“Wake Up Call”
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
March 27, 2022
When I was in my mid-20s I attended a pilates class, which was not part of my normal routine. And I would have likely forgotten all about it by now except for what the instructor said to me at the end of that class.
She looks at me, and asks quite bluntly in front of the whole class as everyone is just starting to get up and moving out: “So are you involved in any sports?”
“I like to run two or three times a week.”
She goes, “You’re in your 20s right now and can get away with those tight hamstrings. If you don’t start stretching every day – a few minutes on each hamstring – you will experience painful and severe injuries in your 30s and by the time your 40 you will never run again.”
There was no ratcheting down the tenor – “I’m just trying to give friendly advice.”
Or even a softer, “You know, there is a good chance running will be difficult by 40.”
She went with “never run again” and even if it was a rather tough and perhaps exaggeration, she woke me up.
“If you don’t hate your mother, father, wife and children, brothers and sisters – then you can’t follow me.” Talk about wake-you-up words.
And since we know Scripture has other words like “Honor your mother and father” and “love your neighbor” we probably rightly are looking for Jesus to pull back his language a bit.
True, Jesus is using some typical Semitic hyperbole – exaggeration to make a significant point. And the word for “hate” that he uses here does not carry connotations of anger or bad, emotive feelings.
It is a word that signified that when there is a choice between two important or good things – the one must take precedence over another; the one must be followed and the other ‘hated.’ Even if the very good thing is your family, your tribe, your party, your people – Jesus comes first.
And if that isn’t striking enough Jesus continues to press upon his hearers. He compares the consideration we should take in following him to building a tower.
To a time when you took all of your assets or your career or your savings and you sat down and said, “Do I do this? Do I put it all in this bucket? Do I attempt this tower?” That pit-in-your-stomach-calculation? “Same with me,” Jesus says, when we consider what we are getting into.
Or again, he talks about something painfully familiar in our time – war. “What 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?” That pit-in-your-stomach calculation as you weigh life and death and if you can handle what is before you. That gravity of decision-making… ‘same with me.’
These are not trite comparisons Jesus is making.
And then of course in this litany of examples Jesus puts it rather plainly when he says those who do not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Those who do not look up the very real prospect of death for following in way of Truth and Love…can’t be my disciples.
Why the stark language – hatred and cross-carrying? The challenging comparisons – tower-building, war-prepping?
Walk with Jesus long enough and we come to find that while we might prefer another way, Scripture reveals that Jesus often comes with that Pilates instructor approach – a disorienting wake-up call to love where we need to go.
A few years ago, I took a preaching class with the Methodist pastor and bishop and former Dean of the chapel at Duke University, Will Willimon. And seeing Duke still pushing through the tournament brought this story back to me that he once told.
When Willimon was dean of the chapel, one year he got a call from a pretty upset parent. “I hold you personally responsible for this,” the parent said. “Me?” Will asked.
This father’s graduate-school-bound daughter had just informed him that she was changing her plans (“throwing it all away” was how the father described it). She had decided that after graduation was going to go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti.
“Isn’t that absurd!” shouted the father. “She has a degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she’s going to dig ditches in Haiti.”
Willimon responded, “Well, I doubt that she’s received much training in the Engineering Department here for that kind of work, but she’s probably a fast learner and will probably get the hang of ditch-digging in a few months.”
“This is no laughing matter,” the father responded. “You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this.” “Me?” said Willimon. “What have I done?”
The father responded, “You filled her head with all that religion stuff. She trusts you, that’s why she’s doing this!” Willimon then cut him off: “Weren’t you the one who had her baptized?” “Yes,” the father said.
“And then didn’t you read her Bible stories, take her to Sunday school, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth fellowship on a trip?” “Well…yes.”
Willimon continued, “It’s your fault that she believed all that stuff; that she’s gone and thrown it all away on Jesus. You’re the one that introduced her to Jesus, not me.”
The Dad said, “but all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian.” “Sorry,” said Willimon, “you’ve messed up and made a disciple.”
Is it discipleship to which we have said ‘yes?’ And what does shape does it take in our lives?
