side and then stating hatred for one and love for the other. It was not hatred such as Hitler hated Jews. It was not an evil, emotion-driven attitude. It was a clear, unwavering choice.
As cited in the examples above, Musa had to choose Jesus against his parents’ will. In fact, his father became a mortal enemy. My friend had to choose loyalty to Jesus over the approval of his Buddhist mother. We know Jesus honored family relations. The mother of his disciples, the brothers James and John, was also one his followers. His own mother was one of his followers. He did not despise family relations. He simply and directly put them in their place. Our families, our spouses, our closest ties fall in line after our devotion to Jesus.
It helped me to go through Luke 14 and note the people who became his followers. As the chapter opens, Jesus is a Sabbath Day house guest of a leading Pharisee. All at the meal guests jockey for the best seat. Jesus says when they are guests, they should humble themselves and sit in the lowest position.
When they host parties, they should invite people at the bottom of society’s standings. They should invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (14:13). he would tell us to invite into our homes, the refugee, the mentally ill, the illegal immigrant, and homeless person.
Jesus then tells a parable about a wedding banquet in the Kingdom of God. All the important people invited send regrets. One has to check a new piece of land; another has to see the oxen he’s just bought; and a is couple on their honeymoon. So the Lords call others in to fill the empty chairs: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Jesus also mentions drifters in the dark corners of society, people far from the mainstream.
On the first Sunday of Lent, we talked about Jesus’ attraction to the least desirable of people. He came for the poor, not the rich. We saw this in Mark chapter 2, when Jesus called a tax collector to be a disciple and dined with prostitutes and sinners of all types.
In the disciple life, we welcome an endless stream of people who don’t look like what we might say a Sunday morning crowd looks like. But that’s the way of Jesus, so we have to change our idea of what a Sunday morning crowd is. Well, if we want Sundays at our church to be welcoming to Him, then we have to welcome and love who he welcomed and loved.
His priorities set ours. If that happens, then we become a church that would be quite comfortable with him as pastor. If our families or friends are shocked at the decisions we make that are out of step with materialist American culture but aligned with Jesus we aren’t surprised. He said, we’d have to hate mom and dad.
We understand this doesn’t mean hate as an emotion. It means we’re in the Gospel and so we walk the way of Jesus regardless of what mom or dad or husband or wife or friend think. We invite those we love most to come to the cross with us. But we go whether they come or not.
That’s what it means to be all-in with Jesus. There is no other way to be a Christian. The only kind of Christ-follower is the extreme Christ-follower. Any other way is just playing at Christianity.
I end with a thought on when we do go all-in. The Kingdom is a massive party – bigger than any wedding reception or inaugural ball. The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the lost, the found, the brown, the yellow, the black, the white, you, me – we’re all there.
But something has changed. We’re in resurrected bodies, which cannot be blind. Resurrected bodies cannot be lame or crippled. We’ll call them “the healthy and the strong.” Resurrected bodies cannot be addicts or junkies. We’ll call them “the whole and the clean.”
We’re with Jesus at God’s table. We’re all beloved and all together. Your mom. My dad. You. Me. We’re all there, in the Kingdom, with Jesus, at the Father’s Table.
We live in blessed relationship with God now, tasked to be witnesses for the Gospel in the world today. And we anticipate the table of God. That is our destination when we are all-in.