September 4, 2016
Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33
Given what he says in the gospel today it appears that Jesus would not have been a successful pastor of a modern church! He’s got a large group of followers, but instead of praising them and making things easy for them, he seems to go off the rails; Instead of talking up family values, which are as important to Jews as to Christians, he seems to be saying that his followers need to distance themselves from their families. Instead of talking up self-esteem he seems to be saying his followers need to forsake their plans and risk a painful death on a Roman cross. By the time he gets to his own cross his following is quite small. This is no way to run a church, but then Jesus is not trying to run a church:rather he is trying to create a group of disciples or apprentices, who are willing to learn from him how to live in God’s kingdom in the here and now.
If he were a modern pastor his words would sink his following, but what if, as N T Wright suggests, Jesus is the leader of “a great expedition through a high and dangerous mountain pass to bring urgent medical aid to villagers cut off from the rest of the world”?
And he tells those with him, “You’ll have to leave your packs behind. From here on the path is too steep to carry all that stuff. You probably won’t find it again. And you’d better send your last postcards home; this is a dangerous route and it’s very likely that several of us won’t make it back.” Luke for Everyone, page 180
Jesus is not looking for men and women to be nicer to their families, but for people who want to learn how to live in the Kingdom of God which is here and now. This entails learning to love as Jesus loves—that is loving people without buying into their destructive stories and illusory worldviews that create kingdoms that divide people instead of unite them.
But since we don’t have a king or a kingdom in our country what does the word “kingdom” mean?
To understand the concept of kingdom all I have to do is remember riding in the family car back in 1958. My two older brothers sat by a window while I was stuck in the middle. And at some point I’d have to draw an imaginary line so my bigger, stronger brothers would respect my space—or my kingdom! It wasn’t much of a kingdom but it was mine! But of course they didn’t care about my lines, and when I’d start to fight against their encroachments, my parents would turn around and inform us that the whole car was their kingdom and that we should calm down and be quiet.
Societies are also a kingdom as are nations and when you add it all up you get the kingdom of this world—which as it turns out is never running very smoothly, because of war, violence, inequality, sickness, and poverty. See Dallas Willard and John Ortberg CD Living in Christ’s Presence
Jesus comes to announce the arrival of God’s kingdom and to train apprentices to join him in proclaiming the kingdom, teaching the kingdom, and manifesting the kingdom, so the whole world can be saved from itself.
So when he says you must hate your family he is not saying that families don’t fall under the command to love your neighbor as yourself. He is saying if we remain under the grip of the worldview of the family then we will remain in the grip of “us versus them” and miss the joy and peace of God’s reign. If your family tells you to hate people of color or people who believe differently then you must get out from under this worldview in order to know God loves all people.
All of which is to say if we don’t escape our small worldviews we will miss reality because the kingdoms of this world are built on illusions about what success, wealth, and love really are.
Jesus is asking the crowd, do they we wish to live by design or by default.
And if they say they want to live by design, Jesus asks them whose design do they choose to follow? —The design of their family or their race or their nation or the design of God makes visible in Jesus Christ?
Jesus is inviting us today to question continually the worldview we are living inside to see if it is connecting us to reality and to ask if it teaches us how to live a good life and how to become a good person? My default worldview is filled with anxiety over all the bad things that could happen, but 99%of these things never happen, so I’ve built my life on a total illusion.
This is exactly what Paul is asking his friend and brother in Christ Philemon to consider: Yes, in the kingdom of the world Philemon owns a runaway slave named Onesimus, which is Greek for Useful. In this world Onesimus deserves death and Philemon has the right to demand it. And if Philemon does not execute justice his neighbors will be scandalized and will berate Philemon for disregarding the law of the land and creating social chaos.
But, Paul reminds Philemon that he also lives in God’s kingdom where there are no slaves, only brothers and sisters. The runaway slave heard the good news from Paul and has given his life to Jesus and has found his true self, becoming truly useful to Paul in prison. Paul therefore asks Philemon to liberate Onesimus so he can help Paul in proclaiming, teaching, and manifesting God’s reign.
Just as Paul invites Philemon, so too Jesus invites us, to seek first God’s kingdom in our daily lives. This is not an invitation to spend more time doing church work, but an invitation to become an apprentice to Jesus and learn how to live in God’s Kingdom all day, every day.
I’m not going all mystical on you here: to seek the kingdom means seeking what God is doing in our encounter with the person we are talking to, asking where is God in this conversation?
So, especially on this Labor Day weekend, Jesus is calling us to learn how to seek God’s reign in our work.
We may be rightfully afraid of such talk because we’ve run into or at least heard about that person who thinks being a Christian at work means in the words of Dallas Willard, being “the Christian ‘nag-in-residence’, or the rigorous upholder of all propriety, and the deadeye critic of everyone else’s behavior.” Dallas Willard, Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks
But Jesus was none of those things in his work, and does not teach us to do so. Rather Jesus spends his time bringing the love of God to those trapped in destructive worldviews, not through judgment but through unconditional acceptance thus modeling how to escape their kingdoms and live in God’s kingdom.
Discipleship is not primarily about what we do in church but what we do when we are not in church. Discipleship is living under the guidance of the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us, and who through our baptisms lives in us and through us.
We can only be an apprentice when the Spirit of the Master is living through us.
Jesus tells us to weigh the cost of being his apprentice. It might cost us the illusions of family, race, success, and nation. It might cost us our lives, because the violent run the kingdoms of this world.
But it is worth the cost because this apprenticeship connects us to reality and who we really ar in Christ.
And make no mistake: we will always be learners asking questions because Jesus is always teaching us something new.