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13 Pentecost

In the Name…

A Sunday School teacher was doing a lesson with her class and asked, "What does the Bible say about how we should treat our brothers and sisters?" and one child piped up, "Thou shalt not kill."

Thomas Jefferson is best known as author of the Declaration of American Independence, the document which asserted the rights of a colonial people to be free of the rule of their king. What is perhaps less well known is that Jefferson also authored his own personal declaration of religious independence. He wrote his own version of the Gospels.

Taking the four, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, he cut out all the bits he didn't like and consolidated what was left. The bits he cut out included the Virgin Birth, all the miracles, the Resurrection and Ascension, and any teachings or sayings with which he didn't agree. No prizes for guessing, this morning's text from Luke was one that didn't make it into Jefferson's very thin volume.

But, in fairness, it's a text that probably doesn't thrill any of us. It's hard to accept and it's hard to reconcile with our general image of Jesus. I mean, what did you think when you heard, "Whoever does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, cannot be my disciple." This is Jesus, right? The guy who said “love your enemies”? So, what's this about rejecting your nearest and dearest? It goes against the first of the Ten Commandments which deal with human relationships, "Honour your father and your mother." Whatever is going on here?

Well, as usual, the context helps. Jesus has just finished a couple of teachings about position and possessions. He has pointed out that an inflated desire for position can blind one to the value and worth of other people. He says the Christian cannot treat people as objects or mere stepping stones. Nor can the Christian place the acquisition of material goods above the general good of others. Greed is not good. The Christian life must take account of the nobler and more humane aspects of life.

Nevertheless, just as the desire for fame and fortune can come between us and other people, just as material priorities can prevent us from focusing on spiritual priorities, so too, a man or woman can be so caught up in family matters as to have no time for eternal matters. In fact, more than just no time, the two can actually, as shocking as this may sound, be opposed.

In one of my former parishes, we had a single woman who had been a frequent attender for years, but, she began to slowly disappear over a period of time. Instead of weekly, we began to see her twice a month, then once a month, and then hardly at all. You see, she found a boyfriend, who was a really nice guy, but, he was non-religious. And, so, to please him, she dropped out of church. She didn't want to risk losing him by appearing to be too religious.

Relationships mean a lot to us. We need companionship and love. We need a sense of belonging, of being connected. That was the secret behind the great success of the TV series "Cheers" - "the place where everybody knows your name." We want that and the possibility of a broken relationship can be so disturbing that we will do anything to avoid that risk.

And it's not just about adult relationships. I've seen situations where kids want to come to church but, their parents don't and so, create all kinds of obstacles to make it impossible for them. Parents preventing their kids from going to church. That's the kind of world in which we live.

And it's not just about when children are young. I was in a conversation with a grown man who doesn't go to any church and hasn't for years. I invited him here. He replied he’d like to come, but, if he came it would kill his mother because we're not the kind of church of which she approves. Apparently, it’s better to go nowhere than the wrong kind of church.

That's why Jesus says we must rebel against these situations and stand up to the people who create them and if standing up to them creates conflict then, it's not charity or love to take the path of least resistance and go along with them for the sake of a false peace. That's why Jesus uses the shocking word "hate" to make the point, to drive home the seriousness of the situation.

Having said that though, here is the great irony of what I'll term, in this case, "Christian hate." Bear with me. Remember, that one time Jesus said the disciples were to treat Christians who go astray the same way they should treat "Gentiles and tax-collectors." Well, how did Jesus treat them? He prayed for them. He reached out to them. He healed them. He didn't turn his back on them. So, here's the irony. If a Christian is going to hate somebody that means we go out of our way to love them. Love them to death, if necessary.

A Hindu woman in India became a Christian and suffered much from her husband because of that. One day the minister at her church asked her how she was able to cope. She replied that she never argued with her husband, but she always showed how her faith made her a better wife and mother. What happened was that, although the husband could ignore all the Bible preaching of the missionary, he could not ignore the practical preaching of his wife and, in time, he too, became a Christian.

If we're going to hate our relatives who want to separate us from Christ, then we have to not only not give in to their pressure, we have to put the pressure on them. We have the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit. We have to bombard the gates of Heaven on their behalf. Praying for them to come around, to have the eyes of faith opened. And it may take a lifetime, but, for the salvation of their souls it is time well spent.

Most people have never seen Thomas Jefferson's "Bible", but, his is the version a lot of people use. The self-edited one. Fortunately, we have the full version, the one that includes the teaching, If you're going to hate someone, go all the way. Kill them. Kill them, with Love.

In the Name...

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