Detachment as Creation Justice – brother ken, OLF, reflects on what we are willing to let go.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings for Sunday September 4-10, Year C (2022, 2025)
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is back on the road. People are following him and clinging to his every word. Clearly Jesus was connecting with the people, but then he pivots and stuns them with this provocative statement, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself…therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:26, 33).
This shocking statement is cause for pause. Jesus is inviting the hearers to count the costs, to truly consider the source of their strength, to prioritize a specific pattern for which to base their lives.
What are we willing to let go, be it relationships or things, to truly become a disciple of Jesus?
How will these decisions affect creation, the poor and the marginalized in the world?
Clearly these past two years, we have experienced a tremendous amount of change, a shift in culture, and numerous dimensions of polarization. Many might be experiencing all too well, these divisions in our communities, in our families, and even at times within ourselves. As we navigate these challenges, let us first consider what is being asked of us.
In Luke, chapter 14, verse 26, Jesus uses this word “miseo”, which is commonly translated as ‘hate’. This same word could also be thought of as “to disregard”, or “in contrast to preferential treatment” (Walter Bauer edited by Frederick William Danker, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 653)
Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point. We are called to place something new as the source of our preference, a new reliance that calls us to make clarified decisions. Jesus is challenging us as his followers to become disciples, which involves some form of rule, or discipline.
Francis of Assisi, d. 1226, was drawn to what might be viewed as an extreme, literal embrace of this challenge. His conversion in life, that being set free from possessions, and other ties, allowed him and his brothers to live the gospel, and to share their resources with those in need.
“If we had any possessions we should be forced to have arms to protect them, since possessions are a cause of disputes and strife, and in many ways we should be hindered from loving God and our neighbor. Therefore, in this life, we wish to have no temporal possessions” (John Michael Talbot with Steve Rabey, The Lessons of St. Francis: How to Bring Simplicity and Spirituality into Your Daily Life. Plume: Random House Publisher, 1998, p. 20).
In modern America, this sounds rather extreme, but the lesson of detachment is useful for our lives, which allows us to be considerate of others, attendant to all of creation, and reliant on God alone as the source of all life (as my Systematics professor Dr. Winston Persaud, Wartburg Seminary, is fond of declaring). God, as the source, has given humanity all of creation, to be stewarded, for the use of all. What God has given us is sufficient. Yet, we find ourselves yearning for more. Bonaventure, d. 1274, a prominent Franciscan theologian, believed that creation is the finite loving outflow of an infinitely loving God, and that “God desires to create because God is love, and perfect love can never be self-contained but must be shared freely with another” (Ilia Delio, O.S.F., A Franciscan View of Creation: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Heritage Series, 2003, p. 23). This perfect love is sufficient for us, and meant to be shared.
What might happen in the hearts of disciples in Jesus Christ to release our grips on created things so that all of God’s creatures may thrive? Is this a big ask? What might be previously viewed, from this scripture as words attributed to Jesus, as rooted in ‘hate’ might now be seen as truly rooted in love.
The prologue to the 1993 ELCA Social Statement, Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice, begins with this premise:
“Christian concern for the environment is shaped by the Word of God spoken in creation, the Love of God hanging on the cross, the Breath of God daily renewing the face of the earth” (ELCA Department for Studies of the Division for Church in Society, Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice. 1993, p. 2).
How can we hold the tension of the Breath of God renewing the earth with the apparent limitation in the earth’s resources that we see happening in 2022? The drought in parts of America is impacting water security for millions of people in the southwest. This water shortage will likely impact food resources. The flooding in other parts of the world is impacting crops and other farming as well. The war in Ukraine is expected to create extreme poverty for Europe and most of Africa. The reality of melting icecaps threatens to reshape the coastlines of our most populated cities in the world. Experts warn of a future of climate refugees as these challenges continue to unfold. Who will care for them? How will they be received?
There is an adage (not sure where from) that “there’s enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” Maybe this call from Jesus, to become disciples, to become workers in the realization of God’s kin-dom, begins with our own detachment, our embrace of less, our sharing of the earth’s resources. Hopefully we aren’t too late. We have as modern people, have been greedy for these depleting resources, and have ignored the advice to count the cost for the things we intend to build (Luke 14:28-31). We have overextended ourselves and are consuming resources at an unsustainable level. Be it unawareness, or lack of compassion and concern, there seems to be an understanding that the world is meant for our disposal.
We turn now to Psalm 1, appointed for this day. The image of being firmly planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:3), in a real sense, seems almost a trickling and privileged dream. The people who have power and resources will be the last ones to be impacted by the lack of available water to rely on as a source of life and health. Decades of decadence has stripped the earth of vital nutrients for our soils, trees from our forests, water from our streams and lakes, and the pollution of our communities and oceans. The culture of excess is threatened to be blown away like the chaff as we see our fleeting attachments disappear in the increasingly strong storms that batter our homes and communities. The ones who will suffer are those who are powerless, the anawim, the ‘little’ ones pushed to the margins and generally overlooked by many in the first world. Jesus is calling his disciples to something more through something less.
As the ELCA Social Statement says:
“We are called to acknowledge this interdependence with other creatures and to act locally and globally on behalf of all creation. Furthermore, solidarity also asks us to stand with the victims of fire, floods, storms, and other natural disasters” (Ibid. p. 6).
The everyday choices we make have effects on the global family. Overindulgence of resources and goods strips away from impoverished communities. The choices in the clothes we wear, the type foods we eat, the cars we drive, the size of our homes, and our leisure activities do have impacts on others. Additionally, an “account must be also taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste present in different areas. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. Encyclical Letter Copyright: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2015, p. 19).
Our attachment to material goods and the resources that supply many of our experiences, the so-called chaff of the world, are robbing ourselves, and our neighbors in the world of the basic elements needed for a healthy and sustainable life. Our excesses and greed, not only draw away resources from others, leaving a trail of crumpled plastic, burnt forests, polluted waterways, and parched soils. The life that disciples are called to is a life patterned after the ways of Jesus, a life dependent on the identity only God can give, and an awareness that we are our neighbors keepers. It is a life rooted by the deep and refreshing waters of our baptism to produce fruits for the life of the world.
When Jesus asked his followers, to leave it all, and become disciples, what is it that we hear?
What does a life of detachment, a life dependent on the love of God, look like for you?
How do you think the world see the witness of the church?
Would you be willing to give up meat in order to provide grains for the marginalized?
How concerned are you for the future of the climate of the earth?
Do you know where to turn to become more informed?
What would Luther ask of us? What might Francis ask of us? What does Jesus ask of us?
Let us pray:
Holy Spirit, you move through all creation with sighs too deep for words. Open our hearts to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Speak through your church to rebuke the forces that seek to exploit your planet. Join our human prayers with the voices of all creation and move us to honor you by preserving the gifts of nature that reveal your glory. Amen.
(All Creation Sings: Evangelical Lutheran WorshipSupplement. Minneapolis: 1517 Media, 2020, Pew Edition p. 47)
Originally written in 2022 by Rev. Kenneth Taylor, OLF (Order of Lutheran Franciscans) and pastor of Saint Nicholas Lutheran in Huntingtown, Md, a church in the Metropolitan Washington DC Synod.