The Radical Minimum

Proper 18
Luke 14

Pew Research did a survey of 18-25 year-olds that asked them what they wanted for their future. 81% said they wanted to be rich, and 51% said they wanted to be famous.

Based on the reality TV craze, it would appear that fame is not as difficult as it used to be. Now you can be on TV and sing, and lose weight and be cruel to others and have relationships with millions watching. This is symptomatic of our world of narcissism and selfishness.

You’ve heard of the ‘Star Wars Kid?’ He is a chubby Canadian who made a video of himself pretending to be a Jedi, using his dad’s golf ball retriever as a light saber. His friends got a hold of it and put it online. It is one of the most downloaded video of all time. Someone added special effects to it and it was even spoofed on TV shows, so the ‘Star Wars Kid’ sued his friends and won, gaining $350,000 for himself. Fame and fortune from a kid who pretended to be a Sith.

But we know there are others who have more altruistic goals. The ‘Burning Man’ gathering, which just ended last labor day, seeks to bring people together to live in a Utopian village if just for a week. There is no money exchanged and it is a paradise for inclusivity and artistic expression under the Nevada desert sky and, of course, by rule is clothing optional for those who are more free spirited.

I just read last week of a new video ‘game’ based on Burning Man’s Utopia called Second Life, in which players can get away from real life to pursue an alternate existence. You make yourself an ‘avatar’ and you buy and sell and be whatever you want to be. Real money exchanges hands, over a million dollars a week. But utopia has also led people to turn the game in a different direction. There is a PG version and a ‘Mature’ version of the game. It always goes there, doesn’t it?

The problem with utopia and alternate universes is that they just do not exist. In an alternate universe of so called perfection something is missing. Something that we as human beings cannot do without. Purpose. Meaning. Being a part of something that is important and vital. Being part of something worth spending everything we have to find.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is so ‘subtle’ is he not? I mentioned Luke’s focus on discipleship and his picture of real disciples. Not those who we expect but those who have humbled themselves and admit their broken-ness.

But Jesus does not leave them there. He is out to make followers who will persevere. He is out to give people purpose for their lives that will cost them their lives. He wants followers who are not afraid to walk where he walked-even to the cross. Even to death and more difficultly, even to deny oneself.

I did a word study on the Greek word miseo translated ‘hate’ in our English Bibles hoping to find another meaning. The only other meaning I found for this particular word was to ‘detest.’ Does Jesus want us to actually hate those we love in favor of the Kingdom.

When Jesus uses this strong word he is trying to make a point. He is using what is called ‘hyperbole.’ What does that mean? ‘Hyperbole’ means to exaggerate, or to stretch a concept beyond its meaning. We do this all the time. ‘If you do that again, I’m going to strangle you.’ Or, ‘I just love banana cream pie.’ Do you really ‘love’ banana cream pie? Will you really strangle me?

Jesus is doing something similar here. He overstates his point to make it hit harder. What is his point? ‘I share loyalty with no one. Not even with those relationships that are the most important to you.’

Those of us who have recited marriage vows know just what Jesus is saying. I remember standing face to face with Sarah saying that I would ‘love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as we both shall live.’

‘Forsaking all others.’ I remember that phrase in particular. That’s similar language to Jesus’ use of the word ‘hate’ of others and our own life for his sake. Now every time I see a pretty gal I don’t say, “Hey, I forsake you!!” And we don’t tell our loved ones “I hate you in the name of the Lord,” but the concept is clear. Our ultimate loyalty is to Christ and to no one else, even if it means to deny ourselves and our possessions.

What is fascinating about this passage, though, is found right in verse 25. It seems like a throwaway line. “Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them…”

‘Large crowds.’ Go Jesus. Here is the fame we talked about earlier. From 12 to hundreds. There might even have been some people of influence following him. A politician may say that Jesus was building his constituency. Got to be some large donors in the crowd. Hey, saving the world takes some doing, he needs all the help he can get.

I strongly believe that Jesus’ words were meant to turn people away. He had the perfect opportunity to get the biggest audience but Jesus doesn’t want an audience. He wants disciples. He wants hearts and minds and wills–he wants all of us. He wants lives.

