SCRIPTURES – Ps. 119:27-32; Deut. 30:15-20; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-35
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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Tomorrow is Labor Day, a day to honor workers and give thanks for work. Too bad is wasn’t given a different title. I mean, Labor Day sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? How about calling it Awesome Occupations Day? How about Wonderful Workers Day? Then again, I suppose the fact that it’s called Labor Day should tell us something. Work demands effort. It can involve difficulty and drudgery. It isn’t all fun and games.
So it is with our Christian faith. Believing in and following Jesus is not easy, and Jesus certainly did not guarantee a life of ease for His followers. He drives home that point today. “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.” My goodness. These aren’t words to memorize and comfort yourself with, are they? How could He who welcomed those who were hated and rejected by others, and who even forgave those who crucified Him, command us to hate; and even those who are closest to us? I can’t do this. Neither can you. We cannot, then, be His disciples?
There are two very important things to realize today. The first is this: Jesus connects this command to hate to the cross. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus died on a cross for you. He didn’t do this to be an example of sacrifice, or simply to show how serious He was in His love. He did it to pay the price for your failing to do all that God commands you to do. Nothing is to be more important to you than God, than trusting in Him and following Him. But, other things often are, aren’t they? We fail. We sin. Jesus took all of those sins upon Himself and paid the penalty for them. His death for you is your forgiveness. It is your sins not being charged against you. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed,” Holy Scripture says (Is. 53:5). “The blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) You are forgiven! You are not guilty! Jesus has taken away all that would prevent you from being accepted as His follower. His death alone, and not any obedience of yours, has accomplished this.
The second thing to realize is that Jesus does not command you to hate in the way that people hate. He commands us to hate as God hates, and as He hates. God hates? Jesus hates? Of course He does! Would it be right for Him to command you to do something which He was unwilling to do? Jesus hated. But, He did not do so out of a desire for revenge; or because another was honored and He wasn’t; or in response to being mistreated. He didn’t hate as we hate. No, He hated everything which stood in the way of God’s good being given and received. This is what we are being called to do.
Let me give you two examples of this. The first is in our Epistle reading today. Paul wrote to a good Christian man named Philemon. He praised him for his love and faith, which refreshed the hearts of others. He opened his house to his fellow Christians for their use as a place to gather and worship. He was a caring Christian. And, he was a slave owner.
Today we’re horrified by this, so much so that the names of former Presidents are being removed from buildings and events because they had owned slaves. It was not so, however, in Philemon’s day. Slavery was accepted. To own slaves showed that you had wealth, and so it was actually a badge of honor. The apostle Paul, however, wanted Philemon to free his slave Onesimus – even though he had run away, and perhaps had even stolen from his master. What is more, he wanted Philemon to not only free him but to consider him an honored brother, for Onesimus had become a Christian. “Receive him as you would receive me,” Paul said. If Philemon did this, he would be looked down upon in his society. Christ, however, would be pleased! And so, Philemon hated his own life, his own honor and praise, and followed Jesus. The fact that this letter was saved and included in the Bible indicates this.
Let me give you an example from our day. Today Mother Theresa is being declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Now, we in the Lutheran Church do not look upon saints in the same way. We do not encourage prayers to her, for instance, for only God promises to hear and answer our prayers. But, there is much in that little nun to remember and honor. For instance, on Feb. 3, 1994 she gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Sitting before her were Pres. Clinton and his wife, Hilary, and Vice Pres. Gore and his wife. Mother Theresa said to them and to all who would hear:
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.
And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts…
Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.
Standing up for God and the goodness of His commands and ways, even before those who could help you, and opposing as not just another opinion but as evil all that is contrary to them, to Him, and facing rejection and scorn for this – this is loving God and hating as He hates. This is the way of Christ. To risk and endure hatred and opposition, and maybe even to suffer in your own heart and mind and flesh, is to bear one’s cross.
God’s people have always been called to do this. Over 1,400 years before Jesus came Moses said, “I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his just decrees, then you shall live, and the Lord your God will bless you.” This is labor. But, what a blessed labor it is! The Lord is your life, and so is with you in your labors to uphold you and strengthen you and bless you, even when your labor is rejected. He is also your length of days. Your days are eternal in Christ! Those eternal days in heaven, in which nothing but God’s goodness and love will be enjoyed, are what we have to look forward to because of Jesus. We are privileged to help bring them into this world and life even now as we obey God’s commands, serve Him with our labors, and bear the cross they bring.
A blessed Labor Day to you! May all your labors – in your job and work in life, and especially in the Lord – be life and good; in Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be glory and honor and obedience and praise, now and forever! Amen.