The Rev. Jon Roberts
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
25 Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. 33 So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Holy Family and The Trinity, Jacob de Wit, Amsterdam (1695-1754)
Those who follow Jesus will have a new family of disciples based on their loyalty to Christ and one another.
Choosing this family never comes easy. It's hard labor. It's sacrificial. But if you choose this family, you shall live and you shall multiply. Priests are often afforded the privilege to witness the diverse range of family interactions. Those between parent and children; husbands and wives; brothers and sisters. There have been several attempts for family members to run away, to divorce or even estrange, but there is an inseparable bond based on flesh and blood. Loyalty to family is a work in progress and our earthly bonds may very well be shaken but no matter what members of the family will always be part of the family. Everyone has a story about the one that they cut loose. The one bad egg who never came around. They were trouble from the beginning, and you have a whole litany of excuses to prove it.
Abandonment, long suffering, and confrontation may be the reasons for separation, but patience and forgiveness are our natural God-given means of reunion. Do we simply get to a point where we've had enough and need to protect ourselves from further hurt? When there are heated arguments does our family grow and therefore does it live? Preoccupied with our hurt feelings towards one another we must labor as hard as we can to be loyal and leave room for reconciliation. Whether we passively destroy our relations with gossip and ridicule or whether we aggressively engage in bitter confrontation where have we left room for our family member to return? This is where we find much in the cost of discipleship. Our purpose in life is to be disciples of God's holy family. First and foremost, we must see ourselves as members of a family bound in a prayerful rule of life. We are a labor in progress. We lead a sacrificial life to stay close to God's promises and not abandon our loved ones. We are to bear each other's burdens. We don't rub it in by saying, "I told you so." For whatever reason we don't seem to get along we must always find the way to come back together and not to cut someone loose.
The epistle of Paul to his brother in Christ, Philemon is an interesting story about cutting loose. Onesimus is the servant, the useful one, a slave who has sought freedom and refuge with Paul. The problem is his master, Philemon, doesn't want him back. Slaves could also be punished for abandoning their master but fortunately Paul is a good friend of Philemon. He writes to him this letter we have in the New Testament pleading with him to cause no harm to his servant, to take him back in, to even submit all expenses so Paul could pay him back.
As horrific as slavery is to our modern ears, it was a way of life in ancient times. Some slaves became part of the master's family and treated well. The one thing that could not be tolerated was disloyalty. Philemon could have cut him loose from the family forever. With a whole litany of excuses, Onesimus fled, and it became the turning point for Philemon's family. An advocate, a mediator was essential, and Paul stepped in to suffer along with what his brother in Christ wrestled. "I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf. But I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. Perhaps therefore he left you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother".
As a leader in the community and father of an extended family, Philemon, by his own free will, chose reunion, patience, and forgiveness when he accepted Onesimus back into the fold. When Jesus speaks to us today about being his disciple, it means sometimes we will run from our fathers or mothers, our wives or children, our brothers, and sisters if they do not lead us to a life that glorifies God. Onesimus left his household, not because he was a bad egg, but because his soul was in conflict with what he was seeing. If this was to be a Christian family, it had a hard time showing it by how it loved its members. In good conscious he was not running away from something. He was running to something.
Think about the one in your family who has caused trouble. Now go to the members who have always been loyal. Now consider what your family stands for. What is at the center of your family? Remember, holiness does not center on you. If the family abandons the gospel of Jesus Christ. If it fails to be long-suffering, seeing that patience is essential for its members. If it confronts with harsh judgment and condescension, it not only fails to love, but it also fails to live and to multiply God's kingdom.
As Christians we desire for our family to be built like a strong and mighty tower, but it's going to take some heavy lifting. Someone is probably going to get hurt. There's going to be a lot of sweat and long hours. Not everyone is going to labor at the same speed. If those who labor harder get upset with those who slack off the building is neglected, and the site is vacated half-finished. Everyone then says, "what a shame."
As Christians we desire for our family to overcome the perils that come from time to time, waging war on our holy union. Our heavenly father is King of the household and masters the course of our life. He holds the resources and knows how to delegate, to lead and to conquer. Without strong leadership, where is the rest of the body? Today we see that we are disciples of a larger family. It is a holy family. The Church is the mighty tower and God is King. Christ, our only mediator, and advocate, works for our defense pleading with God to take us back. You have many brothers and sisters in Him. Don't be so quick to cut them loose. Trust in Jesus with all your heart, so that you shall live and multiply. Following Jesus means you belong to a holy family, disciples loyal to Christ, and one another.
 Paula Franck, M.T.S., Synthesis Vol. 23 No.9, September 5, 2010 (Editor for Scripture).
 Luke 14:25-33
 Philemon 1:12-14