Like we pray in our Eucharistic Prayer: we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves,
our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee;
These words, in part, are from Paul’s words Romans 12 to offer our bodies as ‘living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God…’

25 Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’

What was the result of Jesus’ words? No more large crowds. The standard was set and I’m sure the crowd shrunk.

Have you ever called someone to come and die? On a cross? In the ancient world, the cross was not only a criminal’s death, it was an outsider’s death. Roman citizens were decapitated, but non-citizens were crucified. It was an insulting and humiliating death. Yet Jesus says, ‘come and follow me there to that place of shame and humiliation.’

To follow Jesus is to live just on the edge of things. Christian mystics call this kind of living ‘detachment,’ that is, a disciple is cut off from the world to be closer to God. The ancient literature used the word ‘apatheia’ from where we get the word ‘apathy.’ This does not mean deadness or a stale disposition, it is to literally, ‘not care’ about the world in favor of following Jesus.

‘To give up all your possessions’ is also translated ‘renounce.’

There are many ways we can go with all of this.
The vestry and I are reading a book by Erwin McManus called The Unstoppable Force. In it McManus remarks how, in Christian circles, there seems to be a layer of callings. You’re called to salvation, then you’re called to be a disciple, then to missions or full time ministry for some, while everyone else sits on the sidelines.

He says that the words of Jesus to renounce everything are not for the uberChristians, but the radical minimum for everyone. Jesus call to carry the cross is the starting point for all Christians, not just the calling of the select few or to clergy. He also uses the example from business and says that what you expect from the person in the lowest part of the organization is what drives it not necessarily from the leadership. So if the boss is the next thing to Bill Gates, it doesn’t matter if the person answering the phone is a crab.

So it is, he says, with the church. He is the pastor of Mosaic in California and his church has set the bar high for membership–but really what he calls the ‘radical minimum.’ Therefore, if you want to be a member there, you will do 4 things:

  1. Strive for holiness.
  2. Be active in ministry
  3. Tithe
  4. Commit to an evangelistic lifestyle

Now anyone can go to the church without being a member, but if you want to be a member, you must commit to those 4 things. And again, in his mind, this is the radical minimum.

What would you think if being expected to do those things just for membership? Some might feel like this is meddling or ‘none of the church’s business.’
The Episcopal Church, in theory, makes membership pretty easy. Remember there used to be baptism, first Communion and Confirmation? We still do confirmation and it is still the primary way of becoming a member, but—on the books you’re a member if you are baptized.

Now, who here has been baptized? Have you ever considered what expectations are on you if you have been baptized. Unfortunately, we see baptism as the end rather than the radical minimum. If you have been baptized you have promised to:

  • Live a holy life (I renounce…I promise to obey…)
  • Go to church regularly (apostle’s teaching…)
  • Live an evangelistic lifestyle (Will you proclaim…)
  • Love others in ministry (…loving your neighbor..strive for justice and peace…dignity of every human being)

Nothing in there on giving but if you have done all of the above, that is a natural outcome.

Sounds like meddling to me!
Consider for a moment why we gather why we are here what our purpose is! Baptism is the starting point, the radical minimum. I return you to the baptismal vows if you think that requirements of this church is any different than the words of Jesus.

Lastly Jesus uses two important examples to make his point, the one about the man making the tower and the king who is about to be invaded. They are similar in that they are to count the cost, but different in an important way.

Was a Tower a necessary edifice in the first century? Certainly not. A tower was built to show strength or to be a display of beauty. In this example, to fail was to be embarrassed.

What about a king about to invade you? This was more than embarrassment, this was a time for urgency. You come to terms ‘on the way’ so you don’t get annihilated.

The call of Christ is like this. He is suddenly upon us, asking us to renounce all and carry our cross and there is no time to decide if he means it or not. This is my challenge to you today.

He is upon us, asking us to carry the cross, to renounce our claim on our own lives and to give them to him. There is no waiting and no negotiating and no dawdling. Either we follow him. Or not. Either we commit ourselves to what we have promised or not. Either he is Lord. Or not.