From the Pastor
Luke 14:25-33, September 8, 2019
This gospel is really too much. Realistically, no one will leave church today with the intention to start hating people and getting rid of all of his or her possessions in order to become a true disciple. Hate is usually not the message of the gospel. God’s unmerited love is what we hear about.
But God’s unmerited love does not mean that there are no expectations whatsoever. In any area of our lives there are expectations. Students in school have to keep up with their homework, in our respective jobs we are supposed to do what’s in the job description, as parents or grandparents we are expected to be responsible adults, as citizens we are expected to follow the law, dog owners need to pick up after their dog. So there is hardly any area of our lives that doesn’t ask something of us.
Only church seems to be the place that doesn’t have clear expectations. Everything is volunteer work, so there is always a choice what to do. The idea that there might be a cost attached (beyond our monetary contribution), that being church members might get us into trouble or an uncomfortable situation, is rather foreign.
But that was Jesus’ point. He knew that his message was radical in his time, and it actual still is today. Just last week the gospel suggested to invite the lame, the crippled, the poor and the lame when we host a dinner and not so much people we know, who are like us, and with whom we have mutually beneficial relationships. But if we entertained for a moment the idea how our lives would look like if we picked up anyone who is in need of a meal or a place to stay, for example, we realize that it would be quite different. We would have to be much more flexible, more willing to take a risk, much more tolerant. At the same time, I am sure it would be an eye-opener and we would learn to see others differently.
In the second lesson, Philemon was asked by Paul to adjust his way of seeing things. Because of the gospel we are brothers and sisters in Christ. This means that any boundaries that might separate us from others just don’t apply anymore. For Philemon that meant a potential financial burden and also a major change in his way of thinking.
Onesimus was his slave who ran away, he somehow ended up with Paul and then the question was what to do about the situation. From a legal standpoint Onesimus was at fault. He should have been send back and been punished. That was just a no-brainer. But Paul approached the question from a faith perspective and that changed everything. From a faith perspective Onesimus was a brother in Christ and not a slave. In Christ he was an equal with Philemon. The idea of a slave becoming an equal to him, and the demand to give up is ownership must have sounded to Philemon just totally crazy. We all have our ideas about what our place is in society and what the places of others are. To change this kind of thinking is difficult. It must have been almost impossible for Philemon.
In August, the ELCA decided at its last general assembly to be a sanctuary church. This means that if undocumented immigrants are in fear of getting deported they might seek sanctuary in the church and will be supported. With its decision the ELCA sends a signal that it stands with the poor, those who seek a life out of harm’s way, whether it is war or domestic violence. The base for this decision is the gospel and God’s call to be with the vulnerable, the stranger, anyone in need. The NJ synod is a sanctuary synod. As far as congregations are concerned every congregation can decide how to handle this situation on its own.
There are churches who have housed families for extended periods of time. So far, most sanctuary churches have not been raided in order to get people removed and deported.
From a legal standpoint, undocumented immigrants break the law and can be arrested and deported. As a church we approach this question from a faith perspective and that changes things. We see undocumented immigrants as brothers and sisters in need, human beings with their own, at times horrific stories that call for compassion.
I think we get an idea now how this can get us in trouble. Most likely we do not all agree on this view. So we can get in trouble with each other. I don’t think that we start hating each other because of different views, but it can be uncomfortable. Hypothetically, if we became a sanctuary, we could get in legal trouble. Others form the outside may disagree with us or hate us. I think we get an idea how following the gospel a little more literally can become controversial.
So being hated or being in conflict with others is certainly not a condition to be a proper disciple, but it can be a consequence of following in Jesus’ ways. Today’s gospel sounds harsh and somewhat upside down. But love is the message Jesus has for us, not hate, and this love is not exclusively for us or those who are near and dear to us, but also for others, even those whom we may not find particularly worthy. God’s love to us is an undeserved gift, for which we are thankful and which we are called to extend generously.