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s190g98 Somerton Park 6/9/98 Sunday 23C

"None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all of your possessions" Luke 14.33

As I was considering these words, my mind was drawn to a conversation I had a very long time ago with a very senior, but rather radical, clergyman. It was even before I was ordained. He said that one wasn't a real priest until one had committed adultery! It is just as well I don't follow the advise of everyone who gives it, and I am quite happy not being a real priest for a while longer yet.

Looking back I now realise that he wasn't actually commending adultery, but saying very strongly that until a person had sinned and known the forgiveness of God, they could hardly be an authority on God's forgiveness. So Jesus said to Simon the Pharisee, the woman loved much because she had had her many sins forgiven her. (Luke 7.47) A priest is supposed to be an authority on God's forgiveness. He or she needs to know that from personal experience not from academic studies.

Again a little later in my ministry I recall a colleague of mine saying the problem most people have is not God's forgiveness, but being unable to forgive themselves. I can indeed relate to that. I have spent long nights berating myself over some stupid things I have done. So the Anglican Church commends the practice of confession with a priest when one can't quieten one's own conscience.

So people say things which are put forcefully to make their point, not to be taken literally.

So with the words of Jesus today. He puts them forcefully to make the point, but not to be taken literally. He does not wish us to hate our parents, families or life. That would be a travesty of the gospel indeed.

The clue to the interpretation of this saying of Jesus comes in the final word: "possessions". If we regard our parents or our families as a possession then they are being misused. Here the saying holds true - I am told it was first said by Frederick Perls, one of the leading lights in Gestalt psychology - "If you love something let it go; if it returns to you it really is love; if it doesn't, it never was love." J. Ray, in his 16th century book of proverbs says: "Follow love and it will flee, Flee love and it will follow thee." So these things are facts of life, rather than things to be taken literally.

The tenth of the ten commandments states: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet your neighbour's wife, nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is his." (Exodus 20.17) This is in order of importance - but just because one of the 10 commandments regards women as possessions, does not imply that we should still do so.

Indeed for some women one of the repugnant aspects of the traditional marriage service is the concept of the father of the bride "giving her away". She is not a chattel to be bought or sold, traded with or given away. I heartily agree with this, though getting fathers to relinquish what they just see as a quaint tradition will take more than a change of words. Some traditional fathers have seen their daughters as their possession, and some traditional husbands have seen their wives as possessions. It has to be said that this is wrong. It is a travesty of the gospel, even though passages of the Bible can be cited to support the view. The outrage at the offence of adultery needs to be checked. Is it outrage that someone has taken something which belongs to me? It is only in recent times that in English law, property offences have not been seen as more serious than offences against women - echoes of the 10th commandment again.

If we regard people as our possessions we are abusing them - we are treating them as less than human. No wonder the words Jesus uses are strong.

So the context of the words of Paul about Onesimus becomes clear. This slave had stolen and run away from his Christian masters. Somehow he had come to Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome. There he had found acceptance, a ministry and faith. He, as a slave, was a possession of his masters. Gently, Paul in his letter, leads his masters away from regarding him as such, even though they had a legal right to do so.

But what I said about adultery holds true about our relationships. The reality is that our human relationships are but a pale reflection of the love of Jesus, who gives of himself to us totally. The trouble is that when we read these words we see them as totally preoccupied with following Jesus. In other words - absolutely self serving. So they cannot be interpreted truly until we know and understand the cross and resurrection. It is only when we come to grasp the magnitude of God's love for us that we can read the Bible with any accuracy at all.

But looking at it this way is really all the wrong way around. The sequence of events is that God has sent Jesus to die and rise again for us. As we perceive the reality of this in our lives we are enabled to see the poverty of our own love of others and we are enabled to see our possessions as they really are. We may give away some of our material possessions, and we may start to consider some of our fellow travellers as humans to try to love, not objects to possess.

So the love of Jesus begins to affect our relationships, one with another, so that in fact they become more human. We may come to perceive the primary importance of the cross and resurrection. However whether that happens or not is immaterial. What is important is that we relate to one another as human beings.

To use these words as a justification for differentiation of Christian over Christian - the more spiritual Christian over the less spiritual Christian, is to misuse them completely. Those who imply "I am a better Christian, because I hate my mother or father, because I just love Jesus so much" have failed to hear the words of St John in his first letter: "Those who do not love a brother or a sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also." (1 John 4.20,21)

Jesus himself takes issue with the Pharisees on precisely this point. In Mark chapter 7 he criticises them for doing aside with the 5th of the 10 commandments by saying: ""Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban", (that is, an offering to God) - then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or a mother." (11,12)

There are some people who have many possessions who in fact could quite happily do without them. There are some people who haven't as many possessions yet are constantly worried about their lack of them. How many people believe that "the grass is always greener on the other side" and no amount of convincing will ever change that attitude.

Possessions (in complete contrast to our fellow humanity) are meant to be used. I was once told that a trailer creates work. How true this is! If you don't own a trailer you don't cut down the tree to get rid of it. More gets done, rather than time saved. Similarly, a computer creates work. More things can be done because the ability to do them is there. No computer ever saved time.

I believe this draws our attention to the inappropriate use of personal pronouns: particularly "My" and "Our". How often do we say "my wife" or "my husband"? How often do we say "my children"? They are not mine, they are individuals in their own right. I have a duty of care to them, that is all. I am proud of their achievements too. How often do we refer to God as "Our Father" - is God no one else's father? Psalm 23 says: "The Lord is my shepherd" and even goes on to picture God as so siding with the author that God would "spread'st a table before me in the face of those who trouble me" - the ultimate retribution! How often do we speak of my Church? Do we really want it to be for me alone? Many people look at the priest as "my Rector". Is the priest to be expected to fulfil each and every expectation placed upon him or her, at the drop of a hat, by everyone?

More and more I am getting wary of the concept of rights that people claim to have. We are loved. God has made us his children by adoption and grace, not to exclude others but to enable all to be included.

The final thing I would note is that there is a passion associated with the word "hate". This may lead us to see that the love God has for us is passionate and all consuming. The opposite of this love is not hate but apathy - a lack of care. He enables us love ourselves, those he puts around us, as well as himself, with a degree of passion. Indeed the intervening sayings, the person building the tower and the king going out to war, commends us using our logic in a quite calculating way. He doesn't want to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. Who is there who loves us all like Jesus? He died and rose again for us and for all. He loves completely, unreservedly and straight forward. Totally up-front. He is indeed worth all the riches of this world, precisely because he neither wants them, needs them or asks for them.


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