Sermon – 5 September 2004

I?d really like to concentrate on the Potter?s Wheel image from Jeremiah this morning.

However, since we heard that reading, we have now just had a gospel reading which I don?t think can be read without comment.

Those of you who have been here over the last couple of weeks will have heard several bits of Luke?s gospel in which the most terrible things are put on Jesus?s lips. Lat week we heard Jesus being rude to people at the dinner table. The week before he broke the rules about Sabbath keeping, the week before that he spoke of setting mother against daughter and father against son.

And now he says that no-one can be his disciple unless he hates his father, mother, sisters and brothers.

What are we to make of that?
Well, people have tried all kinds of ways of making sense of that sentence. I have my own view, which I will come to in a moment, but there are lots of others.

On the one hand, an commentator might try to say that hate is a poor translation and that Jesus was using softer language. They might ask us to remember that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, was discussed by people in Hebrew, was recorded in Greek and then that has been translated for us into English. Is it easy then to know exactly the force of his words. Perhaps he was saying something like ?Turn away from your family attachments and fix your eyes on God? Perhaps we would find that easier on our ears.

Well, that is one solution, there are others. For example, there is the possibility that Jesus was not quite the kind of person whom we would like to think him at all. There were those at the time who saw him as coming to lead an armed struggle to recapture the land from the foreign Roman invaders. The Zealots (we might call them suicide bombers) would have latched onto this kind of statement as reinforcing their extremist cause ? seeing in Jesus the leader who would affirm all their prejudices and lead them into war. They would argue that only those able to turn away from family would be able to do the terrible things needed to free their land, the land of God.

So was he that kind of Jesus? Well, the trouble with that kind of reading is that it does not really seem to accord with the rest of his life. He does not seem to have wanted to be that kind of leader at all and seems to come to undermine those in power in a more subtle way than using violence against them.

That is 2 ways of reading this passage (ie that he does not mean hate your family and secondly that he really does mean it, for the sake of furthering a political goal). Are there others?

Well, a third way of understanding it is to see it in the light of the way in which Jewish preachers preach ? all hyperbole, all exaggeration. Was he reacting to the crowd ? was he responding to a questioner with a response that just could not be ignored in order to score a point. Jewish preachers always did do that, and some preachers still do. Sometimes people need to say outrageous things in order to get people?s attention. And this was outrageous, in the family oriented culture of Judaism.

I feel as though I am playing Call my Bluff with this text ? holding out different meanings to you as though I am going to reveal all at the end and tell you which one is true.

Scripture does not work like that though. Perhaps all these have some kind of truth in them. Perhaps what this really means is what it means to us.

Let me tell you what it means to me.

I have a different way of understanding this passage, which you will not find in books or commentaries.

To me, this is a good example of Luke the editor, rather than Luke the secretary. I think that he is recording words which people remembered Jesus speaking, not writing them down verbatim.

To me, this whole passage could have arisen out of asking a group of early church folk what they remembered Jesus as having said when he was travelling with the large crowd on his way. And perhaps their memories are different.

Perhaps Luke asked the Zealots, who remembered him speaking harshly of family ties, in favour of the God cause which they wanted to believe in.

Perhaps Luke asked people who were going through a hard time in life ? knowing real suffering as all people do at some time or another. They remembering the cross that they had known Christ die on remember Jesus as having said that all will go the same way as he has gone. Perhaps they remembered him saying something about family loss and grief and put that in terms of the cross when they later came to tell Luke what he said.

And others, thinkers, teachers, leaders remembered what Jesus said that afternoon in terms of his stories about detachment from possessions and the careful summing up of the cost of war. Is that their way of remembering the same occasion. The same words even.

And Luke bundles is all together. Whatever else this passage is, it is not a narrative of events. Rather, I think, it is different reminiscences by people who cast Christ the way they wanted him to be. A Christ who lived in community and had complex relationships.

A Christ who was moulding his people into a community which would eventually be able to see and experience resurrection in the face of death. A people who would see the world through Christ-like eyes.

Perhaps that was his mission. And when Easter Day came and the disciples responded to it the way they did, it was Mission Accomplished.

Christ had moulded them, shaped them, nudged them into being a people who could see resurrection, feel resurrection, share resurrection.

They had been moulded by his words, his actions, his teaching, his prayer life. They had been with him and had been changed. Shaped. Moulded. Made new.

Just like a potter making a pot on a wheel. Moulding, Shaping, Making something new.

Remember just for moment that the potter image that Jeremiah calls up is directed at the people, the body of Christ corporate. The believers, not the believer.

God was shaping a people. Gently. Carefully. Patiently.

And God is shaping us, his people. Gently, carefully, patiently.

To be a people who can sense resurrection. To be a people who can experience resurrection. To be a people who can grow in God?s new resurrection reign.

And to see the world through God?s eyes again.


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