Sermon for Sunday, September 4, 2022 It was 1939. A Lutheran pastor and scholar was in New York City, where he had gone because his anti-Hitler views got him in trouble with the religious leadership in Germany. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He had lived in New York before, while a student, but now he was back with a guest lectureship at Union Seminary, where he had studied before. It was a safe place for him – his opposition to Hitler and to the endorsement that some in the German Protestant churches had cost him his job. But no sooner than he had gotten back to New York than he regretted the move, writing “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people … 1 Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” He felt his obligation strongly. He went back to Germany, was active in the anti-fascist Hitler movement, and yet, in spite of his sympathies, still he was invited to serve in the Abwehr, the military intelligence unit. He was not the only anti-Hitler individual in that unit. He was horrified by what was happening around him, most particularly the genocide of the Jews. He knew that there would be a cost to continue to work against Hitler, and he accepted that. Remember this story, the end of which I’ll tell you shortly, and remember that word “cost,” because it is at the heart of the Christian message and it is at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s story. So, cost. What does it cost us to follow Jesus Christ? Bonhoeffer studied this deeply: his book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship” was published in 19937 and it is a classic of Christian ethics and theology. The cost in following Jesus is at the heart of what today’s Gospel is about. If we thought that Jesus was upping the ante by telling his Pharisee hosts last week that they should invite the poor and disenfranchised into their dinner parties, now he’s really pressing things to a point where we wonder what Jesus is actually saying. Jesus, the Son of God, who talks over and over again about the love his heavenly Father has for them all, who encourages them to care for each other and for all of God’s creation, who is all about restoring the weakened relationship between God and God’s people… …so who is this Jesus, who says that those who follow him must be willing to hate their blood kin – and that word “hate” is a correct translation – and hate even their own lives? It’s hard to imagine that word coming out of Jesus’ mouth, isn’t it? But here it is, and we have to wrestle with it. 1Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Eine Biographie, p. 736 He’s making an important point. Remember how we’ve spoken so often in the last few weeks of stripping away that which is nonessential? Remember how we’ve contemplated how laden we are with baggage of one sort or another, and it gets in the way of the connection with God that we seek? This is what Jesus is getting at. Unless we are willing to put aside everything and everyone that distracts from what God wants, we’re stuck in an in-between place between earth and heaven. Remember that at this moment in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus himself is in such an in-between place. He knows what will happen in a short while, when those who cannot tolerate his reforming message put an end to him. He doesn’t have much time to make sure his followers understand what a hard thing it is to follow Jesus. He has to drive home the point: it is about God’s will, not one’s own. It is about doing hard things for the sake of the God who created us, not side-stepping and let someone else take the arrows in the chest. It is about – dare I say it again? – stripping away our attachment to the world to touch the least little glimmer of the divine. I’ll note that it is a common thing in Jewish scriptural tradition to juxtapose hate and love to drive home a point about wisdom: the wicked are said to hate discipline, justice, and knowledge, while the righteous hate wickedness, falsehood, and gossip. In that context, we don’t shudder at the word hate, because it’s about behavior, and we always can see ourselves on the right side of that equation. But when Jesus says “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” it causes a cold chill to run up our spine. Because with this dramatic image, we see how far we are from that place of forsaking all for God. And yet, here we sit, we who have family members whom we love, friends whom we cherish, homes and jobs and all of the quotidian facts of existence, and we wonder – or at least I do – how can we measure up to this awful challenge? Jesus is not saying that we should have active hostility against those whom we love, those with whom we have a covenantal relationship. He’s saying very clearly, though, that unless we are willing to put our love of God on a higher pedestal than love of family, than love of community, than love of our comfortable lives, then we are not truly his followers. This creates a real problem for us, because so often we are stuck in hard choices between our earthly loves and God’s requirements. And Jesus isn’t denying that there are hard choices always when you are called to discipleship. That’s why he says that if you follow him, you’re not being invited to ride on a float in the Pasadena Rose Bowl parade: you’ll be trudging along a rocky road carrying a splintery cross that weighs a ton. You’re going to have to do hard things. And now we turn back to our friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to get a picture of the cost. He did much to try and make the West understand what Hitler was doing, even while an Abwehr officer. He was involved in spiriting out Jews to Switzerland. He continued writing the book that he hoped would be his magnum opus, entitled “Ethics.” It is believed he was also part of an assassination plot against Hitler. He was in an in-between place of looking like a good Abwehr officer while working against the evil aims of his government. And we know that one never stays long on the knife’s edge of such an inbetween place. Hitler found out about the actions of some of the Abwehr officers like Bonhoeffer, and in a rage, demanded that they pay for their disloyalty to him. Bonhoeffer was arrested on April 5, 1943. He was imprisoned at Tegel military prison, but in 1945 was secretly moved to Buchenwald concentration camp. He was sentenced to death on April 5, 1945. On April 8 he was stripped and hanged in the courtyard of his final prison, the Flossenburg concentration camp. The war was almost over, but not in time to save Bonhoeffer or his fellow fighters for justice. When Bonhoeffer was first arrested, he told a friend, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.” We know he was referring to eternal life. His belief in Jesus and his grief over how his nation had gone to such an awful state met in that moment. The cost was all too clear. So the cost of discipleship – what does it look like for us? It is unlikely that we will ever be secret agents plotting the assassination of a genocidal maniac. It is unlikely that we will ever have to make the kinds of enormous choices that Bonhoeffer made. But we are faced with difficult and painful choices between what Jesus Christ has asked of us, and has modeled for us in his own life and death, and what would be convenient or comfortable for us. Our choices may be smaller ones: defending someone against bullying, speaking up when someone makes a joke that demeans others who are part of the conversation, inviting unlikely people into conversation because their voices are important. So many choices that require letting go of how we are viewed by others: “it was just a little teasing! Isn’t Charlie able to put up with a little teasing?” or “but we all tell those jokes about people who are [you fill in the blank] – it’s just a silly joke. You’re such a spoilsport!” or “who cares what they think. They don’t matter.” Small choices, at the margins of our lives, may be the way that we recognize and live into the cost of discipleship the most. If Jesus could engage with an untouchable person as well as a wealthy Pharisee, if Jesus could heal a sick person even on the Sabbath, if Jesus could do the very things that would mean he’d end up on a cross, can we not manage to pay the small price that discipleship may cost us, and then some? Because it’s not about hating our family, it’s about loving them enough to love God even more. Amen.

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