Pentecost 16 September 4, 2016 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for Sunday, September 4, 2016 | Pentecost XVI | Proper 18
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
Christ Episcopal Church
Sunday, September 4, 2016
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
I am grateful that I was born into a loving family. My sister and I knew that we were loved and that our parents were for us
. Indeed, their love and affirmation, their discipline and setting limits created a healthy confidence within us. But I knew that my experience was not necessarily true for everyone. Since my bedroom was at the north end of the house where the fence separated our home from the one next door, I could hear our frequently drunk and angry neighbor yell at his wife and berate her, yell at his son and belittle him. I could hear the son, my age, crying out as his father beat him. I would come home from school in mid-afternoon and find my mother serving tea to the weeping woman from next door who could find no way out of the mess that had become her life. While I would be utterly baffled by Jesus’ exhortation to hate one’s mother, father, and sister, I don’t doubt for one minute
that had Jesus walked into the house next door and asked mother and son to leave all things behind and follow him, it would have been nothing less than the promise of liberation from a living nightmare.
I grew up with the expectation – so strong in American culture – that I would leave home and venture forth into the world on my own. Either through training or college, I would find a job and create a career, earn an income, and have a home separate from my parents. Does this scenario ring a bell?
Such was not
the case, however, in Jesus’ world. You would never leave your family unless you were the daughter married off to a neighbor’s son -- and even marriage meant only the movement from one house in the village to another. No, in Jesus’ world the family and the family alone
was the center of economic viability – one grew up to serve the family business, all other options off the table; no venturing forth to school or work on one’s own. To leave one’s family was to entertain the real possibility of social death -- for the unattached person, the wanderer, was viewed with considerable suspicion: without family members, there would be no to vouch for your character, your integrity, your honesty.
Thus, to become a follower of Jesus, to leave the close-knit and perhaps restrictive bonds of family, to enter into his network implied, implies, a great measure of risk
precisely because one was leaving behind, no longer preferring – a better translation than hating – no longer preferring one’s mother, father, brother, or sister. To follow Jesus would be to give one’s ultimate loyalty, one’s body, mind, and soul to the One who offers an alternative to social structures and systems that berate, belittle, and beat up human beings simply because of their gender, race, or social status. Is it any wonder that women and girls and slaves and landless peasants and persons of ambiguous sexuality and men weary of violence and injustice were attracted to Jesus and the liberating grace
, the abundant mercy
he preached – but more importantly, the liberating grace and abundant mercy he lived? And thus to follow Jesus, to be his disciple, meant accepting the cross, that is, the life-threatening risk of being shunned by others as well as becoming dependent on the hospitality, the generosity of strangers as well as sharing all your goods in common with other disciples, the earliest incident of Christian socialism.
I first met Suncha Ribback in 1983 on a visit to my parents who lived in Lakewood, just down the road. Suncha was an energetic, extroverted, and gracious woman, the mother of three children, and the owner of a highly successful hair salon. She came to this country from her native Korea after meeting Edgar, a German who became an American citizen and then joined the U.S. Air Force. She had cut his hair at the American base just south of Seoul and right there he asked her out on a date. But their courtship and marriage was nothing less than a nightmare. Edgar was a European – a foreigner – and a Christian – a foreign religion so different than the native Korean religion practiced in Suncha’s family, a practice that emphasized strict family cohesion and obedience to one’s male elders. In secret, Suncha attended Lutheran services with Edgar and discovered, in her words, “freedom from my family’s religious practice that made me anxious and unable to speak my mind.” There was much reverence for ancestors and elders, she said; not much love. She became attracted to the figure of Jesus who regarded women as his equals; she was surprised to discover a loving and merciful form of religion in which women and well as men could lead, in which they could study and question. And thus, over time, she was drawn not only to Edgar but also to Edgar’s faith. She was filled with much trepidation on the day she told her parents and siblings that she and Edgar would be married, married after she was baptized. While she expected either anger or argument, she was met with only silence. Indeed, the next day, when she returned from work, all her belongings were packed in boxes and placed on the sidewalk. And she saw an announcement, tacked to the front door, written on black paper with white ink, announcing her death and when the funeral rites would be observed. “Whoever does not carry the cross,” who will not accept the risk of living in this world illuminated by a different vision of life, “cannot be my disciple.”
For Suncha, there was clearly a death, a painful rending of relationship, and there was – Yes – a resurrection into life, into the God who loves, into the imperfect community that aspires to embody the liberating grace of Jesus Christ, into a life marked by sharing rather than hoarding one’s goods and skills, into an astonishing generosity – a generosity that begs to expand – in your life and mine.