— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~13th Sunday after Pentecost; September 8th, 2019~~~
As the story is told, Jesus was attracting crowds. Jesus – at least in the small world he could reach on foot – was a popular figure. People would gather around to hear him speak. Sometimes, no doubt, the people were attracted to Jesus because they genuinely placed on him great hopes for healing, purpose, forgiveness, new life. Sometimes, however, people came to Jesus because they were simply curious. They saw a crowd gathering and they had time before they had to get home for supper and thought to themselves – Why not? I’ll see what is happening here. Jesus was free entertainment.
Like a street musicians in downtown Belgrade, Serbia. I went there last summer to meet Bess who was there visiting one of her best friends. I arrived a few days early; so, I was walking around the city on my own. Belgrade is a city that comes to life after about nine p.m. I was walking the very busy, pedestrian streets searching for goulash and a Serbian beer when I came upon two guys playing music – one on a keyboard and singing and the other sitting on a wooden box and beating the daylights out of it. They were good! The keyboard player was singing in perfect English; well, maybe not perfect because he was singing the Bill Withers song “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” Anyway, it was a joy and it required nothing of me. I was at the back of the crowd and after the song I put 200 dinar in the bucket (about a dollar) and walked on. No cost.
I enjoyed it but I cannot say it changed my life. These moments are nice and I don’t want to dismiss such times – we’d do well to appreciate such moments more than we do, but it came to me with no demands, no expectations that I would re-orient my life. I could easily walk on and enjoy a lovely supper at a street café. At the café, by the way, two guys started playing – one played an accordion and the other a violin. One of the patrons started to sing. It was magic.
Jesus, it seems to me anyway, had a sense that his crowds were filled with lots of folk for whom he was passing entertainment. They might have been willing to throw in a mite or two had Jesus put a bread basket out, but nothing more than the change they had in their pockets.
Doesn’t it make sense that Jesus would have used that opportunity to woo people into his camp? Wouldn’t Jesus have been clever to have used the impromptu crowd to tell the audience of all the glorious benefits that come from being a member of his church? Wouldn’t Jesus have been in line with the church growth movement to speak to the masses a message of sweetness and light, prosperity and blessing of national pride? Wouldn’t it have been profitable for Jesus, who knew all the prejudices of his folk, to speak in affirming tones toward what the group already believed? Jesus did no such thing. He used the moment to share a troubling message…
Listen for the Word of God in Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with him; 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 possessions.
Here’s my Sabbatical Report…a sampling of the days of my time apart…
2nd Day: Drove to LEAF festival North Carolina and set up tent for family;
5th Day: Memorial Service for a beloved husband, father, friend;
9th Day: Drove to Atlanta International Airport to pick up Rahul and Anshue Sharma – the parents of Bess’ boyfriend Vishal – who came to graduation from India; their first time in the US;
11th Day: Attended Bess’ Baccalaureate Service and then Graduation from High School;
12th Day (and many after): took Will to soccer practice;
32nd Day: Memorial Service for a beloved husband, father, friend;
35th Day: Drove Will and friends to Bonnarue Festival;
46th Day: Set up camper at Montreat for family and to attend the Worship and Music Conference and see some members of choir;
50th Day: Will and I went to Town Pump in Black Mt to hear a Grateful Dead cover band (we were two of maybe 12 and the band was great!);
67th Day: after taking Will to meet bus the day before to go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for regional soccer camp, I drove to Montgomery to visit my family and went to church, Immanuel Presbyterian Church, with my sister;
72nd Day: Drove Will to Davidson College for soccer camp;
81st Day through 87th Days: Visited my Aunt and Uncle in Nisswa;
94th Day: went to see my Aunt in Columbia, SC
95th Day through 101st Day: focused on illness and death in my family;
103rd Day – to Winter Park, FL to take Bess to college;
113th Day – celebrated Will’s birthday;
115th Day – Memorial Service for a beloved father, husband, friend.
Throughout sabbatical I read (murder mysteries for the most part) cooked supper most nights, worked in yard, loved on my family. There’s a theme here – out of love for my family I spent time and energy on them. I do not hate my family – father, mother, brother, sisters, wife, children… if Jesus demands this of me, well, here’s my answer: I’m out!
Thankfully, I don’t think Jesus is demanding me to hate my family. Jesus was exaggerating to make a point…. using Semitic hyperbole. To hate as Jesus used the term here is not to be angry or hostile toward family. Jesus was not talking about despising mother and father. Jesus was not talking about being angry at the members of our family. He could not have meant this because such a use of the term “hate” would not square with Jesus’ way of being in the world.
Remember Jesus was a man who blessed children.
Jesus taught the disciples and us to pray
and think of God as a loving parent.
Jesus took tender care of his own mother
as he hung from the cross.
To hate as Jesus uses the term here
is not to be unloving toward family –
that would be breaking at least one of the Ten Commandments –
the one about honoring father and mother.
