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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

What If Jesus Really Means It?

2016-09-04 Luke 14 25-33 What If Jesus Really Means It

What if he really means it?

What if Jesus really means it when he says, "So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions"?

What if Jesus really means it when he says, "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"?

What if Jesus really means it when he says, "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple"?

What if Jesus really means what the Bible says he means?

Hate your family. Hate your life. Carry the instrument of your death. Give up your possessions.

Would you qualify to be a disciple? Would you want to?

I don't like this scripture at all. Maybe that's what he wanted.


I'm not a fan of reading every word of the Bible literally. I believe in evolution. I like science. The Bible is not even close to a science book. Science as we know it, wasn't even invented for another 1700 years. Nor is the Bible what we would call news. It's not even close to objective reporting. It's not a documentary. It's not non-fiction. But it's not fiction, either. It's kind of hard to classify.

The Bible is something else entirely. It's a book of faith. It's words of faith written by people of faith, some of whom were there firsthand, but most of whom were remembering memories handed down through generations. The Bible is a book of truth, but not every word needs to be literally true. If you want to read it literally, fine. I happen to think there are other kinds of truth, different from literal truth, or scientific truth, or objective truth. My problem is, I don't think any of them work here.


"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. 

"Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

"...none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

Have any of you been whitewater rafting? Or kayaking? That's how I feel a lot of times as a preacher. I know it looks like I'm standing still. But in my mind I'm heading downstream through Class VI rapids. You have no idea how exciting this is. I feel like I'm trying to find the flow (ride the wave of the Spirit), steering you safely around all the rocks and drop-offs. Y'all just keep paddling. Ignore the banjos. Because I want to keep you safe. I don't want you to capsize or get pulled under the raging words of scripture. Let the rest of the world do that. I want you to feel good when you leave church. Because church should make you happy, or at least encouraged, maybe even challenged. Gassed up for the week. I am here to gas you up. And a lot of times, I think I can pull it off. Weave and navigate so we all come out like James Brown: "I feel good. I knew that I would now."

But I don't think I can do that today. I think Jesus intentionally puts a giant boulder in the middle of this river and says, "OK, smart guy, smart people: maneuver this."

Honest to goodness, I don't think there's any way around this scripture. It's like that Bear Hunt song: Can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go around it. Just gotta go through it.

But it's a rock. It's a big, ugly rock in the middle of our flow. And I think to soften it, to make the rock sweet and marshmellowy, is cheap and scandalous. I guess you could blow up the rock. Like Alcoa Highway. Or, you could ignore it. But just because you close your eyes to a problem doesn't mean it isn't there.

You can't go through a rock. Maybe we're just supposed to crash right into it.


Brace for impact. 

Hate your family. Hate life. Carry the instrument of your death. Give up all your possessions.

No. No. No. No. No.

That's not what church is about. We're supposed to teach "family values." We're supposed to preach life. We don't want you to give up ALL your possessions. Just share them. Please. That's more likely what he meant, right? Fill a basket. Take your old clothes to Goodwill so someone else can dress like it's 1980. I mean, be reasonable. Surely, Jesus didn't mean this stuff to be taken literally.

Hate your family. Hate life. Carry the instrument of your death. Give up all your possessions. Really. How am I supposed to increase attendance preaching that?

Do you think Jesus really meant it?

You can massage softer meaning into them. Like, the gospels were written close to a hundred years after his death, so we always have to wonder if this is Jesus talking or a disciple talking, or a church school of thought putting their theology in Jesus's mouth. Maybe Jesus was over-exaggerating. Like Ryan Lochte. Maybe Jesus wanted to grab their attention, by getting extreme.

It could be any of the above. 


When Jesus walked by the sea and called the first disciples, they left their families, they left their jobs, dropped their possessions. So, does that mean every allegedly faithful disciple for the past 2000 years has got it wrong?

What do you think? 


If you came into my office after church and told me Jesus inspired you today to (immediately, at 12:05pm) abandon your family, quit your job, and give away all your possessions, I would pull out the name of my favorite therapist. Have you tried medication? I'd at least call your family and say, "Um, has Charles been acting strange lately?" (Completely hypothetical name.)

But that's not going to happen. Ever.

We love our families. We love our lives. We love life. Some of us even love our jobs. We love Tennessee football. Well, we have the best hopes for it. We definitely love our stuff. We're not going to give it up and walk away. That would irresponsible. That would be nutty as a fruitcake.


Does that mean… we love all of this more than we love Jesus?

I'm going to let you figure that one out for yourself.


I really don't want to cut us any slack, here. Because what Jesus said is pretty black and white. Cutting us slack would be weak. Wishy-washy. Flippy-floppy. Jesus meant what he sayeth and sayeth what he meant. I know that's Horton. But Jesus is faithful 100 percent. 

The problem is, Jesus is also forgiving. 100 percent. Dang it.

I don't want to cut us any slack here. But I'm going to. I think I have to cut us some slack for a good reason. The reason is the Bible. Because another very, very important part of interpreting your Bible is to not put all your eggs in one basket, or one verse.

If this were the only scripture where Jesus calls followers, then, yes, we would be in a pickle. But it's not. Time and again, people follow Jesus without leaving their day jobs. Time and again, people follow Jesus without abandoning their children, or their spouses, or hating anybody, or anything. Without hating. Or abandoning. Or carrying a cross. Or dying on one. Time and again, Jesus calls people NOT with the threat of crashing and burning but with the promise of compassion and healing.

If this were the only scripture where Jesus calls disciples, then, yes, we'd all be in a world of hurting. We'd never make it. 2000 years of followers would be exposed as frauds. But it's not. They're not frauds. And we're not failures. There's always more. There's always more when you're reading the Bible. That's another reason this book is so hard. The truth is we CAN take Jesus literally, believing, yessir, he means what he says here. AND the truth is also we can take him literally in the places where he is kind and merciful to the half-crazy disciples who may not love him perfectly, but who follow him well enough, imperfectly, broken, scratched and damaged.

The problem -- is this thing called grace. Grace is the problem, but it's also the solution. Depends on how you look at it. Being a disciple of Christ might well be intended as an all-or-nothing proposition. You are or you aren't. You're in or you're out. All-or-nothing. But we're not all-or-nothing kind of people, are we? We might want to think we are, but we're not. We all have mixed motives. We all have divided loyalties. Does that make us unfit? Does that make us bad? Or does the sudden crash of reality make us human? Does the impact of our confession make us need Jesus all the more?

In its context this scripture is about when Jesus is being followed by a large crowds of people. Like a celebrity. Like a presidential candidate. Like Justin with his Beliebers. Jesus doesn't want fanboys. Or fangirls. He's not a rock star. 

This is another thing about scripture. It always has its context. You always have your context. And you have to read both scripture and yourself in context. If you don't like a line of scripture, or if you like it too much, keep reading. If you don't like yourself, or if you like yourself too much, keep watching. Context is important.

God always brings grace. Jesus always brings grace. If that sounds like wimping out, or it sounds like too much slack, sorry. But not sorry. What's wimpy to you might be a lifeline for someone else. And until you've given up all your possessions, left your family, hate your life, and carry a cross, who are you to judge?


I think Jesus really means what he says in this passage. I do. But I think he really means what he says in more forgiving places, too. Maybe that's a contradiction. Maybe it's wimping out. But maybe it's good news. Maybe it's grace.