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Tougher love

Tougher love

Luke 9:51-62

If you ever needed convincing that the love of Christ is not just syrupy sentiment, this gospel gives all the proof you need. Christ, on his long journey to the cross, is demanding of himself and demanding of us. Following him, being a Christian, is not just something that we fit into our schedule. It must be our schedule. Loving him is not an aspect of our busy life. It must be our life. That doesn’t mean living in a cave and praying all day. It does mean that every day, we give our work, our leisure, our pain, our joy to Jesus. And in return, he gives our lives a purpose. And without that purpose, we’re just killing time and taking up space.

The Jesus of this gospel is obviously not just some kindly, live and let live flower child. When it comes to the love of God and neighbor, he is uncompromising. Shape up or ship out. That’s his challenge to us. Jesus did not go to the cross to populate heaven with coach-potato Christians who’ll get around to God when they find the time and energy. Each one of us is here to make a difference. In us Christ lives in the world. In him we live in the certainty of salvation. Without living in him, without embracing his priorities, we are just so many baptized pagans milling around waiting for the grave.

To illustrate the point, Jesus cites some pretty stark, even harsh, examples… none harsher than let the dead bury the dead. He is telling us that building the kingdom of God is his priority. It must be ours. Whether these lessons are literal or exaggerated for effect is open to debate. But the message is crystal clear. The God of love and mercy is not to be trifled with. He’s not buying our dog-ate-my-homework excuses. He will carry his cross, but we must carry ours. Despite the promise that his burden is light, it is rarely convenient to be a Christian. We don’t set the agenda. Jesus does. We don’t get to pick who to love. Jesus does. We don’t get to pick who to forgive. Jesus does.

And yet the love of Christ is far from an unending series of onerous obligations. In fact Paul tells us to: Rejoice in the Lord always. Squaring that admonition with this week’s gospel can be challenging. God does not want our grumpy, grudging acquiescence. He wants our love. And that is the labor of a lifetime. It takes practice. It takes prayer. It takes perseverance. But what a payoff. Mother Teresa captured the thought when she wrote: “I have found a paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

That is the drop-everything, unqualified love Christ describes in this gospel. That’s tougher love than tough love. That is the love of Christ. May we abide in him, forever.

Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.


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Jesus means what he says and says what he means. When he speaks plainly and directly to us, I think it best not to presume he intends to convey some obscure, tangential message. He is uncompromising in stating his requirements that we love God and neighbor. He gives us two great commandments, not two great suggestions. Our loving, merciful God is also a just God. Speaking as and through Jesus, God does not indulge in macho bluster. But he is clear that the love he demands of us comes with a price. To follow Christ is to carry a cross.Jesus did not sweet talk us into salvation. He is not peddling cheap grace. He paid for ours with his life… hence, the “tougher love” reference. Doubtless there are many more elegant ways to phrase the thought. That’s why our Café has such a rich and varied menu.

Thanks for adding your thoughts to the mix. Your blessings and kind words are appreciated and reciprocated.

Yours in Christ’s love,


Matteo Masiello

I disagree that Jesus gives us a shape up or ship out attitude. If that were the case, then there would be no gospel, no cross, no resurrection. I think the passage involves a common misunderstand we have about Jesus. I think the Samaritans misunderstood who Jesus was with and was not aware of what he was about. Remember that the Jews and the Samaritans were at odds with one another historically. I think Jesus’ rebuke is a way to shock people into paying attention to him and not meant in a decisive way that those who presume to speak for God have a tendency to express themselves, like the disciples, asking for fire and brimstone wrath. I think Jesus accepts everyone as they are. I wish the leaders of the so-called church did the same. Thing is, none of us will ever change anyone else in the church. That is what the Holy Spirit’s charge. We can only make disciples of others by being enough of an example that we attract others because of God working through us. That is why telling someone they need to stop sinning before the enter the church is wrong. We all need to come to the church with our crosses, our sins and lay them down before the cross when we know that we are accepted for who we are and what some members of the church want us to be. For me Jesus is a “kindly, live and let live flower child”, Yes, kumbaya is a real thing. It’s called the gospel. Frankly, I am tired of people who claim to preach the good news and for some reason don’t want to open themselves up to others. That is kumbaya. The fruits of the spirit that Paul spoke about: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” This is kumbaya. Against these there IS NO LAW. Thank God that Jesus is a flower child to me. If not, I’d want nothing to do with a god like some other god who is not a friend and lover as God purports Himself to be. The intimacy He promises for us we can only strive for with others of the Body of Christ. God Bless You. I love you. Kumbaya.

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