Pentecost 13C ~ Sept 8, 2019 Hope Lutheran Church ~ Riverside, CA
If you ever want an example of the word of God needing translation and an argument against it as perfect, especially in English, this passage is it. Because Jesus never said to hate your family. And he never told anyone they can’t follow.
For those of you who love the Greek for the week- let’s take it a step further and add Hebrew context. Our greek for the week is miseo. It can be translated as “hate, or to despise,” but it can also mean “to love less or have disregard for.” How do we know which one Jesus meant? That is where context comes in. Because context matters- every time. And Hebrew context requires us to consider a shame-honor oriented use of the word that translates more like “have little regard for” rather than hate. 
Our other Greek is a phrase, ου δυναται ειναι: “Not able to be” rather than “can’t.” This is the equivalent of today’s rules on “may I” and “can I.” You may or may not based on what I say, but you can or cannot based on your ability.
Let’s take that and look at the key text again. If we translate it with context, Jesus is not telling us to hate our family or we can’t follow- he is telling us we have to be willing to have disregard for our family so that we may follow him. It doesn’t change the impact of hearing such a harsh passage dramatically, but it does change the living of it. Because it is not about hate. It is about choosing which to love more.
Life is full of choices and while many are easy- which brand of oatmeal to buy, what shoes to wear today, many are not- like our choice to put our cat down yesterday rather than let him die a slow and painful death. We chose to love him more than our need to keep him around longer because we didn’t want a world without him. For any of you who have ever had to make that hard choice, whether for a pet or a loved one in a hospital bed, you know it is about choosing love, not death or pain.
Christ is asking us to choose which to love more- a life loving the world the way God wants or a life loving our family the way we want. And it doesn’t always mean we will lose our family to choose more love. And sometimes it does. You see, we are all dying. And at death there will be a separation- the question is, when will the separation happen? Sooner or later? With our cat, we chose sooner because we loved him more than we loved our need for him in our lives. He was already going. We just chose to love him more to let him go sooner. But it is hard to let go.
A little girl loved her play pearls. She wore them everywhere as little children do; to church, school, the grocery store. One day her father asked her if she loved him. Of course she answered, “yes, daddy!” Then he asked her to give him her pearls. Of course with tears in her eyes, she begged him, “please don’t make me give you my pearls, Daddy.” “Daughter, if you love me, please give me your pearls.” he said. So, very sadly, she handed them over to him, tears streaming down her face. He took them gently and put them in his pocket, but instead of coming out empty handed, he had a velvet box. And he handed it to her. Inside, she had her very own set of real pearls.
Jesus isn’t asking us to forsake this love for family for no reason, but instead to choose to love others outside our family as much as we love them- in other words, to love the purpose of Christ in the world as much as our need to love the ones close to us. Asking us to love the real thing more. And sometimes, that means giving up a relationship sooner in order to have more love in the bigger picture.
He is asking us to love our homeless neighbor as much as we love our parents. To love our undocumented immigrant neighbor as much as our citizen one. To love the child who is born to poverty and needs help with school supplies and lunches as much as the one who has everything packed up perfectly in their lunch bag. To love the ones lost in the Bahamas as much as the ones lost in our own borders to hurricane Dorian. Christ is inviting us into an ethic of accountability, forgiveness and love in all our relationships. Not just the ones that matter to us the most. Because until we make that choice, we may not be able to follow.
Our congregation did God’s Work Our Hands yesterday and Connie and I racked our brains for tasks that we could do for the world. Sometimes as churches, we get more focused on what we want rather than what others need. We get more focused on our survival than on our mission as the people of God. In the end though, it came down to this- until we are willing as a congregation to truly mean our hospitality then what do we have to offer to anyone else? It is more than a hug or handshake at the door and a kind smile. It means work on our spaces so that they are comfortable, attractive, and useable for others all week long, not just enough for us on Sunday morning. So we scoured our house of worship and gathering place. We created a clean nursery that is ready for outside mommy and me groups to gather. A place that groups can use and feel truly welcome – because dirty toys don’t exactly scream “we value your presence.” We had to start at home. We had to choose to do all this work for folks who aren’t here yet. We gave up a Saturday morning to make sure our welcome was a real and meaningful one. Because those unknown relationships matter more than a relaxed morning. It isn’t a great example, but it is our example of one step in choosing others over our own comfort. Just like giving up the organ and using a digital piano that everyone can hear now. Or moving pews so folks with walkers can keep them with them during worship. These things are painful at times and require us to make a choice of others over a memory or a personal comfort. And that choice of one relationship over another is the point.
Christ is not telling us to hate ourselves or our family, he is just inviting us into choosing the bigger more life giving love. And sometimes that hurts. It means choosing what is better for all over what is better for one.
That is what happened on the cross. God chose more relationships- every one of us, over the one with the son. And Christ chose death over losing us forever It was never about hate, it is always has been and always will be about choosing love. Christ chose the bigger love and our choice is not about what we can or cannot do, but what we may or may not.
We may choose the bigger love or not. He is not taking that away from us. He is inviting us in, as always, to the bigger, eternal, redeeming love.