To hate as Jesus uses the term here, I think, means to put our loyalties in order, to take with utmost seriousness our commitments to follow in the way and in the love of Jesus and to love … and here’s the central point …beyond our families. Jesus did not want his followers to make idols of their families to the exclusion of loving beyond the familial circle and cultural norms of his day or any day.
Jesus knew, too, that there would be cost to loving beyond family, a cost to embracing the others of the world with tender care and love. People had then as we do now a “take care of your own” mentality. Jesus knew that to blow that open and to make it “take care of your own, and take care of the other” would cause people to react strongly.
You see, Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus was under the long-armed shadow of the cross. Jesus was following the love of God and love of neighbor to his utmost obedience – and it led to a violent death.
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.
This is not a call to be indifferent or hostile to families or life; rather, it is a call to take Jesus seriously and to recognize that to love as he loves can be costly. To love all people, to be open to all people, to work for justice for all people because of Jesus’ love for all God’s children, to break down walls that divide people, to be nonviolent in a violent world, to offer ultimate allegiance to God as opposed to the family or the state or even to the church – all of this, Jesus seems to be saying, can have supreme costs. To follow me, Jesus is saying, to love as I love, is to place your whole life in the hands of God, and you may end up broken, rejected, and buried. You will, however, be called the family of God because that is how God loves.
As I mentioned in my Sabbatical partial summary, on the 67th day I went to church at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Montgomery with my sister. This is an interesting church. They are diverse in every way, black, white, gay, straight, trans-gender, old, young, professional and not, and on top of all this they have welcomed the building of a mosque adjoining their property and have had many joint activities with their Muslim brothers and sisters. This is a church that was formed in the 90’s and they hold the library of one Virginia Durr, wife of attorney Clifford Durr. The Durrs were Civil Rights activists in Alabama. In the later years of her life Virginia was one of the founding members of Immanuel.
Virginia Durr was born Virginia Foster in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1903. Her family was solidly traditional and middle class. She was the daughter of a Presbyterian clergyman, she was part of the white establishment of the time. Her father, however, lost his clergy position, apparently for denying that the story of Jonah and the whale was to be understood literally.
Virginia Foster was an intelligent and studious young woman. She studied at local public schools, then was sent to finishing schools in Washington, D.C., and New York. Her father had her attend Wellesley, according to her own later stories, in order to ensure she’d find a husband. The Fosters were a traditional family with traditional outlooks on life, including segregation of the races in the South.
Young Virginia’s support for Southern segregation-ism was challenged when, in the Wellesley tradition of eating at tables with a rotation of fellow students, she was forced to dine with an African American student. She protested but was reprimanded for doing so. She later counted this as a turning point in her beliefs; Wellesley later named such moments of transformations “Virginia Durr moments.”
She was forced to drop out of Wellesley after her first two years, with her father’s finances such that she could not continue. In Birmingham, she began working in a law library.
She met and married an attorney, Clifford Durr, a Rhodes scholar. During their marriage, they had four daughters. When the Depression hit, she became involved in relief work to help Birmingham’s poorest. The family supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in 1932, and Clifford Durr was rewarded with a Washington, DC, job: counsel with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which dealt with failing banks.
Back in Washington, anti-Communist hysteria led to Senate hearings on Communist influence in the government, with Senators Joseph McCarthy (Wisconsin) and James O. Eastland (Mississippi) chairing the investigation. Eastland’s Internal Security Subcommittee issued a subpoena for Virginia Durr to appear with another Alabama advocate for civil rights for African Americans, Aubrey Williams, at a New Orleans hearing. Williams was also a member of the Southern Conference and was president of the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Virginia Durr refused to give any testimony beyond her name and a statement that she was not a Communist.
When Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to move to the back of the bus, giving her seat to a white man, E.D. Nixon, Clifford Durr and Virginia Durr were the ones who came to the jail to bail her out and to consider, together, whether to make her case into the legal test case for desegregating the city’s buses.
The Durrs, after supporting the bus boycott, continued to support civil rights activism. The Freedom Riders found accommodations at the home of the Durrs. The Durrs supported the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and opened their home to visiting members. Journalists coming to Montgomery to report on the civil rights movement also found a place at the Durr home.
Clifford Durr died in 1975. In 1985, a series of oral interviews with Virginia Durr was edited by Hollinger F. Barnard and made into the book Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr. The New York Times in reporting the publication described Durr as having “an undiluted combination of Southern charm and steely conviction.”
Virginia Durr died in 1999 in a nursing home in Pennsylvania. The London Times obituary called her “the soul of indiscretion” (ThoughtCo.com).
Virginia Durr, the segregation-ist, the white, middle-class, young woman from the South had to love beyond the magic circle. She had to expand her understandings of God and all God’s children. In this, maybe Jesus would say, she hated her family. I think, for our purposes here, maybe it would be more helpful to say that she widened the circle and realized that everyone is a member of the family of God.
May we all grow in the direction of a wider and wider circle of love. May we all grow in the direction of loving our fellow human beings as Jesus loved. Amen.