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Hating our Parents?
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on September 8, 2013

Proper 18 C 2013

Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

So who is this Jesus that tells us to “hate” our parents and other relatives -- even ourselves? What was he thinking? How does this admonishment fit with our understanding that Jesus taught us to love, even our enemies? What was he thinking?

The best explanation I can come up with is that something was lost in the translation. “Hate” used here is not hate as we know it -- as in despise, loathe, expel from one’s life -- not as we would understand hate at all. Rather it is more like “detach,” turn from, put in perspective, prioritize.  In other words, don’t overdo your attachment to kin, to things, to anything that distracts you from carrying the cross that following Christ has set before you.

We all know that being a Christian is not supposed to be easy, that it does not mean everything will go perfectly in our lives if we just follow Jesus, if we just take up that cross by wearing a lovely piece of jewelry around our necks in the form of a cross, or profess some magical formula of words that “save’ us from all trials and tribulations, all diseases and pain.  We know it, but sometimes we forget it, or we really expect that following Jesus will “reward” us with temporal things as well as spiritual things. But deep down we know differently. So this lesson that comes at the end of summer -- to welcome us back to church -- feels not quite so welcoming, not quite so easy to hear, as we might have been hoping to help ease our way back into the fall routine.

The thing that makes this reading so difficult to hear -- and difficult to preach -- is that in our heart of hearts it rings so absolutely true. We must weigh the cost; we must put that which we love behind us if we are truly to do God’s work in the world; we must build what we know can be finished, with God’s help. We know that hanging on to “things,” the stuff of our lives, even the people in our lives, is not what being a Christian is all about. No, we know deep in our hearts, in our spiritual souls, that it is only when we stand for that which Christ stood/stands for, do what God has taught us, follow a path that puts that which we love most dearly in jeopardy, that we are truly taking up our cross and following Jesus.

If we are lucky or blessed or graced, then following Christ will not cost us our families or friends or lives. But we have to live and follow as though the loss is possible and a small price to pay for doing what is of God.

This past weekend my husband Ernie and I went to see “The Butler”. We lounged in comfortable recliners ( what an amazing way to see a movie!) and watched the story of our country during our lifetime from the perspective of a black family, starting with Eisenhower and ending with Ronald Reagan, and finally a postscript of Obama, encompassing the fight for integration, Kennedy being shot,  and the Vietnam War most intensely. I felt as though I was watching my own values and faith forming and re-forming as they did in those times. I admit I forgot to notice which actor was playing whom and was surprised that Robin Williams made a believable Eisenhower. The irony of Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan didn’t escape me. Even Oprah stopped being Oprah by mid point and became the aging Butler’s wife unequivocally. 

But two very poignant and profound things came from seeing this movie that I had not expected. The first was very personal. I remembered how outraged I was as a teenager and young adult by racism. I marched in marches, yes. But I also was very naive about my own white privilege and for all my marching and protesting and actual work to help bring about integration in my own school district, I never really had any idea what people of color endured or still endure because of racism -- overt racism and even more from the subtle, nuanced racism found most predominately in the North. I had forgotten about my own racism at 19 when I was living near a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, and my husband and I were inconvenienced by having to go to the base to do laundry.  My husband asked me why I didn’t just use the laundromat down the street and save the round trip to the base.

And -- this is the truth -- I told him I had thought about it, but as a newly married woman (a 19-year-old child, really), I had learned that one separated laundry into whites and darks. And so I said to him in total sincerity, “It’s for “whites only”, and we always have colored laundry.”  It just simply never occurred to me that the race of the person who washed their laundry in your machine before you mattered -- but I did know you separate laundry into whites and darks.

A white girl could think that way in 1969 -- but a black girl would not have missed the cues.

As I watched the movie, the racism of not seeing or knowing was renewed in me. I ached not only for what the people in the movie suffered, but for those of us who didn't even see....especially me.

The other thing that really spoke to me about the movie was another way of telling today’s gospel. Jesus told two parables in this gospel lesson this morning to explain how it is to “hate” one’s father and mother.  The first parable was estimating and planning and making sure one has enough material to finish the tower.  The second -- especially appropriate and speaking to us today -- is the ruler who must decide whether he should go to war or not, weighing the cost to his people, and if he can “win the war” or not. I will not go into politics or say anything about Syria -- I don’t think the pulpit is the place for that -- but please note that scripture does often say very political things.  And I think that it teaches us that it is wise if we can let our faith undergird our political decisions. I say that knowing good people of good faith can be on opposite sides of most every political argument.

But the movie tells a parable that also rings true to me about what it is to choose to follow in the way of Christ -- a way of justice -- at the cost of losing one’s family and life as you know it. The Butler’s son, Louis, marched, protested, spoke out and found himself in a leadership role to bring change and equality to his people, even at the cost of his father, the White House Butler, disowning him.  Perhaps because I knew this gospel lesson was coming, or perhaps because I remember a bit of my parents’ discomfort with me being so vocal during the 60’s, I would say that “hating” one’s parents is what that young man did, or at least did in the way that Jesus was speaking of to his disciples in the gospel this morning. Louis chose the righteous way -- the way of danger, potential personal harm, even potential death, certainly ostracism from his family and the culture -- but stand up for equal rights he did.

That is hating one’s father and mother as Jesus is asking us.

I am not speaking of minor political skirmishes that all families have, rather the kind when one is willing to lay down one’s life for the right they believe Jesus is calling us all toward. Then we risk everything -- and in that risk gain all. It is not about winning a secular war, it is about winning the war between godliness and evil. That is the war we are called to be part of -- the only war.  When we wage that war, we do weigh the cost. But that which is lost or gained is never about personal gain. In fact, anything “personal” in the way of gain or glory or righteousness must be completely let go before such a decision to stand for and with Christ -- to carry that cross -- can be made.

Louis was rejected time and again by his family, couldn't even attend the funeral for his brother, a victim of the Vietnam War. His personal loss was great. But he was part of a movement that changed the face of our world, and changed it in a godly way. Now I will admit he was not overtly a person of faith -- and the parable breaks down there -- but neither was the king or the tower builder that Jesus used in his parables. 

Sometimes we have to stand for that which we believe in and see as godly or righteous or just plain fair, in the world of politics or business or even the church or our workplace or school. Sometimes our passion for justice takes hold of us and God swoops in and propels us toward changing the world. May it be so again, and still, for all of us. Amen.

Last Published: September 17, 2013 5:40 PM