preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, O.A.,
Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas
4, 2016; 16 Pentecost, Proper 18, Year C,
Revised Common Lectionary
(Luke 14:25-33) Now large
crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "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. Whoever does not
carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you,
intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to
see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a
foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule
him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what
king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and
consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes
against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still
far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore,
none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your
People from the Middle East, like some Southerners, are
prone to using exaggerations in conversation. I remember being frightened for
just a moment when my grandmother gave me a swallowing bear-hug saying,
"Ooo, I love you so much I could squeeze you to death." Would she? I
wondered. She also loved me enough to "eat me up." Spooky…, until you
know who grandma is.
Jesus uses an exaggerated colloquialism to illustrate the potential
costliness of following his new way of living: You must hate your family and give up all your possessions. Spooky…,
until you know God is.
In today's 10:00 class we are looking at Guidelines #15
& #16 of Thomas Keating's 42 Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth, and
Transformation. Listen for a moment.
"15. God is not some remote, inaccessible, and
implacable being who demands instant perfection from His creatures and of whose
love we must make ourselves worthy. [God] is not a tyrant to be obeyed out of
terror, nor a policeman who is ever on the watch, nor a harsh judge ever ready
to apply the verdict of guilty. We should relate to [God] less and less in
terms of reward and punishment and more and more on the basis of the gratuity –
or the play of divine love."
And here's the key passage: "16. Divine love is
compassionate, tender, luminous, totally self-giving, seeking no reward,
unifying everything." [i]
With tender, boundless compassionate love, God seeks to
relate to us in deep friendship. Like the friendship between the Father and the
Son. God wants to draw us into that infinite bond of love. Loving friendship.
But we block that friendship. Today I want to suggest two
ways we block friendship with God. Two ways we also sabotage our true identity
and purpose. One is in the direction of false pride; the other is in the
direction of false humility. Hubris and self-abnegation.
Hubris. Many years ago I knew a man who was one of those
people who had to be smarter than everyone else. He knew what was right and let
everyone else know. He could only deal with others in a condescending way. He
had to be in control. So when his oldest child went through the predictable
stages of adolescent rebellion, it was a deadly sin. The child was banished,
and they remained alienated for life. In his office, he couldn't work with
peers. Only subordinates. Oh he could be witty and jolly and fun. As long as he
was in the center. His wife, God bless her, stayed with him, constantly
forgiving, cleaning up his messes with her gentleness.
In terms of Jesus' teaching in today's Gospel, that man had
too many possessions. His need for possession of knowledge, status, and control
blocked him from his full humanity. If he would only give up all his
possessions—his insistence on being in charge, being right, being on top—he could
enter the full friendship of God, which is simultaneously full friendship with
all humanity. But that is costly. It requires a kind of self-emptying that
seemed too much for him. I think he was trying to live up to the unreasonable
expectations of his earthly father instead of the tender grace of his heavenly
Father. Over time, he grew lonelier and lonelier as more and more human beings
failed to live up to his standards. Hubris.
Self-abnegation. My mind goes to a woman whose wheels fell
off and our church tried to help her. But she was certain that it was
impossible to overcome her obstacles. She knew herself as a failure. She was a
sinner; she guessed she deserved her suffering, she said. It's always been this
way, she said. She knew if she took two steps forward, she would fall three
steps back. She felt cursed. "You are God's child," I said with as
much conviction as I could utter. "Oh, no," her sad eyes said back to
me in silence. "God wouldn't have anything to do with someone like
me." She couldn't yearn for something more, something better, something
In terms of Jesus' teaching, she needed a change of identity,
a new family. She needed to hate the voice of father and mother and sister and
brother inside her head, the voice that told her she was no good. But that change
was too costly. The failed her was the only "her" she knew.
I think all of us drift toward one end or another of this
continuum from time to time. Between hubris and self-abnegation; between
oppressive behavior and fatalistic temerity; between being inflated, full of
ourselves, and empty, flat, nothing; between excessive pride and excessive humility.
As is so often true of opposite extremes, the two states are
really very similar. The conditions of hubris and self-abnegation are both
conditions of self-centeredness. Either thinking too much of oneself or too
little of oneself.
Let me suggest a way out of the dilemma, a way out of one's
self-centeredness. And I want to borrow from one of my favorite writers,
conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times. In Tuesday's paper,
Brooks wrote of the complaints from veteran college teachers about how
emotionally fragile today's students seem to be. Students are more accomplished
than past generations, but more emotionally fragile, teachers are saying. So
Brooks wrote about what toughness is in today's world. [ii]
"The people we admire for being resilient… are ardent.
They have a fervent commitment to some cause, some ideal or some relationship.
That higher yearning enables them to withstand setbacks, pain and betrayal…
There are moments when they feel swallowed up by fear. They feel and live in
the pain. But they work through it and their ardent yearning is still there, and
they return to an altered wholeness."
So Brooks says, "If you really want people to be tough,
make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person,
make them committed to some world view that puts today's temporary pain in the
context of a larger hope."
"People are really tough only after they have taken a
leap of faith for some truth or mission or love. Once they've done that they
can withstand a lot." David Brooks.
Jesus invites us into his cause, his ideals, his friendship.
He invites us into an ardent commitment to a relationship of love. Divine love,
which is compassionate, tender, luminous, totally self-giving, seeking no reward,
unifying everything. Divine love tells your self-abnegation that your weakness,
brokenness and sinfulness is known and loved and accepted infinitely, so be
strong and whole, a beloved child of God. Divine love tells your hubris to pour
out your self-centeredness into radical acceptance of other human beings,
actively loving your neighbor as yourself.
But count the cost. This is a completely different way of
being in the world. It carries no pride of place or pedigree; it offers you no
possession except the free gift of grace, God's unqualified acceptance and love,
offered as freely to everyone else as to you. It makes us all equal; all one.
There's nothing to accomplish; nothing to fix. All is well and all manner of
things shall be well, because God loves you to death.
Live within the love that knows you completely – knows your
highs and your lows, your pride and your shame – and loves you infinitely,
accepting you fully, just as you are, here and now.
Be filled with that love and light. Be filled with God. Be
And then in the security of complete acceptance, simply love
your neighbor as yourself. Be love, beloved.
That is friendship with the divine Presence. In Thomas
Keating's words, "It is like coming home to a place I should never have
left, to an awareness that was somehow always there, but which I did not
Be loved, then be love. You can give up everything else, because you are already
Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart
Element, Rockport, MA, 1986, p. 129
David Brooks, Making Modern Toughness
New York Times Opinion, August 30, 2016
The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and
God's infinite grace, acceptance and love.
For information about St. Paul's Episcopal Church and its life and
mission, please contact us at
P.O. Box 1190, Fayetteville, AR 72702, or call 479/442-7373
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