I have a confession to make, I really did not want to write a homily for this morning. Not because Friday was a beautiful day. Although that would have been a really good excuse. The reason I did not want to write this homily is, well, who would when the Gospel text is just so harsh, and ends with the following words;
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
There is something about this text that just feels counter intuitive. After all, doesn’t the fifth commandment require us to honor our parents? So I had to ask, how Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, could contradict holy law. But then it dawned on me, the first commandment states, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me.”
It’s possible the connection of what Jesus said so long ago and the first commandment doesn’t immediately resonate with us today, because we don’t live in a pantheistic world. Unlike people of ancient times, we don’t worship different god’s in hopes of gaining certain benefits. For the most part, the modern world has scaled down our understanding of the Godhead to one being. If instead, the first commandment said, “I am the Lord your God, you shall not place any other priorities before me” then maybe Jesus’ words would have connected for us and would not seem as harsh.
Our priorities, as defined by how we spend our time and our money speak to who our god’s are today. Take a moment and think about what your calendars, checking accounts and credit card bills say about your priorities and your relationship with God. I know the question feels harsh, especially for many of who struggle to get by each month with what little we receive through our pensions and social security. I realize the question also feels harsh for those of us who work full-time and still barely scrape by while working for what feels like less than a living-wage. And I suspect many of us are beginning to think, “ I work hard, doesn’t God want me to have a little fun in my life?” Most likely, the answer would be yes.
But this is not the point Jesus is making. As I read and re-read this passage, it appears Jesus is pushing us to simply be honest with ourselves and ask, “What are the limits of our commitment to God.” Most of us would say our commitment is limitless. But when push comes to shove, is it really?
Making God or Christ first has been the primary struggle for humanity throughout the ages. Very few would be willing to sacrifice everything for God. This is why we struggle with the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Most of us find it inconceivable that God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his only Son. And yet, this is the very thing God asks Abraham to do when Isaac is a young man. What must have made this request seem even more strange was the fact Isaac was Abraham’s only legitimate offspring, given to him by Sarah in their old age, and Isaac seemed to be part of God’s promise to make Abraham the father of a great nation. But for some reason, not mentioned in the Abraham saga, God feels the need to test Abraham’s loyalty. I imagine the question in God’s mind was, “ Now that Abraham had a son, was God still as important to him?” To this, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham chooses to obey with great sadness. But as Abraham lifted the knife to kill his son, God puts a stop to the process, freezes Abraham’s arm and provides a calf to be sacrificed instead.
As we examine today’s Gospel in light of the Ten Commandments and the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, we find the natural assumption made is not the answer to the questions we find ourselves asking. Yes, God wants us to find joy in our lives, and yes it is okay to have and to keep those luxuries that bring us joy. The challenge Christ puts before us is, are we willing to sacrifice them if we were asked by God to do so.
We know being part of the early church was fraught with heavy sacrifice. Peter, James and Andrew when called gave up their livelihood as fishermen. James and Andrew as sons of Zebedee, like the other ten, left their families in order to be followers of Jesus. Of the original twelve disciples, only one is believed to have escaped execution at the hands of Rome.
And we know, well into the second and third centuries it was a capital offense to be a follower of Christ. For many, following Christ meant being banned from the synagogues, or refusing to pay homage at the feet of the statue of Caesar. Families willingly turned in Christian family members to be executed rather than face the wrath of Rome themselves.
For us today, being a Christian comes at little personal cost. But standing firm with Christ for justice often comes with a cost few of us are willing to make. The sacrifice for divine justice to prevail requires sacrifice from each of us. I believe Paul asked it best when he asked the Romans, “ should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” The correct answer to this question is no, but for many of us, myself included, we wouldn’t be able to make the radical changes we would need to make in our lives to not continue in sin.
Again we have to be honest with ourselves and accept that the majority of the American lifestyle is dependent on injustice. In order for us to enjoy the low cost luxuries we expect, a foundation of injustice has to exist. It is a foundation of injustice that requires the exploitation of foreign labor and the natural resources the earth provides. The confession in the New Zealand Prayer Book asks God to forgive us for the sins we have committed and for the sins committed on our behalf. To fully understand this statement, all we have to do is look at the labels in our clothing, labels that say made in El Salvador, China, Guatemala, and Thailand. All are places where human labor is valued in pennies. . .not dollars per hour and where working conditions are dangerous at best.
If Jesus were to ask us today to give up all the clothing and possessions we have that were made available to us through injustice and the exploitation of another, could we say yes? Probably not, unless we are willing to give up most of what we have and wear sackcloth through the streets. This is however, the commitment Christ called for among his earliest of followers. The command required passion and sacrifice, the kind of passion and sacrifice it takes for the kingdom to come and be among us.