September 8, 2019

13th Sunday after Pentecost Year C 2019

Several times during the year we reaffirm our baptismal vows. After we have reaffirmed our faith based on the Apostle’s Creed, we affirm how we are going to live our lives answering the following questions:

Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?

People: I will, with God's help.

Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People: I will, with God's help.

Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People: I will, with God's help.

Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People: I will, with God's help.

Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People: I will, with God's help.

Now I must say that I particularly like our Baptismal Covenant. I like the simplicity of affirming the Apostle’s Creed with the three questions about belief or trust in who God is - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And I like that because we trust in this God we are making a commitment in how we live our lives, loving God and our neighbor as ourselves. And I especially like that we say we can’t do any of it without God’s help. Given all that, I wonder what it would be like to include in our Baptismal Covenant what Jesus says today in our Gospel – hate your parents, prepare to die, and give up all your worldly possessions.

Will you follow Jesus hating your parents, spouse, children, and siblings and affirm your new family as a disciple of Jesus?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you follow in the way of Jesus by hating the life you have been living and enter into a new life as one who has died and been raised in baptism?

I will with God’s help.

Will you follow in the way of Jesus by giving up all of your possessions and living your life as one who claims ownership of nothing except as a member of God’s rule on earth as God rules in heaven.

I will with God’s help.

Jesus is calling for a very radical commitment.

First, this call to hate our families seems rather harsh, but as I said a couple of weeks ago when this came up in Jesus teaching, the Biblical understanding of love and hate is not about how we feel, but rather what we do. Love is an action not a feeling for the biblical writers and for Jesus. Those who do what I say are my brothers and sisters and not those who have warm feelings about me. In the same way hate is derivative of action not feeling. When Jesus 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,” he is saying that by your action of following Jesus, you are making a statement that Jesus and God’s kingdom are more important to you than your family of origin, that you are going to live by Jesus’ values even if they are in conflict with your family’s values. Remember in Jesus’ day there is nothing more important to a Jewish family, than the family name. Jesus is a renegade rabbi and opposes and even usurps the authority of the traditional faith community of the Jews. By being identified as one of his disciples, you are turning your back on your family, and even bringing disrespect to your family. This was a very, very big deal.

The Baptismal Covenant demonstrates how little we actually appreciate about the radical nature of what Jesus is saying here and the radical nature of what the Church has understood baptism to mean. Baptism is not just a nice little symbolic act that we go through for our kids and ourselves to join this club we call church. Rather, baptism is a statement about who God is claiming us to be, part of a new reality and a new family that has unequivocal status in our lives. Our new last name is Christian and our parent is God and Jesus is our older sibling. We have chosen a new family and these are your new brothers and sisters.

Secondly, Jesus talks about hating life itself. Remember hate is not a feeling, but an action. So what does that mean? I think what Jesus wants us to understand is that we are to live our lives in a new way, no longer for ourselves, but as if we don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore, including ourselves, but maybe especially to God. It is a statement of ultimate grace, where we can live our lives uncluttered by ego as if we were truly free to love with abandonment, as if our lives had been taken and given back to us as a gift. In baptism, that is what we proclaim.

And finally, but very much related to Jesus first two statements, Jesus says, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” The Common English Bible translates this as, “none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.” Our Buddhist friends would call this non-attachment. Being willing to part with what you have for the sake of following Jesus gets to the heart of our western pre-occupation, or attachment, to things. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with having stuff, cars and clothes and houses come in handy. But when our pursuit of acquiring stuff inhibits our ability to follow Jesus, that’s when we have a problem.

Wendell Berry, in an essay entitled, “The Burden of the Gospels,” asks this question: “If you had been living in Jesus’ time and had heard him teaching, would you have been one of his followers? The second question is this—it comes right after the verse in which Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Can you be sure that you would keep his commandments if it became excruciatingly painful to do so?”

Following Jesus is not always easy but it will make your life full. And remember, the answer we give in the Baptismal Covenant, “I will, with God’s help.”