Skip to content

Sermon (9/5): Discipleship And The Planet

September 7, 2010

Today, Jesus is preaching hate. Jesus says: “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.” And then, of course, we are also supposed to “give up all our possessions.”

What is all this about? What could possibly prompt Jesus to say that a requirement of following him is to hate all of our family members and even life itself and, oh yeah, to give up all our possessions?…

Well, to begin, I’d really like to believe that Jesus is exaggerating here to make a point—something we all do from time to time. He doesn’t really expect us to hate all our family members, right? …Well, I think Jesus was exaggerating, but I also think Jesus may have been exaggerating less than we’d like to believe. There are discussions in other parts of the Gospel of Luke as well as in the other three Gospels and the Book of Acts, that show that many, if not all of Jesus’ disciples did, indeed, leave behind parents and wives and siblings and children, never to be seen again, to follow Jesus. And the 12 disciples most definitely left behind their possessions, except perhaps for the clothes on their backs and whatever they could carry with them as they traveled with Jesus around Galilee and eventually made their way to Jerusalem. After all, there are good reasons why Jesus only attracted twelve disciples during his earthly life.

Jesus expected a lot. Jesus expected an awful lot of his disciples. I wonder if we would have been up for following him, had we lived back then. I wonder if we had seen him pass through our lives, healing and feeding and preaching his radical message of love and hope and forgiveness: would any of us here be willing to leave our families and our possessions behind to follow him as a disciple? Would we have been willing join him as he took on the religious and political authorities of his day?

It’s hard to imagine. It’s hard to imagine leaving behind my family to follow an itinerant preacher, no matter the wonderful things he was doing and the beautiful moral and spiritual lessons he was teaching. Regardless of the need for political and economic upheaval.

So I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d be up for that… It’s an intriguing question for us to consider, I think. But I also think we have different questions, more relevant to our lives right here and right now to consider. For us, following Jesus does not literally require leaving our families behind to walk beside him as he trooped about helping people and making trouble.

We, here, today, have different dilemmas facing us. But those challenges—the challenges Jesus calls us to address today—are no less difficult, no less intense, no less intimidating.

Now, as always, we human beings are facing all sorts of overwhelming problems. Overwhelming problems—wars, famines, injustice. You name it, we’ve got it to contend with these days, just as we always have throughout all time. But I think the most confusing and difficult and unusual problem we have to address is the question of what to do about the physical health of our planet. When I read the news, I generally try to avoid all the bad stuff about global warming and the extinction of untold species through the degradation of rain-forests and coral reefs, of the tremendous over-fishing in the world’s oceans, of the mass of floating plastic out in the middle of the Pacific that is twice the size of Texas…

(Click below to read the complete sermon.)

Boy—how about that Gospel reading?

The last time I preached a few weeks back, we had that other bit from Luke about Jesus not coming to bring peace but division. Remember that? Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather, division!” And then Jesus says he came to set brother against father and mother against daughter. Remember all that? That was fun. Good times…

And now, if all that stuff about division wasn’t enough, now we’ve got Jesus preaching hate. That’s right: Today, Jesus is preaching hate. Jesus says: “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.” And then, of course, we are also supposed to “give up all our possessions.”

Boy…

Now, before we dig into this passage and try to see what’s going on here, I just want to point out one thing: Here at St. Peter’s, the Dean is in charge of the preaching schedule.

Anyway…

What is all this about? What could possibly prompt Jesus to say that a requirement of following him is to hate all of our family members and even life itself and, oh yeah, to give up all our possessions?

Well, to begin, I’d really like to believe that Jesus is exaggerating here to make a point—something we all do from time to time. He doesn’t really expect us to hate all our family members, right? What about all the family responsibilities upheld in the Hebrew scriptures: “honor your father and mother” and all the duties proscribed to husbands and wives to love one another  as “flesh of my flesh”?

Well, I think Jesus was exaggerating, but I also think Jesus may have been exaggerating less than we’d like to believe. There are discussions in other parts of the Gospel of Luke as well as in the other three Gospels and the Book of Acts, that show that many, if not all of Jesus’ disciples did, indeed, leave behind parents and wives and siblings and children, never to be seen again, to follow Jesus. And the 12 disciples most definitely left behind their possessions, except perhaps for the clothes on their backs and whatever they could carry with them as they traveled with Jesus around Galilee and eventually made their way to Jerusalem.

Jesus expected a lot. Jesus expected an awful lot of his disciples. I wonder if we would have been up for following him, had we lived back then. I wonder if we had seen him pass through our lives, healing and feeding and preaching his radical message of love and hope and forgiveness: would any of us here be willing to leave our families and our possessions behind to follow him as a disciple? Would we have been willing join him as he took on the religious and political authorities of his day?

It’s hard to imagine. It’s hard to imagine leaving behind my family to follow an itinerant preacher, no matter the wonderful things he was doing and the beautiful moral and spiritual lessons he was teaching. Regardless of the need for political and economic upheaval.

