Pastor Gary's Sermons page  

Now great crowds accompanied Jesus, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.


Pastor has not come down with a case of laryngitis or shyness.  We are giving him some staycation time so that he can work on his dissertation for his doctorate.  Sharla, Carole and I will be subbing for him, so he can devote his energies and talents towards finishing his schoolwork. 

This week for some of you, it’s back to school.  So, class, let’s begin.

In last week’s Gospel, we have the Pharisees, who are really not such bad guys, they’re avid readers of scripture, keepers of the laws, trying to do the right thing. One of their leaders invites Jesus to his house, and Jesus proceeds to scold him as a teacher would scold his lazy, uncomprehending students.  You invite all the beautiful people to your Labor Day barbecue, all the people that are in your social strata, but you forgot to invite the poor, the lonely, the widows, the orphans, the undesirables.  People who could never repay you, or do you honor.


This week, Jesus starts the school year by challenging the Disciples and the crowds, who are ready to hear some “feel good” words from Jesus.  At this point, the crowds think Jesus is cool. He says nice things, he performs miracles, let’s follow him, what have we got to lose?  And then Jesus says “If anyone comes to me…” 


Now this sounds like the teenagers’ creed. “Hey Mom!  Jesus says it’s okay to hate my parents.”


But what does Jesus mean?


Two kinds of people make me uneasy, and let me know if you agree.  One person that makes me nervous is a person who takes everything in the Bible absolutely literally.  They worship the words instead of the word made flesh, instead of the God behind the words.


The other kind of person that makes me nervous is the expert who explains everything to us laypeople. They would say, “well, Jesus didn’t really mean that” to which I would like to respond “oh, really?  Then why did he say it?”

We know that Jesus doesn’t mean “hate everybody and everything that matters to you.” But he’s teaching an unruly class of disciples and a crowd of “what’s in it for me” people.  He is telling them in the strongest possible terms that to follow Jesus, you have to be willing to renounce everything else in your life.  Jesus says “I have to know that I can count on you when the going gets rough.”


In the first lesson, Moses tells the Israelites the same thing.  Either you’re going to love and obey the Lord and love the Lord above all things.  Or you’re going to die by loving God half-way, or loving your life.


So how can this be done?  Who can do this?


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by all accounts was a loving son, father, husband.  But if he really loved his parents, his wife and his kids, he would have stayed in Atlanta, made a good living as a preacher and he might still be alive today.  Instead he marched with people who had never voted, had never been treated as human beings, had never lived without fear.  He chose to love the Lord above all things, and instead of devoting quality time with his wife and kids, he went off to fight for some sanitation workers on strike in Memphis and was martyred.


Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer loved his parents, his wife, his friends.  He could have lived a safe life, under the radar.  He was here in NYC when the war started, he could have got his family out of Germany while there was a chance, that’s what a real family man would have done, but instead, he went back to Germany.  He chose to love the Lord above all things, and instead of being what our society would call the perfect husband and the ideal son, he ended up in a prison, and was put to death by the Nazis, stripped naked and hanged by piano wire. 


Bonhoeffer wrote “To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.”


The crowds in the Gospel reading were following Jesus the Nice Guy, Jesus the Friendly Guy, Jesus the guy who would pick you up at the airport.  Sure we’ll follow you, Jesus! What have we got to lose?


When Jesus says to them and to us, “Follow me,” it is both a great gift and a command.  


The Roman Empire, all-powerful and which would hang Jesus on a cross, and destroy Jerusalem and the temple in 70AD is always lurking throughout the book of Luke.  The Jewish culture and religion was tolerated by Rome, as long as everyone toed the line.   But Jesus was turning the world upside down, threatening the status quo, offending the hierarchy, and making mortal enemies.  


Phil Ochs, one of the greatest poets that this country has produced (and I highly recommend that you go online and buy his albums) wrote a song in 1967 called “Crucifixion.”  It paints Jesus as the beatnik troublemaker rabble-rouser liberal anti-establishment revolutionary that he was, and how the world deals with such people.


There was a very popular book called “What Really happened to the Class of ’65?”  It followed the lives of a group of college graduates and the twists and turns their lives took.


Well, we could ask what really happened to the “Class of 33A.D.”  The crowds who had followed him decided that they had a LOT to lose, sided with the Roman authorities.  We have no king but Caesar!  Our disciples who swore their undying love to Jesus the rabbi, saw Jesus the prisoner and ran home to their mommies.  They decided their comfort zones were far away from the rabble.  But Jesus had other plans for them.  Jesus had forgiveness in his heart for them.  Jesus appeared to them and gave them his peace.  What really happened to the Class of 33 A.D.?  They decided to complete the course.  The course of discipleship.  They renounced everything that they had in this world, their very lives and marched proudly beside the risen Lord. 


So don’t go home and start hating everybody.  Jesus isn’t asking for less love, he’s asking for more! Whatever you think it means to love, Jesus is asking you to multiply that love by one billion!  What have we got to lose?


Once we decide to follow Jesus, the question is what can we do without?   


Our fears, our prejudices, our worldliness? What Jesus is asking us is for our love to be so overwhelming, so enormous, so beyond what we can imagine being capable of, that it cannot be contained. 


So as this class is dismissed, goes out into the world, this class of disciples, we take up the cross, we give all we are to Jesus, we love God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds.