The edge of faith

Proper 18

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33


Hate your momma! Hate your daddy! Come on Jesus, what are you saying. I mean what about the fifth commandment? Honor your father and your mother. surely you aren’t … Just what are you saying Jesus? 

This is one of Jesus’ hard sayings. And yes, there are the translation points that ‘hate’ really means ‘love less,’ but it’s not that clear, and Strong’s defines ‘love less’ as by extension. And besides, when you check the Thesaurus we learn the antonym of hate is love and the antonyms of love includes dislike; but ‘dis like’ just isn’t strong enough.

It’s pretty clear Jesus is taking off on another shock and awe campaign. He’s got my attention. Anybody else,  every bishop or priest and church I know would be all ecstatic if there were large crowds hanging around. Not Jesus. Jesus starts talking about wise Kings preparing for battle. He sounds bit like the cautious commentators pondering an appropriate response to Syria’s use of poison gas weapons. Jesus continues, talking about prudent builders deciding if they complete the project. I Googled unfinished buildings, and selected the ‘famous’ button. My screen was filled with some really interesting pictures, but my favorite was the one titled “100’s more.” I really wanted to write some clever brand line that draws builders into church, but that, in itself, is missing Jesus’ point. And his point is that God in Jesus the Christ has a really, really different set of life values.

So, you really need to carefully, prudently decide to follow Jesus because it will, not may but will cause divisions within your family, and as a follower you are to love Jesus over family, you are to choose God over family; ~ literally. So like a wise king or a prudent builder, before you commit carefully, intentionally discern: Are you up to it? Can you: give up precious relationships, reject status, give away wealth? Can you forgo living by today’s standards? If not, is this Jesus thing really for you.

And by the way; history is replete with Kings making bad decisions, just read Kings and Chronicles. And as you’ve heard
Google reveals there are plenty of builders who made bad decisions; and they’ve been around forever, why else Jesus site them as an example.

In July Rachael Held Evans wrote … millennials …are leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there. I don’t think that phenomena is limited to people born between the early ’80 and early 2000’s. Lots of people are not finding Jesus in Church.
Just look at all the empty space.

Empty space raises the question of what to do. What you can do, is drown in all the available material. There are all kinds of programs, all kinds of training, all kinds of degrees, all kinds lots of analytics. And they are not without value, but the Greek misos is fitting, they are a very distant second. So, what is primary?

Perhaps Paul’s, 385 word, personal letter to Philemon can help. You know the drift. Onesimus is apparently a runaway slave, that is the ancient thought, but it’s not clear. In any case, he has become a Christian and Paul is sending him back to Philemon. Under Roman law Philemon has every right to execute Onesimus. Under Jewish law Paul has every right not to return Onesimus. He also has apostolic authority to tell Philemon what to do. He chooses; however, to send Onesimus back
and implores Philemon to treat him as a Christian brother, not like chattel. Paul also assumes any debt Onesimus might owe.
We didn’t read it, like it would make the letter to long to hear, but Paul asks them to have a room ready, as he is planning to stop by. (FYI, Paul is ever the optimist, as he is in jail when he writes the letter.) This letter touches on the big issue of slavery.

Paul does not directly take it on. However, Paul does challenge the Roman and perhaps the Jewish traditions, customs and laws of the day, which are a very complex and incongruent. Paul asserts that Philemon’s and Onesimus’  relationship in Christ has priority over everything else. In short Paul calls on Philemon to adopt Christian values over traditional values, to adopt Christian values over legal values. Paul is calling on Philemon to live the life Jesus is calling the disciples to live. It’s not easy.

In The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkins recounts the history of black Americans from 1915 to 1970. In it she addresses the actions of Christian preachers, which is quite mixed. What is most disturbing; however, is that in all that time she finds no examples of a white preacher counseling parishioners, as Paul counsels Philemon, to treat black people as their Christian brothers [and sisters]. For us today, the challenge continues to be hard, not only with issues of race, but for all sorts of concerns: marriage, health care, the role of governance, immigration, economic and financial policy, environmental policy, education. You name a broad controversy today, and there is a scripture that will speak to it in ways that counters current  tradition, custom or law, be it liberal or conservative in origin. We don’t hear them often, they make us uncomfortable. It is, as Rachel Evens says,  hard to find Jesus today.

So, I wonder what would happen if the Church, following Jesus manner, raised the bar, expected, even enforced, the level of commitment Jesus is articulating? Or even up to the level Paul exerts in his letter to Philemon, one person calling another person to make this one decision on Christian values. I wonder if I’d measure up? I wonder who would measure up? I don’t envision this as a congregational development plan. Except, that if we changed from processes focused on leadership, life cycles, demographics, facilities, and taught the divine story revealed in scripture, shared our story, and where the two intersect, and how our story changes, in our worship, and then beyond,I know Church would be different.

It doesn’t concern me that I cannot envision such a process, envisioning is a tactical exercise. It scares me that it scares me,
and that ~ is the edge of faith.


One thought on “The edge of faith

  1. Pingback: Boundary breaking (and proud of it) | Dr Ken Baker

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