So I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d be up for that. What if I had been among those in the adoring crowds who watched Jesus heal the sick, feed the hungry and then listened, enthralled, when Jesus preached his vision of the Kingdom of Heaven? Would I then have returned to my daily life, and slowly forgotten all I’d seen and heard as the cares of my family and my possessions consumed me? Or would I have left everything behind, my family, my friends, all my stuff, to devote my life to following this man, as he took on the worldly powers of his day?

It’s an intriguing question for us to consider, I think. But I also think we have different questions, more relevant to our lives right here and right now to consider. For us, following Jesus does not literally require leaving our families behind to walk beside him as he trooped about helping people and making trouble.

We, here, today, have different dilemmas facing us. But those challenges—the challenges Jesus calls us to address today—are no less difficult, no less intense, no less intimidating.

Now, as always, we human beings are facing all sorts of overwhelming problems. Overwhelming problems—wars, famines, injustice. You name it, we’ve got it to contend with these days, just as we always have throughout all time.

But I think the most confusing and difficult and unusual problem we have to address is the question of what to do about the physical health of our planet. When I read the news, I generally try to avoid all the bad stuff about global warming and the extinction of untold species through the degradation of rain-forests and coral reefs, of the tremendous over-fishing in the world’s oceans, of the mass of floating plastic out in the middle of the Pacific that is twice the size of Texas.

I try, try, try not to think about it. Or I try to imagine that it’s not really that big of a deal.

So a few hundred-thousand different kinds of plants and animals are being killed off every year. So the city of Venice is slowly sinking into the sea. So the migratory patterns of fish and birds are changing before our eyes. It’s okay. It’s going to be all right. And sure, all the world’s scientists pretty much agree on all this horrible, ominous stuff, but scientists have been wrong before, right? Maybe all the world’s scientists have just made a mistake? Maybe? It’s possible!

I’d really like to believe all that. I’ve had that conversation with myself a bunch of time. But I don’t. I don’t. If I’m honest with myself, I’m very, very worried about the state of our planet. And when I’m even more honest with myself, I feel sick to my stomach about my own complicity in all the ecological devastation that’s going on. And then, in those moments when God most fully opens me up, opens me to the truth, I can hear a challenging and strident voice telling me—you’ve got to do something, you’ve got to do something, you’ve got to do something!

And I think that’s the same voice the disciples heard calling out to them in Galilee some 2000 years ago, telling them they had to do something. They had to do something about the crushing poverty and hunger and injustice all around them. A voice saying simply: leave everything behind and follow me.

I think that today, here, now, as we stare at what scientists are calling a “mass extinction event,” the first of its kind since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years, Jesus may be calling to us in much the same way. Because those who do take the lead in addressing the ecological crisis we’re faced with are probably going to have to put that mission ahead of their own family’s interests, ahead even of their own personal welfare, and certainly they’re not going to hold onto very many possessions.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. I saw a movie this past week about, among other things, a man named Rick O’Barry. The movie is called “The Cove” and it won last year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary.

O’Barry was the trainer of the five bottle-nosed dolphins who collectively performed as “Flipper” in the hit TV show in the 1960’s. His work on the show made him rich and helped to create the billion dollar industry of watching and playing with dolphins in captivity. And O’Barry could have spent the rest of his adult life raking in money while surrounded by a large, adoring collection of family and friends—if he had continued to train captive dolphins to perform and interact with people.

But while he was still a young man, O’Barry found that he could not escape the fact that the industry of capturing and training cute, female bottlenose dolphins—an industry he’d helped create—was incredibly destructive to the world’s marine wildlife. And so, one day, he started doing everything he could to free dolphins from captivity. In the last 30-some years, he’s been arrested countless times while risking his life to break-in to various aquariums and tanks all over the world to set dolphins free.

In particular, he’s taken aim at the way dolphins are corralled in large groups so that the cute females can be selected and captured and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars each as performers at SeaWorld and the like. You see: every time a hand-full of female bottlenose dolphins are captured so they can become lucrative performers, hundreds of other dolphins are slaughtered and sold for their meat.

Watching this movie about O’Barry and his single-minded defense of dolphins, it was very hard to relate to him. He seemed like a bit of a nut. An obsessive nut. He has no family to speak of, just enough money to get by, and no close friends, other than those who help him with his activism. And he’s made a lot of enemies over the years—not least of which is the Japanese government and the entire Japanese police apparatus.

But he has also managed to teach many people about the needless harm we humans are currently doing to our planet’s ocean life. And eventually, I found myself admiring O’Barry, admiring him a great deal. And I found myself wondering… wondering whether I had it in me to devote myself so fully, to doing something, really doing something about the ecological crisis we’re now facing.

But I don’t know. I don’t know if I could ever follow Jesus’ call to do something about the problems our planet faces so completely, so utterly. I don’t know if I could put Jesus’ call to action ahead of—or even on a par with—my sense of responsibility to my spouse and my children. But as a Christian, as someone who calls himself a follower of Jesus, I’m going to keep staying open to the challenge. And maybe, with God’s help, I’ll find ways, here and there, to truly follow Jesus. And maybe, in some small way, I can be part of the solution to our planet’s environmental crisis, rather than part of the problem.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: