Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday (year C) 8/9/2019
Jeremiah 18:1-11; & St Luke 14: 25-33
Love Beyond Bounds
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Over the last few weeks, as we have been delving deeper into the gospel of Luke, we have mediated on the challenging words of Jesus. Jesus not only spoke the word, but was the word incarnate, embodying all that he taught. That is why his words carried such power.
Jesus’ teachings were a challenge to those who heard them, for they were speaking of a kingdom that was very different to the kingdoms of this world. It is a kingdom that could change everything, if those with ears to hear would be willing to lay down their lives, pick up their cross, and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
In last week’s gospel reading, Jesus said that when we host a dinner, we should not invite the rich and the powerful, but those who are poor, crippled and blind, in a deliberate attempt to challenge the status quo, where wealth, power and position brought with it privilege.
In today’s gospel reading from Luke 14; Jesus says in verse 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.
These words seem harsh, and we may ask ourselves, what is Jesus getting at, what is he trying to communicate and why does he use such charged language?
The context in which Jesus was living was one where family and tribal allegiances were very strong. Of course, there is nothing wrong with strong family bonds in and of themselves; but this is not what Jesus is critiquing.
But when tribal allegiances and family ties become a mechanism to exclude others, and to retain certain privileges at the cost of others; then the gospel message is very clear in calling us to pledge our allegiance to Christ and the building of his kingdom. This should come first, and be a priority above everything else.
If my allegiance to my own tribe makes me feel superior in any way to others, if it makes me feel entitled, and the cost of others need; then is runs counter to Christ’s gospel of liberation and freedom.
Christ calls us to follow him, and in following him, there is a cost.
It is important to remember that it is not the cost in following Jesus that gets us favour with God; for it is by grace alone that we come, not in our strength, or merits; for we are all sinners saved by grace, and can only come to God because God has first come to us.
Following Christ, becoming a disciple and a follower involves transformation. We need to be renewed daily by his grace, so that the violence, greed, hatred, anger that can take root in our hearts is cleansed, and in its place, we show forth the fruits of compassion, kindness, generosity, self-sacrifice and seeing the needs of others above our own.
Verse 27 reads: whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
The transformation of our world cannot happen without the inner transformation of ourselves. Throughout the gospel of Luke, Jesus challenges power, privilege, exclusivism, and taking more than we need. In fact, at the end of the passage we read Jesus says you cannot be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Jesus’ words challenge us. They cut straight to the core of our beings. His words are as relevant to us and our world today as they were back then. For do we not live in a world where money buys you power, influence, position and privilege? Do we not live in a world of radical disparity between the rich and the poor?
Jesus challenges us to take up our cross daily. To place ourselves at his service, so that we can our world can be healed.
Healed from our alienation from God.
Healed from our bondage and captivity to sin.
Healed from our desire for position and privilege.
Healed from our obsession with possessions and wealth.
Healed from the violence we carry within; both the violence we do to ourselves when we forget that we are accepted and freed as the beloved children of God; and free from the violence we do to others.
Father Henri Nouwen once said that Much violence is based on the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not to be shared.
Earlier this week I visited the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. As you know, the L’Arche build communities of hope and dignity for some of the most vulnerable people who suffer from disability. Henri Nouwen, who I quoted earlier, found healing and inner transformation when he lived in a L’Arche community in Canada. The L’Arche is a living witness to the kingdom of God, for it reaches out to those who carry no power in society, but to those who are (in the words of Nouwen), ‘considered at best marginal to the needs of society’.
Whenever I visit the L’Arche I am always struck by the dignity and love with which those who live there are treated. I am struck by the joy of those who suffer from disabilities, who connect with each other not through the networks of power and influence (for they have none), but by being beloved children of God who are made in his image.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that we are the beloved children of God, accepted and loved not because we contribute anything towards our own salvation, but because of God’s lavish grace. He says:
The words spoken to Jesus when he was baptised (you are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased) are words also spoken to me and to all who are brothers and sisters of Jesus. My tendencies towards self-rejection and self-deprivation make it hard to hear these words truly and let them descend into the centre of my heart. But once I have received these words fully, I am set free from my compulsion to prove myself to the world and can live in it without belonging to it. Once I have accepted the truth that I am God’s beloved child, unconditionally loved, I can be sent into the world to speak and act as Jesus did.
We worship a God who, in the words of the psalmist (which we sung earlier) ‘shapes us and knows us’. A creator God who breathed life into dust, whose creative act was not a one-off act in history, but who continues to create and recreate, through love.
Our OT passage uses the image of the potter at work with his clay, as a picture of us. Clay is made out of the earth, and is a reminder of how life came from the dust and the ground, which is created and recreated into something of beauty. When it is watered, clay is malleable and can be shaped. We too, when we drink deeply from the fountain of God’s grace, we can be mounded and shaped into vessels that are filled of God’s presence. But when we become hardened into something which does not bring blessing and joy to others; then there is the warning of judgement, is as if we are already dead, as we bring no life or blessing to others, just like a tree that has dried up can bear no fruit.
As we read in Jeremiah 18, like clay in the potter’s hand, we are to be remade and reworked, until we become vessels that can be filled with the water of life, overflowing to those around us, flowing out to our world, bringing healing, bringing hope.
Glory be to the father, and to the son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now, and evermore shall be. Amen.