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.
OK. This week’s gospel starts with a bang. If it had been up to me, I might have chosen a different one for the first Sunday of the fall. Sometimes the gospel appointed for Sunday is not an easy one to approach, and this is certainly one of those. Verse like this one can really turn people off Scripture. But as Episcopalians, we take Scripture seriously, and we understand that in order to receive the Bible faithfully, we can’t just cut it up, taking only the best parts and ignoring the rest. We take the Bible as a whole - both the lovely bits we quote on Facebook and stitch on samplers for our walls - and the dreadful bits that make us squirm and wonder just who this God of ours is.
Although people often wish that the Bible was just a simple guidebook for living, it’s way more complicated that that. It isn’t always clear, and it does not always give us what we want, any more than life itself does. When you open the Bible and decide to really begin to delve into it, you begin to realize you’re delving into the human experience itself. While Scripture definitely contains some uplifting passages, the Bible can often be like a dreadful mirror for all our worst sins as a human race. The prophets and the proverbs, Peter and Paul - even Jesus - are quoted in the Bible saying lovely things at times, but at other times what they say seems not to reflect the love of God much at all.
I don’t necessarily always like what I read in the Bible, but I’ve come to understand that the Bible always speaks the truth to me, even if sometimes it’s the truth I really would rather not hear. For example, whenever the daily readings lead us through Genesis again once every two years, I grit my teeth because I know that I’ll again be reading story after story depicting the way women were treated like men’s property way back then. But if I really allow myself to sit with that deep discomfort for a second, I know that what I am really uncomfortable with is how women are still treated. Misogyny exists - it existed back then, and it still exists today, and I sure don’t like it. I could pretend it’s not true that on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million over the course of a year. (https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/) But ignoring this doesn’t make it go away, nor is it a faithful response to the suffering of so many.
The Bible makes me face many difficult things about this life. It causes me to wrestle with with where God is supposed to be in dreadful things - in the news, in my inner conflicts, in my enemies, and in all the painful parts of my own life. But I have found that when I make myself present to the full range of reality instead of looking away from the stuff that makes me uncomfortable, I will eventually find God’s presence waiting there deep inside it all. I will find the presence of God right there in the midst of the pain, assuring me that I”m not alone. You wouldn’t necessarily expect it, but going right into the tough stuff is the path to discovering deeply reassuring faith. Some may prefer only the sunny side of the street, but I’ve found that it’s only a full spectrum faith with both sunshine AND shadows that is truly life-giving, especially when life is hard.
Over the many years I’ve been reading and wrestling with the Bible daily, I’ve found that in the end, I have actually have received the most consolation from the passages I thought at first were the most dreadful. I guess that it’s in compost that the seeds for new life best germinate. And haven’t I heard that crucifixion/resurrection story somewhere before?
They say calm seas never made an able sailor. So let’s dive into this challenging gospel together this Sunday, and see what seeds might be planted there.
The readings for this Sunday are HERE. Note that during Ordinary Time, we are using the readings from Track 2.