Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. I think it quite likely preachers and congregations may be in a period of recovery after the lectionary readings from last Sunday. We had Jeremiah likening God to a potter shaping evil against the Israelites unless they changed their ways. Then we had Paul asking his friend Philemon to accept his runaway slave Onesimus back without much sign of calling the institution of slavery into question. Then as we turned to the Gospel reading from Luke 14, hoping for some light relief and more explicit comment from Jesus on God’s love for us, what did we get? A call to be a disciple that involved hating family, dying to ourselves, and renouncing ownership of our possessions! Now if disciple making discipleship is one of the keys to the future of the church its not an immediately attractive proposition. It goes so against grain of the culture in which we swim. Our temptation is always to interpret Christ’s words to better fit what we’d like him to say, or worse still ignore them altogether.
Jesus is talking about a way of fulfilment but in a way many of our friends would find difficult to understand. In conventional wisdom the route to happiness is to feel good and fulfilled on my individualistic terms. I demand whatever gives me satisfaction and whatever gives me satisfaction is a right! It is rooted in the theories of Sigmund Freud – who, although now widely discredited in the psychiatric and psychologist community, said most human problems derive from thwarted desires. External thwarting is oppression, internal thwarting is repression and both should be avoided. Or to put it in popular terms: If it feels good do it, and do whatever you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Jesus doesn’t say that.
In the Luke 14 passage Jesus turns to the crowd following him, in part because they had seen the Kingdom of God demonstrated in Him. People saw in Jesus something radically new: healing, restored community, love, acceptance and forgiveness. Crowds followed wanting to know more. They are spiritually hungry for more depth. But Jesus turns to them and says this is how you experience this – hate your family (v. 26), die to yourself (v. 27), renounce ownership of your possessions (v.33). Since discipleship is so important, I think I might spend the next few weeks looking at each of these in turn. But for now, we need to recognise Jesus, as with many biblical authors is using hyperbole. This is not literal as we shall see.
But for now, we need to recognise the filters through which we approach these sorts of words from Jesus, and try to keep an open mind as we explore their implications.
I’ll leave final words to Dr. Larry Crabb, and American Clinical Psychologist and spiritual director, from his book ‘The Marriage Builder’ who summarises this so well.
“We have become so conditioned to measuring the rightness of what we do by the emotion it generates that we’ve developed a new version of ethics that might be called the morality of fulfilment. Fulfilment has taken on greater urgency and value than obedience.
Does fulfilment have a place in biblical thinking? Of course. Each of us feels a deep concern for our own well-being, and this is as it should be. I long for an ever-increasing sense of personal fulfilment, and I confess this longing with no fear that my desires are sinful. The crucial issue is not whether we should be interested in our own welfare, but rather how we believe our welfare is best served. Pursuing whatever path brings the deepest immediate sense of internal well-being appears to be a rather sensible strategy for finding fulfilment. But the Bible teaches there is a way which – although it seems right – in the end leads to death: the tragedy of personal emptiness and desolation. Scriptures about dying to self, finding one’s life by losing it, being crucified with Christ, and living only for Christ make it clear that realising true fulfilment depends not on a preoccupation with fulfilment but on preoccupation with knowing God through absolute surrender.
In other words, the route to fulfilment is not the one with the road sign reading ‘Pleasure ahead’ or ‘If it seems to meet your needs, keep going.’ The only sure path to real and lasting joy is the steep, rugged road marked ‘Obedience’.”