16th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
September 16, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
438 “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee”
537 “O Master Let Me Walk With Thee”
516 “Faith Of Our Fathers”
242 “Christ Is Made The Sure Foundation”
SOMETHING OF PRICELESS VALUE
TEXT (vs. 25-27): “Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters— yes, even his own life— he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’”
This morning, I’d like to share an experience with you that I had in the earlier years of my ministry in Australia. The story is about a young man and the rather involved relationship I had with him during several phases of his walk with Christ as a disciple.
The young man’s name is Rick; and I use the term “young” because he is younger than I am. Rick was employed by a member of my congregation, Noel Priebbenow, who, along with his wife and son, owned and operated a bus and motor coach company in Maryborough, Queensland.
Rick was a very quiet and reserved individual. He wouldn’t have long conversations with his employer or the other employees. He’d only say what was necessary for him to do his job. And when he ate his lunch, he’d always go off by himself into a corner someplace, away from where everybody else was eating their lunch. He maintained as little contact with people as he possibly could. But he was a great employee too; he was never absent from work, he always showed up when he was supposed to, and his work was outstanding.
Rick lived about 26 miles away from Maryborough, in Scarness, one of the communities surrounding Hervey Bay. The Preibbenow’s company had contracted the city bus service for both Maryborough and Hervey Bay, and they also ran several busses a day between the two places. Part of Rick’s job was to take a bus and pick up passengers in Maryborough when he got off work in the late afternoon, and take them to Hervey Bay; and then he would go home after he dropped them off. And likewise, he would pick up a bus load of passengers in Hervey Bay the next morning and bring them to Maryborough on his way to work. It was a really neat arrangement.
I’ve got to stop at this point to explain Rick’s religious affiliation. It’s not usually my practice to preach about or preach against other Christian denominations by name from the pulpit. But I’m going to make an exception in this case. Rick was a member of a Christian sect known as the Exclusive Brethren. Of course I need to give you a bit of history about this group.
It was in the year 1825 that a couple gentlemen in Ireland, Dr. Edward Cronin and Dr. Edward Wilson met together for private worship and study, because of difficulties they had with the Anglican Church. (The Anglican Church consists of several different groups: The Church of England, the Church of Ireland, and the Episcopal Church in America are the ones that come to mind now.) Anyway, the group expanded by a few people. In 1830 an Anglican Priest by the name of John Nelson Darby joined the group. He renounced the Anglican Priesthood, and led the group known as the Plymouth Brethren for the next 50 years.
Since its formation, the Plymouth Brethren have experienced numerous splits and divisions. Today, there are three basic groups: The Open Brethren (their meeting houses are often called Gospel Chapels or Bible Chapels), the Closed Brethren, and the Exclusive Brethren. These groups should not be confused with other Brethren groups, like the Lutheran Brethren, the Church of the Brethren, or the Evangelical United Brethren which is now part of the United Methodist Church.
Like I said before, Rick was a member of the Exclusive Brethren, and their doctrine and way of life reflects their name. Their members are allowed no form of modern communication apart from a telephone. They have no televisions, no radios, and no internet. They are not allowed to have social interaction with non-members. They are not even allowed to eat a meal with someone outside of their fellowship. They don’t eat in restaurants or stay in motels unless it absolutely cannot be avoided. They are encouraged to marry at the age of 20; all courtship is strictly chaperoned, and they are supposed to marry only someone within their fellowship.
Their activities are centered around the Brethren fellowship as well. The entirety of Sunday (or the Lord’s Day as they call it) is spent at their meeting hall (they don’t call them churches). Every weeknight has some sort of study activity as well, and then there’s something on Saturday morning too.
So this was the group Rick came from. When Noel Priebbenow introduced me to him, we were having a meal at Noel’s home. Having a meal there was a giant leap for him. Noel told him right up front that he wanted Rick to meet me, so there were no surprises for any of us.
You see, Rick had gotten into trouble with the Exclusive Brethren, and he was put on church discipline. Why you might ask? It was because Rick dared to play the radio on the bus he was driving between Maryborough and Hervey Bay for the benefit of his passengers. The Elders of the Exclusive Brethren got wind of this, and came down hard on him.
Rick knew they had gone too far. He had privately questioned some of the practices of the Exclusive Brethren in the past, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He saw that the man-made rules of the Exclusive Brethren were just that—rules made by man.
This was the point where Rick and I began our pastor/parishioner relationship. Rick’s knowledge of the Bible was incredible—so much so, that trying to instruct him using the normal Bible Information Class material would have been like using a primary school arithmetic book for a university level calculus class. So I used a book called “A Summary of Christian Doctrine” by Edward Koehler, a book I had used in my college Christian Doctrine class.
The results were absolutely phenomenal. Rick soaked it all up like a sponge. You could see the Holy Spirit working in his life as the entirety of the Scriptures were opened up for him. Things that had confused him before suddenly became as plain as the noonday sun.
And then Rick did the unthinkable…he joined our congregation. For someone in the Exclusive Brethren, this is one of the most heinous of all sins, far worse than leaving and going nowhere else. When Rick joined our congregation, he was shunned not only by the Brethren, but by all of his family who were still members, even his own mother.
Rick’s mother lived in a house that he had bought and paid for. So Rick, being the thoughtful son he is, gave the house to his mother and bought another house for himself. His own mother had to shun him, which is pretending like he didn’t even exist. And apart from his one sister who also left the Brethren, the rest of his family and friends shunned him as well. There’s a lot more to this story, and I’ll share a bit more later on.
