This Sunday, September 15, is Youth Sunday!
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “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. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.—Luke 14: 25-33 (NRSV)
Officially, I tap out. I wave my white flag. Cry out Uncle. Anyone else wish to take a stab at this one today? It’s a beautiful Sunday. School has just begun. We kick off Sunday School today with a chili cook-off. With everything going on, I am grateful. Grateful for many of the right reasons. Going to church is a good thing. If it is good-then it is even better to share with more people, right? If I were able to set aside any impure motivations, this is good. But please allow me to share my vulnerabilities. Success is also good. Being liked is good. Cookies after worship are good. More money in the offering plate—Good! Hearing the words, ‘that was a good sermon, pastor’-feels good. It’s all good. But how much of this is about me? Or how much of this is about us? That’s the paradox, right? It’s not, but it is?
Please allow me to stay here for a little bit. Each in it’s own right is good. Offering, a good sermon, eating together for a meal, being liked, a larger community—all good. The working out of our story together—a story that began here in 1996, is a good story. But may we always be reminded of our thesis? In our own lives—in our joys and happiness—may we be reminded of our thesis. In our struggles—our busyness—our families, children, wife, husband, may we be reminded of our thesis. A thesis that unites incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection together asking how much?
The last few weeks, we have been exploring grace. In the story of the bent over woman, we journeyed together exploring how amazing a love is that extends grace in all of our bent-overed-ness . In our desires for seeking the front rows—we explored humility, hospitality, and grace that welcomes the poor and the least of these. Now, our story begins that large crowds were following… So I ask, where? Where is the crowd going? Do they understand what it means to follow Jesus? While they follow Jesus, Jesus is following the path to Jerusalem—the cross already looming.
Planet Fitness is a large gym with over 120 locations throughout the United States. A few years ago, they adopted a new policy that banned grunting in the gym. Perhaps the strategy was seeking it’s own niche, but the idea was something like: “We need to be welcoming to the novice—and this grunting is intimidating to the beginner…” In catering to the novice—the beginner, they established this hard rule on ‘No Lunks’. The definition of ‘lunk’ is ‘one who grunts, drops weight, or judges.’ To communicate this new rule, purple siren’s were hung on the wall in the weight room to enforce the new no grunting rule. Each gym on average enforced the policy two times per month, often asking the lunk’s to leave. Regardless of the intentions of such policy, I regard this as ‘No weightlifter left behind’. Just ask Albert Argibay, a New York bodybuilder who triggered the lunk alarm when he exhaled to loud while hoisting 500 lbs over his shoulders. This lunk infraction resulted in rovacation of his club membership being terminated—for grunting—at a gym.
And as the large crowds began traveling with him, Jesus turns to the crowd. Especially noticeable in Luke, there is a pattern. The pattern follows teaching to disciples, warnings to Pharisees, and speaking to the crowds. The instruction shared with each is not limited to a small band of followers, or to the specific detractors, or to a crowd that gathered a long time ago. Instead, we find ourselves with tendencies of each. We want to identify with the disciples…except when we find them acting more like Gilligan and the Skipper, we prefer to see another as the Pharisee, and no one likes to identify with following the crowd (join us next week in a reading of lost sheep). And Jesus turns to the crowd…he turns to the crowd as the plot in the gospel thickens, as the tension has been growing, the Pharisees had just been trying to trap him in a meal, and as he just shared a parable of the privileged rejecting an invitation to the wedding feast. As the plot thickens, the work-out is getting harder, the weights are getting heavier, Jesus turns to the crowd and asks with some matter-of-fact words…do you have what it takes to work out in my gym?
Jesus asks the crowd, how much? How much do you think it takes to follow this road? Are you seeking membership in the fan-club, the no lunks allowed membership, following a crowd? Or are you willing to follow with your lives? Jesus defines lunk: “One who loves family more than God.”
I interrupt the gym membership metaphor to struggle with you in the harsh language of today’s text. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Not exactly the mission statement I would recommend for our website. Even in the scenario of rising tension, this seems harsh. Yet, I think harsh is what is being used to make a point. Do I think Jesus is literally asking us to hate our families? Ourselves? Absolutely not. As I wrestled with this text this week, I sought to prove my point by doing a word study on the word ‘hate’. Greek is a complex language with words often having multiple meanings. My hope was that this would lead to another word to justify such. As I began to study the word, I was surprised that the Greek word Jesus used was ‘hate’. Darn! I was somewhat comforted that a regarded scholar danced around this with saying that hate didn’t have the emotional connotation we apply today of anger, resentment, etc… Where I have found comfort is in the wrestling itself. It is in the heavy lifting that we see where this fits in the story. It is in the heavy lifting that we finally find ourselves kicked out of the gym because finally we find that our workout has climaxed to the point that I have grunted so loud that the crowd says, no lunks.
It is in the wrestling that I come to understand this as Jesus using hyperbole in strong words to say discipleship is hard. No lunks allowed. That while grace is free—Jesus is looking through the cross asking how much it cost? With hyperbole, he is asking us where God is in our lives? For a lunk is one who puts family before God. A lunk is one who loves stuff more than God?
Still a little unsettled, may you journey with me to my seminary Hebrew class. I had the most amazing Hebrew professor who only enhanced my love of Scripture, of a story that is alive, and a story that continues to speak today. She taught me that when we struggle with a text, don’t avoid the hard part, but instead enter into the difficulty. But we don’t enter into this difficulty alone. We do this together. The more we expand this circle, with the combined gifts and experiences, we come to a greater understanding and together we experience and know God more. It is in this light, Jesus isn’t asking us to hate our families and even ourselves. To the contrary, it is in hearing that by putting God first, we love our families even more. It is in loving God, that we have the humility to make ourselves less. In a faithful understanding, in taking the lower seat at the table, by standing with the bent over woman, and by bearing a cross, we are asked how much? How much in following God are we better able to walk this path with our families? In following God, how much are we better equipped to deny ourselves for that which is much greater.
How much? It is with gratitude that we approach the cross asking how much? And Jesus asks us in return, how much? “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Essentially, as the crowds have become bigger and bigger, Jesus offers a locker room speech. It is half-time, the home team is behind, and Jesus knows what is ahead. He offers this speech at a time in the game where the visiting team has been gaining momentum, it is going to be a hard second half…and it is going to take everything we got. Do we have what it takes?
When asked how much? What is it that gets in the way? What is obstructing our view of seeing the road ahead through the cross? What is it in your own life that obstructs the view?
We have many great and amazing things happening at Spirit of Life. We have a loving community that cares for one another, that prays for one another, and has really been embracing listening to where God is leading us in mission. This Sunday, as we celebrate the beginning of our Sunday School, may we see this as an opportunity for heavy lifting—for grunting. May I challenge us all to continue to study, learn, grow, and get to know God better. As we grow individually, may we get in better shape. And as we grow individually, we are also growing as a body. The more we can study with, and hear another path someone has walked, another experience, another viewpoint, a challenge to our own presuppositions…we lift more—grunting. And grunting, we know God more.
May I also ask that today’s text challenge us all as teachers. May our teachers please come forward? (Time for commissioning our teachers and youth leaders).
May we not take our calling lightly, but may we instead see the challenge that is before us in teaching our children, our youth, and our adults. Teach with all of your heart, soul, and strength. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.