There was a time when many Americans grew up on farms. People still grow up and live on farms as adults, but not as many as there used to be. I remember going to my grandparents’ house when I was a child. They lived in LA Junta, Colorado, and we would load up one of the many station wagons that I remember, most of them brown, and headed for grandma and granddad Madsen’s house. It was usually over a long holiday week-end, and we had aunts, and uncles and loads of cousins from all corners of Colorado driving from different places and some from Iowa to spend the weekend together crashing wherever there was room at grandma Hannah’s house.
My grandfather, Faye Madsen, was a railroad engineer for the Santé Fe Railroad, and at the time La Junta was an important hub for the Santé Fe. But, my grandparents were also part-time farmers. They raised pigs, chickens, had their own milk-cow, and had a variety of vegetable crops. I believe the neighbors were all part-time farmers too, a cultural norm. I have great memories of hanging out with cousins and even a couple of aunts and an uncle that were close to my age. I remember a shed across the driveway from the old farm-house with a flat roof. We would climb a tree next to the shed and get on top, and it was especially fun when it was dark, because across the field in the near distance there was a drive-in theatre, and we could watch movies. We couldn’t hear them of course, but it was great fun, because none of us, including cousins, and aunts our age, were allowed to go to movies. It was “verboten”. It was quite exciting to bring up snacks and to try to watch movies that we could not hear. I’m sure the parents had a pretty good idea of what we were up to, but we were not going into the theatres, we were just watching movies from ‘afar’.
I enjoyed hanging out with relatives my own age, but I especially remember times alone with Granddad. I was an early riser, and was waiting for granddad at the front door in the early hours of the morning. We would walk together to do chores. This was my opportunity to ‘hang-out’ with my favorite granddad, and it was really the best time to reach him, because after his chores and breakfast, he would sometimes head out to drive a train, and we wouldn’t see him again for maybe another 24 hours. We would stop by the food shed and grab food for the pigs, and I remember it was this ground up corn powder, and I liked to eat it. Granddad got a kick out of that. Then we would feed the chickens and gather the eggs for breakfast. After watering the garden, we would pick enough vegetables for the day, and then we would stop off and milk the cow. This was back in the day when the cow would be milked, the cream taken from the top and put into jars for the refrigerator. I don’t remember if we cooked the milk or not, but I don’t think we did. We could always tell when the cow got into onion patches, because it came out in the taste of the milk.
I had a special relationship with my granddad, and I figured that he probably liked me better than the rest of the grandkids. Of course that was wishful thinking. One thing I remember about my granddad Faye and grandma Hannah is that living a Christian life was a priority for them. It wasn’t something they did on the side. I could tell that they loved God, and they loved their family. They loved their life on the farm, and they loved each other. We are told in the writings of the epistles of John that “God is love, and he that does not love does not know God for God is love. Beloved let us love one another (1 John 4:7-8) We are also told to love our enemies, and we are specially to love our neighbors as ourselves”. (Luke 10:27) We are also told to love each other deeply, and that love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8) We are encouraged to love on another, to elevate others above ourselves, to served rather than to be served. (Mark 10:45) These are all attributed to the teaching of Jesus.
Today’s passage from Luke 14 is a difficult passage at face value. The difficulty is in the English word ‘hate”. A better interpretation of the word is to ‘love less’. In other words, if you are going to follow Christ, and if anything, at all comes between you and your relationship with God, it becomes an obstacle instead of a blessing. It’s a matter of balance. “Your either for me or against me”. (Luke 11:23) It’s a hard teaching. Again, as I have been saying these past few weeks, we have to put this passage in perspective, in context. Who is Jesus talking to and what is the reasons for the timing of the message.
Jesus has instructed his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem, and he will be arrested and put to death. He’s told them that. Jesus is asking his followers to love God more and everything else less. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Remember when Jesus’ mother, brothers and sisters came to get him and take him home, because they were worried about his health and his long hours of work. Jesus said to his disciples, “who is my mother, my brothers and my sisters? My mothers, sisters and brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”? (Luke 8:20-21)
In perspective we are called to love Jesus and to follow this God-man into the heavenly city of Jerusalem, the City of God, the city whose architect and builder is God, just as the disciples were called to follow him on the road to Jerusalem, and many of these disciples would join him some day in his baptism of death, martyrs who chose to follow the teachings of Jesus in the face of execution. Remember a couple weeks ago when we talked about the blind man that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The Pharisees challenged the son’s parents. “Is this your son? Was he born blind, and if he was, how can he now see?” The parents knew that they had put out an edict that if anyone acknowledged the miraculous power of Jesus they would be kicked out of the synagogue. They replied: “Yes, this is our son, and yes he was born blind, now he can see, but how this happened we do not know. Ask him he is of age. He can speak for himself.”. They chose to love their synagogue more than they loved their son or desire to follow Jesus. (John 9)
My grandparents were founding members of the La Junta Assembly of God Church. They were foundation stones of that small parish. The members took on the responsibility of building a sanctuary, and my grandparents were dedicated to that work. My grandmother taught Sunday School, and when we came to La Junta, we were all rounded up on Sunday mornings and taken to church service. It was not that uncommon, because most of my cousins, and my brothers and sister were preacher’s kids. Most of my uncles at that time were pastors of churches. They raised their children to follow the teachings of the Bible and the church. They chose to ‘love God more’ than other things.
They chose to love God, and in that full circle of God’s all-encompassing love, it includes the full force of loving others because we love God. It has to do with ownership, and ownership has to do with stewardship. This stewardship call is what Jesus is saying when he says: “So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give all your possessions”. The Psalmist says: “The earth is the Lords, and the fullness thereof, the world and all that live in the world”. (Psalm 24:1)
Stewardship includes how we use our talents, our time, and resources in serving God. It all belongs to God. Stewardship is recognizing that ownership and serving God with everything we have. We’ve been talking about the directive of Jesus to “carry purses that will never wear out”. (Luke 12:31) It’s a purse, a purse of gifts that just keeps on giving, giving of yourself in every way, completely to God. After we are dead and gone, that purse that never wears out may be filled with endowments left behind for the works of the ministry to continue. Endowments include our life and ministry that impacts other people, impacts ministries, impacts the future of the church, the future of the kingdom of God on earth. The purse that never wears out leaves a mark, an impression that just keeps on giving in the lives of children, grand-children and future generations to come. (The stamp, the mark, the imprint of grandparents and saints that have gone before us, and left the mark of a Christian on our lives), The covenantal chrism of the Holy Spirit goes on from generation to generation.
Life on the farm didn’t stop after my grandparents passed away, and the farm was sold. I not only learned about daily responsibilities, feeding chickens and milking cows, but I’m following in the footsteps of those that have carried a purse, and that purse will never wear out.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen