Jeremiah 18: 1-11 & Luke 14: 25-33
Whose Hands Are You In?

 “Whose Hands Are You In?”

Jeremiah 18: 1-11 & Luke 14: 25-33 ~ Northwood UC ~ September 4, 2022     

The cost of things these days is going up, up and up, isn’t it? The cost of gas to come to church…MORE; the cost of your ‘Sunday best’ outfit…MORE; the cost of lunch out after church…MORE. But the cost of gathering with your church family once again this fall…PRICELESS. We have all seen these witty ads put on by credit card companies. The price of a pop and popcorn: $25; the price of price of movie tickets: $40; the price of time together: PRICELESS. And sometimes we have been surprisingly moved by the things we take for granted in life. What is priceless to you? And what are your priorities in this oh so complex life?    

I found my mind wandering to these “priceless” ads as I began studying the gospel text this week because, as you heard, they are troubling, indeed! This troubling passage concludes with Jesus’ harsh words: “therefore, none of you can become my followers if you do not give up all your possessions”. We have heard this text before, or heard and avoided it, but what does it mean? Because, frankly, I like some of my ‘things’. Do we, step up, sign over our net-worth? Or do we explore what Jesus was truly saying in this statement about the way we are called to live and place priorities on our living.  

This challenging passage separates into three sections. Prior to the concluding section about the giving up of our possessions. Working backwards, there is a call to prepare for war and for destruction. The king would sit down, before going to battle, and consider if his 10,000 soldiers would triumph against his enemies’ 20,000. And, in a similar say, the carpenter preparing to building a tower would sit down and get the estimates in before turning the first shovel of sod.  ‘Measure twice, cut once’ – kind of thinking. Many theologians view these parts as warnings to the disciples to be prepared for the mission and ministry that lies ahead. Were they prepared for the task that they would undertake? However, there is one opening section, it is the first challenge Jesus offers. And, I warn you, it is the most difficult to hear. It is the admonition that Jesus’ followers must “hate” their family. And, yes, I just said “hate their family.” Jesus said: “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”. Hearing this passage, I’m sure you agree that this doesn’t make sense. Jesus is about love, yet this strangely sounds like a call towards hatred. Surely there is an error? A misprint? So, what does this passage mean?   

I checked, and there is no error. It is a call to “hate.” A quick comparison to the other gospel accounts find similar teachings about “hatred.” Luke is by far the harshest, however, they all carry a similar command. Matthew records it this way: “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”. John records it like this: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”. As we overlay these passages, I think we come a little closer to the Jesus’ message.  

This teaching is about priorities. These teachings ask ‘what are the priorities in your life?’ The verb “hate” – whoever does not hate father or mother is important to unpack. That verb “to hate” in the original Greek is “miseo” which does not carry the same character of anger or hostility than it does in the English. Miseo is more of an indication of one’s priority in their life. In Jesus’ time, there was no social safety net, there was no capacity to care for the poor, the widow or the orphan. Your sole priority, back in those times, was to care for your immediate biological family. Jesus is calling us to overturn that system and think about EVERYONE as family. Jesus’ miseo is of the system that only cares for biological family. He is teaching us to care for EVERYONE… for enemy, stranger, and outcast. To care for all as family!  

Now, I still think that there is room to be a good son or daughter. We remember Jesus as the one who answered Peter’s exchange “do you love me?” by saying “Peter if you love me, then feed my sheep”. We remember Jesus to be a follower of Torah. He would have followed the Ten Commandments which includes the call to honour one’s mother and father. As a teacher, he was later asked though: "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31). These passages support Jesus’ call to broaden our care, in an age when the necessity to care for the hungry, the orphan and the widow was non-existent. It was a call to see EVERYONE as neighbour, not just those gathered around the Christmas dinner table. It was a call to NOT walk by and avoid those in need, but rather to SEE the wounded Samaritan by the side of the road and care for them as FAMILY. It was a call to see the needs of others around us and stop our lives to offer care, support, and love to others as we see one another as siblings in Christ, all of us part of God’s family. It was a call to hate the system in place that caused us to only care for biological family, and to hear the call to care for ALL as family.  

In the gospel passage, we are harshly reminded that Jesus’ focus is not on meeting our needs and serving us. Rather, we are reminded that in our following of his Way, we are called and commissioned to serve the needs of others. Sometimes biological family, but also the stranger, the foreigner, those who are ‘other’. Jesus teaches that ALL of these are family – siblings in Christ. I heard it said best, I think, by Methodist Bishop William Willimon of North Alabama, who said “forgive me, forgive the church for sometimes implying that Jesus will make life easier for you, will fix everything that is wrong with you, will put a little lilt in your voice, a little sunshine in your life. Chances are he won’t. He can do even better than that. He can shape you into a disciple.”  

Shaped into being Christ’s follower/ disciple; this is very different than us shaping Christ to serve us. And indeed, the Prophet Jeremiah (in the first reading) gives us this wonderful metaphor of being shaped as an instrument and follower of God’s Way. What a powerful metaphor for faith: the potter shaping the clay in her hands. How many of us have tried our hand at pottery? Some have, and we have all played with play dough. It is a patient labour of love. Antithetical to mass producing (say) a cups, each piece of pottery is produced by hand. Each work bears the mark of its creator. Each work is created with a purpose in mind. Now occasionally, an error is made – what seemed destined to become a tall vase falls over into a lump of clay. But the potter does not give up. The fallen down, mis-shapen clay is taken, held, and lovingly reshaped once again. In fact, what potters teach is that the clay is anything but helpful in its moulding. It is only through the persistent, never-ending work from the potter that the formless clay (eventually) takes the shape of the creator.  

I believe that the image of the potter is an apt metaphor for us in our faith life. None us LIKE Jesus’ teaching that is before us. It is hard enough to love our own family, let alone spread that love into the world. That is why Jesus needs to use such language. We must miseo/ hate / turn away from the ways of this world. And all the while, God is shaping. God, like the relentless potter, is shaping and forming us into the loving creatures that this world so dearly needs. I wonder what might happen if we truly trusted God, placed our lives in God’s hands, (not the powers of the world) and said shape me, mould me, use me Lord. I wonder if our Lord’s Prayer for ‘thy kingdom come’ might be moved a step closer in our doing.  

Trust in God; place your lives in God’s hand; let God shape you into one of Christ’s disciples.