There were a few moments of silence after the wake-up speech from the pilates instructor…and before I could say anything she took one of my legs and within a few seconds had me stretching my hamstring in a way that really brought about an excruciating amount of pain.
Good pain – she knew what she was doing but still…my gosh. You all know if you’ve ever had a physical therapist or someone stretch a part of your body to the limit in a spot that really feels beyond what you thought the limit surely was.
And her words were, “This probably hurts – but that’s why you’re here. 2 minutes of this on each leg. Every day.”
The Pilates instructor was not trying to wake me up to a new cognitive understanding of the five physiological tenants of what makes for good Pilates.
She was not trying to wake me to insider debates about whether Stott Pilates or Classical Pilates is really the better paradigm.
She was trying to wake me up to prioritizing a daily motion. A daily stretch. “That’s why you’re here.”
I think this is why near the end of Jesus’ hard message he brings up a very tangible form of discipleship. A motion. A stretch if you will.
“So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
There’s a lot we can unpack about that one sentence, but I think when we look at the whole of Jesus’ ministry we don’t see Jesus calling every disciple essentially to a vow of poverty.
At the same time, these words are, once more, purposely hard-hitting wake-up call words that make it clear that following Jesus is an enacted reality that costs something.
Jesus is not trying to wake people up to five key tenants of faith or four essential doctrine – he is seeking to wake up people to an ongoing, embodied motion. Action. Stretch. Much less ‘believe the right things and far more ‘live the way of Jesus.’
The wake up call language is meant to have us begin stretching again – “that’s why you’re here.”
Where are some of the outer limits of our comfort zone where a stretch or two is unfolding right now? Where do we sense God calling us to stretch or maybe already we know we are mid-stretch right now?
- Is it a relationship where forgiveness is needed?
- Is it an enemy and we really, really don’t like stretching unto some form of a love of enemy?
- Is it our involvement in sponsoring and caring for a refugee family coming to Texas?
- Is it in walking through the valley with and for someone else?
- Is it our care for and advocacy of youth who are wrestling with anxiety or mental health or sexuality – and they ache to know they belong?
- Is it in our prayers for and donations to those in Ukraine or those fleeing Ukraine or those receiving Ukrainians?
- Is it in our reaching out for and opening up to a counselor? A group?
- Is it seeking to show God’s love in a really trying or stressful work or family environment?
- For some is it with our stuff, our money…and as we look at those tax documents the Holy Spirit seems to be stretching us?
If we are disciples of Jesus…the question is not “is a stretch unfolding for you?” But rather, “Where is the daily stretch happening right now? For you? For us? (How is the Holy Spirit pressing beyond the comfort zone – beyond where we would have stretched or pressed were it just up to us?) And if the stretch is acute, painful, cross-bearing…well, what does the physical therapist always say to do at that point?
“Breathe. Breathe through the stretch. Right?”
Is it an accident that not so long before Jesus offers these strong words about prioritizing him and carrying our cross…he has taught about prayer? About Holy Spirit-breathing.
Breathe through the stretch. Pray through the stretch. (Remember that prayer I mentioned a couple of weeks ago: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner). Breathe through the stretch.
Jesus’ priority was and is us. And he was stretched impossibly upon a cross – making clear just how far he would go to love this world in the face of its own evil and betrayal.
And upon that cross, he breathed with raw prayer: “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”
- And forgiving prayer: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
- And trusting prayer: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
And what always happens – eventually – when you breathe through the impossible stretch? Something opens. There is space where there was none. There is a new softness where there had been a knot. There is a new freedom.
And, honestly, I think that really is what I think Jesus’ aim is in all of this.
Do you remember Jesus’ first public words in the Gospel of Luke where he really sets the tone for what the whole thing is about?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners…to set the oppressed free.”
And so, when Jesus wakes us up to prioritize him again and to make that priority clear by way of action, motion, stretching…he is not most fundamentally trying to get us to a place where we really feel sacrifice of following him. That happens – sure.
But with Jesus, every stretch of love, every stretch of faith, every stretch where we find the Spirit working upon us…it is a stretch ultimately unto freedom.
Just breathe through it. Three days later from the calcified space of death itself, came life. Amen.