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Pentecost 13C

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13th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters in Christ: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was growing up, I really didn’t use the word “hate” very much. I can’t remember really hating any one person. I got angry, but I don’t remember saying that I hated anyone. Looking back, I can only remember associating the feeling of “hate” with one thing: brussels sprouts.
Hate was just such a strong word - we didn’t want to just toss it around casually. I didn’t know anyone that was worthy of this thing called “hate”. In my mind, I had built it up that only people like Hitler or Stalin - genocidal tyrants - would be evil enough to draw such a powerful animosity.
Quite a contrast to today - we use the word hate to describe the opposing sports team. We use the word hate when talking about the substitute late-night host, when our favorite host is on vacation. We “hate” the new weather forecaster on the news channel. And, of course, we certainly hate the politicians from the other party.
When I hear someone using “hate” in a conversation like that, I flashback to a line from one of my favorite movies: “you keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”
And when I read today’s Gospel reading earlier this week, I was drawn to the same question: what does Jesus mean by “hate” in this passage? “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...” [Luke 14:26].
What do you think of when you read this? I hope your brain at some point brings you to the 10 Commandments…number 4 in particular: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” [Exodus 20:12]. I’m commanded to honor my father and mother, but Jesus is telling me that if I don’t hate them, I can’t be his disciple? Is Jesus throwing away the 4th Commandment? No, of course he isn’t. Back to the question: what does he mean by “hate”?
When we think of hate, our modern definition is “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest”. I kind of feel like that doesn’t really say it strongly enough, but it’ll do for now.
But the word Jesus is using isn’t necessarily the same. There are pages and pages describing what this particular word means. In the Hebrew culture of the Old Testament, “to hate” is the opposite of “to love”. Throughout the Books of Moses, “to hate is to feel distaste, or to slight, to be unfriendly or not to love.” [Otto Michel, “Μισέω,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 685.] This word in the Old Testament is typically (but not always) used to describe political or military enemies. And there are more than a few passages that describe what God hates, although that is in most cases reserved for false worship and idolatry - these are what God hates. Pride, too. But even in the Old Testament, God commands us to not hate our neighbor: Leviticus 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” And if we look to the Psalms, we find Psalm 97:10 “O you who love the Lord, hate evil!...” Put another way, as God hates, evil do the righteous. “When the righteous of the old covenant hate evil, this is not primarily an emotion of the human heart. It is a passionate disowning in faith of the evil or the evil person whom God Himself has rejected.” [ibid., 687.] So when we read the word “hate” in the Old Testament, especially in the books of Wisdom, “What is meant is not so much an emotion as a rejection in will and deed.” [ibid.]
Hear that again: it’s not so much an emotion as a rejection in will and deed. What Jesus means here is that it’s not what you feel, but what you do…what you reject. So are we to reject the closest members of our family? Even the father and mother we are commanded to honor? Remember: Scripture does not disagree with itself. I found a scholar who helped me understand this a lot. Here’s what he had to say: “It is only another way of saying, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ And one who does this, or even tries to do it, may and will love his fellowmen, to say nothing of his near kin, who are dear to him by natural and proper affection. The first table of the law teaches supreme love to God: and this teaches and enables us to love our fellowmen, as taught in the second table. We are not to hate anybody. What is this, then, about hating father, mother, wife, children, and so on? This is only a strong way of putting it that nothing may stand between us and God, nothing may claim our love before and greater than love to Him. God is nearer to us, more to us, and should be dearer than any earthly kin. Only as we understand and fulfil our relationship to God do these other relationships, which He Himself has established, appear in their true light. Everywhere in God’s word we are taught love to all those mentioned in this verse, but ‘only in the Lord.’ ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me:’ you shalt have no other love before love of me. God must be supreme in our affections. This is what Jesus means.” [H. Louis Baugher, Annotations on the Gospel according to St. Luke, ed. Henry Eyster Jacobs, vol. IV, The Lutheran Commentary (New York: The Christian Literature Co., 1896), 278–279.]
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to put God first. Now that we’ve finished our Fresh Eyes for Mission Summit, we’re going to be talking in depth over the coming weeks and months about being Christ’s disciples and what that means for us. Part of being his disciple means knowing that God first loved us, and what that love means for us. God didn’t hate us when He very rightfully could have. Romans 5:8 “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners. While we were rejecting God’s commands. While we were acting in ways that looked strikingly like hate for God. While we were being disobedient and unfaithful children, God sent His Son to die for us.
This is the very heart of the Gospel. We don’t deserve this. This love - agape…self-emptying, sacrificial, Christ-like love. We certainly didn’t earn it....not that we could if we tried. Our God gave His Son, who took on a punishment that he didn’t deserve so that we who did deserve it would never have to feel that. He did that for us. He did that to ensure that we would not ever have to know what eternal hatred would feel like. Thanks be to God.
And so Jesus tells those who would follow him: you can’t love anyone more than you love me. If you are to follow me, you must love me most of all. You must not reject my commandments. You must not divide your loyalties. Love God first and most.
Again - this is not about salvation; this is about discipleship. This is about how we respond to the great love that God has for us. This is about how we can show our love for God as a response to the love that came to us first.
The good Lutheran question comes next: “what does this mean?” That, brothers and sisters, is different for each one of us. What does it mean for YOU to put God first in your life in all that you do? What does it mean to love God above all things? When God is asking for your time, do you give it to Him? When God has blessed you with something, do you hoard it or do you share it? Do you have a talent that could be used for your neighbors? Yes, this is a question that deals in stewardship, too. But ultimately, it’s a question that each one of us are called to deal with as we discern God’s call in our life.
So as we take this journey together, and as you find the answer to that question for yourself, talk with your family about it and how your family can grow as disciples. Talk with your friends, too. If there’s some way that the church can help you to put your discipleship into action, reach out. I know already that there are many opportunities for that. And as you do, we can all spend much more time feeling God’s love in the community and we can let that drown out the negativity and the “hate” in the world around us.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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