Pentecost 15C, 2010
Luke 14: 25-30, 33
A Liturgy is also available
DISCIPLESHIP IS... RECOGNISING 'THE SACRED' WHERE WE ARE
Understanding the background and culture of Jesus is very important
when we come across stories such as those we have today.
How else can we understand Jesus’ comment
that his followers must ‘hate’, or more accurately,
‘detach oneself from’, their immediate family members!
On the surface it offends against all the values most people hold dear.
But Luke the storyteller has Jesus employing a common rhetorical devise,
used by many of the wisdom sages of the day.
An approach which would be familiar, even if offensive, to the audience.
And which should also be familiar to us in 21st century Australia,
brought up on the writings of
And politicians speeches and promises during election time!
Luke has Jesus using extremes of language to make a so-called ‘point’.
For the object of his concern is, according to William Loader, family power.
“Family power and control which will not release from its womb, but has become a cage, a prison, but more often a comfortable and secure place in which to turn aside from one’s potential and the world’s challenge” (WLoader Web site 2004).
And Bill Loader goes on:
“The voice of Jesus articulates human need... and calls people to discipleship. Discipleship means a relationship of learning and growth with Jesus as the teacher and God as God, not family” (WLoader Web site 2004).
In a society where individuals had no real social existence
apart from belonging to a family, Luke’s Jesus is therefore
“hatred of family is a condition of discipleship… Jesus is therefore confronting the social structures that governed his society at
their core” (Funk & Hoover 1993:353).
So... responding to a possible life-threatening situation for his own small community,
Luke the storyteller (and perhaps pastor),
weaves together a collection of sage-type sayings...
Some probably said by the sage Jesus.
Some most likely said by other sages.
Luke weaves them together and places them before his community
with this challenge:
to be a disciple of Jesus one must be willing to let go
of what one values most - family, possessions, even one’s own life.
Let go... of being possessed by them. Something else is at stake.
Luke seems clear in his mind:
let go and be a disciple rather than just a supporter or admirer.
Some years back, a ministry colleague reminded me of a discipleship story.
In fact he eMailed it to me along with some other colleagues.
So let me tell that story.
Clarence Jordan, of Cotton Patch Bible fame, was born in 1912
in west central Georgia, USA, into a race dominated society.
As a young man he became intensely aware of the radical kind of following
that is demanded in the Sermon on the Mount.
This changed his view on the racial divisions
in the American society for good.
In 1942 Clarence and his wife established the ‘Koinonia’ farm.
A place where people of all races could be taught productive farming.
The fact there was a considerable number of African-American people present...
And that everyone there joined around a common table...
was something the wider community objected against,
right from the beginning.
The opposition against his venture grew.
They were accused of being ‘communists’, ‘race-mixers’, and of threatening
the security of their community.
In 1956, threatening phone calls began.
Soon the persecution took the form of bombings,
shootings at their houses,
building-burnings, economic boycotts,
and harassment from the infamous KKK.
In the early 1950s, it is told, Clarence approached his brother, Robert Jordan,
later a state senator and justice of the Georgia Supreme Court,
asking him to represent Koinonia farms legally.
“Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations.
Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got”.
“We might lose everything too, Bob.”
“It’s different for you.”
“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys.
“I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me
about the same question he did you.
“He asked me: ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?’
And I said: ‘Yes’. What did you say?”
“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”
“Could that point by any chance be – the cross?”
“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross.
I’m not getting myself crucified.”
“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his.
I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to,
and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.”
“Well now, if everyone who felt like I do, did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”
“The question,” Clarence said, “is, do you have a church?” (McClendon 1974:127-128)
My language, especially about ‘the cross’, is not the same
as that of Southern Baptist Clarence Jordan.
And some of that difference I have tried to suggest in any ‘Good’ Friday sermon I preach,
and in letters to Insights - the magazine of the NSW Synod of the Uniting Church.
• The cross is about Jesus’ integrity, not sacrificial atonement.
• God’s love is not about supernatural payment or rescue, but divine sharing in human suffering.
• Jesus did not invite the cross but accepted it rather than abandon his vision or glimpse of what the world can really be like when you look at it with God’s eyes.
But in the spirit of Clarence Jordan’s story let me return
to some of the theological comment I reckon
I’ve managed to pick up along the way.
The call to ‘discipleship’ is a call to be on a journey.
It is not about the ‘feel good’, ‘flag waving’, ‘happy-clappy’ theologies
of much of today’s pentecostal or charismatic aberrations.
Neither is it about accepting 11th century Archbishop Anselm’s idea of salvation:
the crucifixion of Jesus was willed by God to save the world
because humanity's sinfulness had dishonoured God (Brock 2010).
His idea is now called ‘substitutionary atonement theology’.
It is about an invitation to be engaged in radical inclusive love.
On the other hand, the call to be ‘church’ is a call of offer a safe place
for some depth of theology and reflection and story.
A place to connect with and deepen
our contemporary experience of God or ‘the sacred’ in public life.
A place where we can practice belonging...
practice conversation and disagreement (Bessler-Northcutt 2004).
And one of the purposes of deepening the experience of God,
is to give disciples like you and me,
the courage, the knowledge, the will,
to go out among people in our community
and encourage them to also recognise 'the sacred' where they are.
(NB: During his presentation to the Common Dreams 2 Conference in Melbourne (Australia)
in April 2010, president of The Centre for Progressive Christianity (USA), Revd Fred Plumer, said:
“… it is time to publicly reject that whole idea of substitutionary or vicarious Atonement theories and repent for the harm this religious relic has caused over the centuries.
“I have always thought that it was more important for progressive Christians to talk about what we are rather than what we are not. But I think it is time to publicly repent for the pain and suffering that the whole idea that we as humans are born faulty and unworthy by some vindictive god who demanded that there be some severe punishment to make up for this same god’s mistake. Therefore, according to creed this God would have to sacrifice his only begotten son, (who is actually himself) to avenge something that really never happened. Do you have any idea how many people throughout history have suffered in fear, humiliation, doubts, at the hands of sick clergy, mobs, abusive husbands, and anybody into power because of this flawed piece of our theology. It is way past time to separate ourselves from this delusion to make a clear and public statement for allowing it to go on for so long…
“The atonement story was a myth attached to the Jesus story to give more power to the church and its leadership. It should never have been there. But I think if the progressive Christian movement is going to progress, we need to repent for the pain that has caused and clearly separate ourselves from this damaging part of the Christian story. Simply ignoring it no longer seems like an option. We need to clean our hard drive of this virus. And then I have hope that we can experience new life in our progressive churches”.)
Bessler-Northcutt, J. 2004. “Learning to see God: Prayer and practice in the wake of the Jesus Seminar” in Hoover, R. W. (ed) The historical Jesus goes to church. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Brock, R. N. 2010. “The question of the cross in ‘Good’ Friday” in The Huffington Post, 3/4/2010.
Funk, R. W.; R. W. Hoover. 1993. The five gospels. The search for the authentic words of Jesus. NY: New York. Macmillan Publishing.
McClendon, J. W. 1974. Biography as theology. How life stories can remake today’s theology. TN: Nashville. Abingdon Press.