Luke 14:25-33 (online here)

A while back the leadership of All Saints decided to hire a high-powered consultant to help us increase attendance on Sunday morning. A few weeks later a giant banner appeared in front of the church, and on our website, and it read: “Join us for worship, where you’ll learn to hate your family, hate your life, and hate everything that was ever yours.” That’s when we decided to hire another consultant. 

OK, that never happened.

But according to Luke, something like that happened while Jesus was traveling around first-century Palestine. He noticed that he was beginning to attract large crowds, and in response he turned to them and said, in effect, “Hate your family, hate your life, hate everything that was ever yours.” A high-powered church growth consultant he was not.

Another thing he was not, evidently, was a spokesperson for the so-called “God-ordained institution of the family.” That’s a quote from the mission statement of one of today’s prominent right-wing organizations, Focus on the Family. Jesus was NOT focused on the family. 

Jesus is worried that his growing popularity will send the wrong message: Follow Jesus and everything in your life will fall into place. It will NOT fall into place. This is going to cost us, more than we ever imagined. Don’t be too hasty to sign up for it.

Undoubtedly he was going for some shock value when he told us to hate our closest relatives. After all, while he could be quite abrupt with his own blessed mother, he didn’t hate her. But he’s pretty clear that there’s something going on in his movement that’s way more important than a harmonious family life.

What’s going on in his movement is in fact the opposite of hate: The arrival of God’s reign drawing us into a love so radical that everything else we ever counted on is turned upside down. Family, friendships, livelihoods, even our own selves can be thrown into turmoil as we awaken to this all-embracing love that won’t let us restrict it to the insiders of our lives. 

Imagine you are a woman in the 1960s. Though you were a straight-A biology student in college, you put all that aside when you got married, gave up your last name, spent your days cleaning the house, washing clothes, and trying to come up with fascinating dinners to please your husband when he gets home from his really important life outside the home. Responsibility for child rearing falls about 95% on you alone. 

Then you hear about other women who are beginning to question that job description. You remember how you once entertained the idea of becoming a pediatrician, because, yes, you really do love children and want ALL children to thrive, not just yours. So you enroll in medical school. 

And then everybody is upset with you. Your husband and children don’t like having to pick up after themselves, or maybe even having to prepare a meal on their own. Your parents say they can’t understand why the life you already had wasn’t enough. You’re accused of being selfish, even though you’re dedicating your whole life to helping others. You’re undermining family values, they tell you. Who knew that living into your dedication would provoke so much hostility from those you have been counting on for support? Who knew that this vocational decision would cost you so much?

That’s the kind of vocational decision Jesus is warning us about. Follow him into the arrival of God’s reign and give up expecting that everything in your life will fall into place. You will be living against the conventional expectations of your culture, whether in the first-century Mediterranean world or in today’s market-driven world.

Jesus, and Luke, are addressing the fact that many of Jesus’ followers had already been disowned by their families. They weren’t fulfilling their family obligations. He’s warning them that this is only the beginning of the rejection they’re likely to suffer. He’s saying, “If you’re not ready for that, if you’re not ready to lose everything you took for granted, maybe you should do something else.”

And so today, if you take loving your neighbor as far as Jesus took it—loving outcasts, immigrants, refugees, traitors, even enemies—you might lose everything you took for granted. Some people will hate you. Family members might disown you. That doesn’t always happen, but it still happens too often. Jesus asks if we’re ready for that. Are we?

Now, I might be giving you the impression that only those of us who are currently bucking the system in some way or other are the really faithful Christians. But being the body of Christ is more complicated than that. If you’ve never been arrested while protesting injustice, that doesn’t automatically make you a coward or an enabler of oppression. This is not about making headlines. If you are drawn to being a supportive, nurturing family member more than a high-powered career-seeker, don’t apologize for what brings you to life beyond others’ expectations.

But as a member of Christ’s body, when others of us live into God’s all-embracing love in a way that is dramatically against the grain, are the rest of us willing to step in and provide the supportive community that some may have lost? Are we willing to drag all of our connections to family, friends, possessions, even to ourselves, with us into this community of mutual care that will never be popular?

If we do that, as we together promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being, it’s going to cost us more than we know. And yet this is what we say we signed up for every time we renew our Baptismal Covenant.

Jesus is asking us to stop and consider whether we really mean what we say. Do we really mean all of that? Are we ready to let this thanksgiving meal and our gathered life draw us into a love so radical that everything else we ever counted on is turned upside down? That’s what’s coming, ready or not.

So get ready!