Hate your mother and father!
"Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish. Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:25-33)
Today's gospel reading opens with a scene that captures my imagination: “Now large crowds were traveling with him” (Luke 14:25)
I must confess that I don't pray for many things that most people would class 'miracles' nowadays, but I do constantly pray for this miracle – that one day I might turn around and indeed find that "large crowds are travelling with us."
I regularly have a dream that our church building is full of people. In this dream I am generally fussing around, not able to find my cassock or something like that, and so things are going desperately wrong, but the backdrop to the dream is always this wonderful miracle – large crowds are travelling with us!
I imagine that this was a dream-come-true for many of the disciples too. They had worked hard to make Jesus' ministry tour a success, and they must have shared in the pride of seeing the bountiful results of their work. They had left everything to throw in their lot with Jesus, and it is only to be expected that they would have felt validated in their decisions, to some extent, by the surge in popularity that Jesus was enjoying.
Things got off to a rather shaky start in Nazareth, but now, as the ministry progressed, and as people really started to absorb the message of Jesus, they were beginning to see the fruits of their labours. People were coming. And not just the riff-raff any more – not just people who had nothing else to do but hang around and listen to the latest alternate voice. No. Prominent people were starting to listen to Jesus – people in authority, people of influence, people who could really help push their cause forward.
I envisage one of the disciples coming up and patting Jesus on the back and saying, “Lord, whatever it is you're doing, keep doing it! You've obviously got it right!”
But then we are told that Jesus turns and addresses the crowd, saying: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
And you can hear the crowd saying, “Did he say 'hate'? I thought Jesus was all about love? Did he really just say that you've got to hate your parents, and life itself? Did he really say that?”
And you can see some of the disciples trying to interpret – “people, when Jesus says ‘hate', he doesn't mean ‘hate', OK? He's talking about perspective here.He's talking about putting your family commitments and your spiritual commitments in proper perspective, OK? But no, he doesn't really want you to hate anybody!”
But Jesus, meanwhile, is on a roll! “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
And again you can see some of the disciples in damage-control mode – “when Jesus says ‘cross', He doesn't mean that ugly instrument of torture that people are executed on. He means ... He means ... what He means is ...?”
But Jesus hasn't finished: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.... Let anyone with ears to hear listen!””
And the chapter ends at this point, but I think we could add another verse; “large crowds were no longer following Him.”
I had a look at the Diocesan mission statement last night. I'd forgotten the exact wording of it, so I thought I'd better look it up.
I knew that there was a goal of 10% growth, which I figured we could accomplish pretty easily. Growing at a rate of 10% per annum, in our case, really only means coming up with four or five new people each year, providing that we don't lose too many through death or something worse (eg. poor preaching).
I took a proper look at the Diocesan Mission statement, and it sets a goal, and it's not of 10% growth. It sets a goal of getting 10% of the entire population of Sydney inside our churches within 10 years! In other words, we are going after the ‘large crowds'!
How do we intend to do this – get the large crowds? A strong advertising campaign, I figured, would be a good start. So I visited the Anglican Media website, to see what they were doing to push forward the campaign, and I was not impressed. My initial impression was that the colours were all wrong!
You think I'm kidding? I'm not.For I don't pretend to be a professional in the advertising industry, but I do pride myself on knowing a fair bit about Internet marketing, and I can tell you that first impressions on a web site are very important!
As most of you would know, I have invested a great deal of time this year, and a fair amount of money, into my work on the Internet.Why? Because I am hoping, and I am still hoping, that the Internet might provide us with an avenue through which we can generate the funds to do what we need to do around here!
I have poured myself in to finding out how to make money on the Net, and I can tell you, in all seriousness, exactly how to make a million dollars on the Net if you wish to.Let me give you the basic outline.It's simple. Have you got your pens ready?
- Find something that people really want.
- Find out what it is that is stopping those people from getting what they want.
- Work out a solution so that they can get it.
- Turn that solution into an ebook that you can sell through a website.
- Drive lots of visitors from that group to that website.
That's it. It's a simple 5-step process. Let me flesh it out for you:
- Find something that people really want. People want to feel attractive.
- What is stopping people from feeling attractive? Many feel overweight.
- Come up with a solution: eg. a diet.
- Turn that solution into an ebook. Call it “The simple and easy way to loose all the weight
you want while eating whatever food you like and while doing no exercise whatsoever”
(nb. you've got to take account of other ‘wants').
- Drive fat people to your website.
It's that simple, and maybe some of you are thinking, “I can't wait to get home and start work on that website”, and you're welcome to do that, but you won't get any further help from me, because I despise the whole rationale of the approach, which is that you become successful on line by helping people get whatever they want.
If that's the way to get the large crowds, I don't want them! I am so not interested in giving people what they want. I'm interested in seeing people get what they need!
I wonder, if Jesus designed a website, how popular would it be? If Jesus ran the Diocesan advertising campaign, would we achieve our 10% target?
I ran with this idea a bit and, given that I know our Diocese has a commitment to being Biblical, I thought I should run up a couple of adds based on the approach that Jesus took and offer them to the marketing department:
Do you hate your mother?
Are you trying to get rid of your father?
Jesus wants you for a disciple!
And this one:
Have you got what it takes to follow Jesus? Are you sure?
Are you really sure?
Or what about this one?:
Do you find that you have too much stuff?
Are you ready to give it ALL to the poor?
At Holy Trinity this week, we're taking a collection!
In all seriousness, we have to be honest and say that throughout His ministry, Jesus displayed a consistent lack of enthusiasm when it came to giving people what they wanted. He gave people what they needed, and He was insistent on telling people what it was that God needed from them, but when it came to giving people what they wanted, Jesus was a consistent disappointment, which explains, in part at least, why they killed him.
“A crowd, not this crowd or that crowd, the crowd now living or the crowd long dead, a crowd of rich people or of poor, of virtuous or unvirtuous, but simply a crowd, in its very concept, is the untruth.” (Kierkegaard)
According to the great Dane, we should never expect to see large crowds gathering around the truth. On the contrary, according to Kierkegaard, you can always tell where the truth is NOT by taking note of the location of the crowd, and steering clear of it!
If Kierkegaard is right, then the invitation of Jesus, clearly given, is never likely to capture the imagination of the crowd, and maybe I should give up on praying for that particular miracle that I shared with you when I began today.
Maybe instead I should be content with the miracle that we see here week by week – that despite what Jesus said, despite what He promised us and despite what He asked of us, nonetheless there are a group of us here who continue to gather week by week!
That is incredible when you think about it, because, perhaps unlike some people, we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we accepted the invitation to follow Jesus.We knew that it would cost us everything we had. We knew that it would mean being misunderstood and maligned. We knew that it would mean giving up all ambition for worldly prosperity and success. Yet here we are!
Here we are, ready to listen to His word so that we might be equipped to serve Him more faithfully, ready to encourage each other to push on in ministry and to keep the faith, ready to reaffirm our commitment to the path of discipleship.
That's remarkable, and it must reflect the fact that the way of Jesus, while not attractive to the mass market, is nonetheless true.
That's why we're here this morning, isn't it? Not because we think that following Jesus is a shortcut to inner peace and financial freedom, but because we have discovered that Jesus' way is the way, that His truth is truth.
Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, September 2004