So I tried to wiggle our way out of this one. I immediately checked the Greek. What word is Jesus using here for “hate?” Could it be translated another way? Because I checked at least a dozen different translations, even translations for children and they all use the word hate. So it wasn’t looking good. So it turns out that there is another English word option…detest. “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t detest father and mother, spouse and children” etc. I’m not sure which one is worse! So, it was back to the drawing board. Why would Jesus use that horrible word! Could it be that he was just trying to get a rise out of people?
Donald Trump is accused of this all the time. Sometimes I think he doesn’t even believe the things he says. People tell me I’m giving him too much grace by saying that but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt whenever I can. And if that’s the case, if Trump says some of the things he says just to get a rise out of people, it’s working! He’s very good at it! It gets people’s attention! It turns heads! It gets him lots of air time on both Fox News and MSNBC! So, was this the game that Jesus was playing in this Gospel reading? I’m OK with saying yes! And guess what, it worked! Two thousand years later, some random Mexican-American pastor in Auburn CA is spending half of his sermon discussing why Jesus used the word hate!
Did Jesus really believe that we should hate our parents or siblings or spouse and children? Of course not! Just consider the source and you’ll see that doesn’t fit anything else that Jesus taught. He was trying to bring attention to what may be the most important lesson of his ministry, aside from loving your neighbor as yourself. And that lesson is this: If you’re going to decide to follow Jesus, you better get your affairs in order. “Get your affairs in order.” That probably sounds like a strange phrase in this context but it shouldn’t. Usually when we say to get our affairs in order it means that death is on the horizon, and that there are things we need to get done before it finally comes. And that’s exactly what it means in this context too.
And if the rest of this sermon feels like it is directed right at you Emily, on this, the day you become a baptized child of God, trust me when I say, it’s not, it’s for every baptized child of God in this room. It just may feel that way. So, what do we believe about baptism? Luther wrote in his Small Catechism that baptism “signifies that the old person in us, with all sins and evil desires, is to be drowned and die, through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live.” And St. Paul wrote in Romans 6 that “we were buried together with him, through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too can walk in newness of life. If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his.”
When you decide to follow Jesus, you better get your affairs in order. Because it’s not all new life and resurrection, but it’s death and burial too—and it’s a daily challenge, not a once and done kind of deal. There’s a cost to following Jesus. If following Jesus is easy for us than we’re doing something wrong. I met a rabbi once when I lived in Alabama, that sounds like the beginning of a joke or a country song, but anyway, I met a rabbi once when I lived in Alabama.
It was at a panel discussion at the University of Alabama, and someone asked him about how one becomes Jewish if they’re not born into it. He said, the first thing I tell people that ask me that is, why would you want to become Jewish! Don’t do it! This is hard! And he was dead serious! The praying, the worship, the laws, the food restrictions, the clothing restrictions, the Hebrew! Why would you want all of that?
We all laughed but I think he hit on something that we’ve lost in our faith. Following Jesus is hard work! I can think of many life decisions and situations that would have been so much easier without Jesus in my ear reminding me of the right thing to do! “Love, love, love…yada, yada, yada.” OK Jesus. I hear you! Can you give me a little wiggle room for crying out loud! “No!” Jesus says. And you know why? Because the enemy, isn’t going to give you any! And I’ll let you define enemy—If you want to call it satan, ok. Evil? Fine. Temptation? Great. Human nature? Go for it. Whatever you wanna call it, the enemy isn’t going to give you any wiggle room. “So how can I?” Jesus says.
Jesus is serious about this faith business. Jesus is serious about the cost of following him? Dead serious. Pun intended. And Jesus doesn’t want you to be surprised by that. He urges us to calculate the cost first. Be prepared. Because we don’t want Emily, or Lena and Ayden who were baptized at the beginning of the summer, or any of us baptized children of God to come to us some day in the future and say, “What the hell (literally!) Bethlehem? I thought everything was going to be a cake walk after my baptism!” I wish that were true, I wish I could tell you all that.
But here’s what I can tell you. You are not alone. God goes with you. God will journey with you and God will do that in at least these two ways. One, the Holy Spirit will journey with you. And the second way, is hinted at in the first sentence of our Gospel reading today—in the “large crowds” that travel with Jesus. Look around at the people in this room. Seriously! Look around. Luke is talking about you! God journeys with all of you baptized children of God, through the crowds, through you, through each other. That’s why I can confidently say, that though the journey may be rough, you may need to fasten your seatbelts, Jesus may say a few crazy things along the way, but you are never alone. You are never alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.