Whenever I read our text for today, I think about Rick. I think about how hard it was for him to allow all of this to happen to him so he could be a true disciple of Christ.
Verse 26 of our Gospel lesson for today presents us with a very harsh reality. Jesus says: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters— yes, even his own life— he cannot be my disciple.
And there’s that pesky word, “hate.” What does Jesus mean by that? Why in the world does he tell us to hate our families, our friends, and even our own life? Why is that a condition of discipleship? After all, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and to do good to those who persecute us.
A lot depends on what we mean by the use of that word. If we use the word “hate” to describe actions of discrimination, or belittling someone because they’re different, or causing harm and hurt, or lying about someone, or name calling, or other similar things, then that’s wrong. If we do things which contradict God’s love for all people, then we haven’t acted in a Christian manner.
In the Bible, the word translated “hate,” is the Greek word, “mi-SE-oh.” The Bible doesn’t have any lukewarm words, for example just “liking” someone. It’s either love or hate. If we love Jesus, if we want to be his disciple, if we follow him, then we love him. If we don’t follow Jesus, and if we head down some other track, then we hate him. The choice we are given is to either love or hate.
If we look at our relationship between God and ourselves, we can see how this all plays out. We are all sinners and part of the sinful human race. Sin separates us from God. Dare I say that God might even hate us? We know he hates and detests sin. But what about people like you and me? If we were to be judged according to our sins, then that hatred of sin would be carried out in us. We would be punished for our sins and subsequently suffer eternal perdition.
But the Bible tells us that God loves us; he hates the sin but loves the sinner. Therefore we look to Jesus to see the example of that love. God doesn’t want us to experience eternal punishment, but eternal life. God doesn’t want to punish us as our sins deserve, but forgive us our sins out of pure love, something we don’t deserve at all.
That’s why Jesus is the object of our faith. Jesus comes to us as the supreme act of God’s love for us. Believe in him as your Saviour, and you will receive complete and total forgiveness for all your sins. Out of love he took those sins away from you and put them on himself. He took the bondage of the law and freed us from it. Through faith in Jesus, we are no longer under the curse of the law, but the freedom of the Gospel.
Because Jesus has loved us so much, we will want to follow him. He wants us to be his disciple. And how will we do that? How will those words “love” and “hate” factor into all of this?
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells us that we need to “count the cost” of discipleship. That cost is summarized by the word “hate,” and that word isn’t easy to reckon with either. Perhaps we should start off by using another love/hate comparison Jesus makes. In Matthew 6, 24 he says: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
In this instance, Jesus is talking about the love of money; but of course it can be expanded far beyond that. Our Gospel for today does that very thing. If there are those things that stand in the way of Jesus and threaten to lead us away from him, those are the things we are to hate, or to avoid. By loving such things, we are in fact hating Jesus. When it comes to him, divided loyalties just won’t work. Such things threaten the very Gospel which unites us in love to our God.
So what is the cost of our discipleship? For some people today, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ can mean certain death, especially in some non-Christian countries. But for a lot of people, the issues they face probably aren’t that drastic. In fact, they might be summed up in these “Devil’s Beatitudes for Christians” I came across this week.
Blessed are those who are too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend an hour once a week with their fellow Christians, they are my best workers.
Blessed are those Christians who wait to be asked and expect to be thanked - I can use them.
Blessed are the touchy. With a bit of luck, they may stop going to church - they are my missionaries.
Blessed are the troublemakers - they shall be called my children.
Blessed are the complainers - I'm all ears to them and I will spread their message.
Blessed are the church members who expect to be invited to their own church - for they are a part of the problem instead of the solution.
Blessed are they who gossip - for they shall cause strife and divisions. That pleases me.
Blessed are they who are easily offended - for they will soon get angry and quit.
Blessed are they who do not give their offering to carry on God's work - for they are my helpers.
Blessed are they who professes to love God but hate their brother or sister - for they shall be with me forever.
Blessed are they who read or hear this and think it is about other people - I've got you.
This morning I shared the story about Rick in Australia with you, and what he went through with the Exclusive Brethren. The cost of his discipleship wasn’t easy for him. He was shunned by his family and friends. But God has certainly blessed his life. He has served as an officer of the congregation and the synod.
A number of years after he became a member of our congregation, we held a Golden Wedding anniversary celebration at our church for Noel and Elva Priebbenow from the bus company. Rick of course was in attendance. It was there that he met the Priebbenow’s grand daughter, Lisa, and they became engaged.
Lisa had her family problems too—she was a member of a rather strict Lutheran sect, and her father tried everything in his power to keep them apart. It was a very tough go for both of them, but at least things weren’t taken to the degree that the Exclusive Brethren did with Rick. It took a lot of time and counseling, but the result was worth it. They were eventually married, and now have children. And even though Rick’s mother still shuns him, she is allowed to speak to Lisa and her grand children.
For Rick and Lisa, the cost of discipleship hasn’t been easy. It has caused family splits and generated ire. It would have been so easy to just go along with the flow and not make waves.
So what made it all worth it? I think they would agree that the answer can be found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter three, verses 16-18: “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
The cost of discipleship might not be easy. But the freedom we experience in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is definitely worth it. So we love Christ and follow him. We love him because he first loved us, and gave himself for us. Let us always remain true to our first love, regardless of the earthly expense. It will always be worth it.