Editor’s Note: This piece is sourced from Mira’s sermon, Honor Your Mother and Father at Forefront Brooklyn on June 30, 2019. You can listen to the full sermon here. Part 1 of the written version can be found here.
Fast forward to the New Testament, and we begin to see how God reveals Godself through the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus continues to preach this message of deep love and responsibility to one another, especially the poor and the marginalized, a call to extending love pass the boundaries of their people and their land, to the Gentiles. And this was radical.
This was radical because it went against what they’d been taught and what they understood to be safe guarding their nation and staying loyal to their tribe.
It goes against the status quo that said who it is they should fraternize with and who they should distance themselves from, who was in the tribe and who was out of the tribe.
It goes completely against what their parents taught them, what their families have known for generations. It goes against what their religious leaders have been saying for generations!
And so Jesus says this:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
This is a complete contradiction to the commandment to honor our mother and father. Jesus also says something that I think might actually be even worse:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
HATE???!!! That seems a little extreme. Why would Jesus say something so extreme???
Because what Jesus is asking of his disciples is SO RADICAL. He speaks in hyperbole to emphasize that people aren’t going to like the message that he is preaching. Even their families won’t like it. So he is saying, if you want to follow me, expect that you’ll be going against everything you’ve ever thought was right, expect that you’ll be going against everything your family has ever believed to be right. Naturally that’s going to bring conflict in your household.
Jesus was calling his disciples to turn from everything they’ve ever known about who belongs and who doesn’t, and that meant calling people who were enemies of the Israelites, brother, sister and sibling. It would mean showing deep and enduring love to them, and ministering to them – even if it meant breaking the religious law of working on the Sabbath. It would mean restoring shalom with them and moving towards the wholeness of humanity.
I think hearing a message like that today is still radical because we’ve only known a truth that was shaped by our parents. Think about how powerful our parents’ influence have on us, on how we see others, on what we deem as important, in how we react when angry or upset, in how our parents influence how we do relationships, in how we treat our spouse and how we raise our children too, and if you were born in a Christian household, how your faith was shaped by your parents’ faith. Your parents shape your cultural identity too in which people you belong to. All of that becomes the norm for you, and anything outside of that goes against your family, your people and your faith.
We have a joke in my family that my Dad kept having kids because he just wanted another boy but kept having girls. But it reflected my parents’ own cultural upbringing where sons are valued over daughters. In their cultures, sons grow up and take care of their parents, daughters leave when they get married. It became a self fulfilling prophecy because all the girls in my family did end up leaving Hong Kong and building lives elsewhere. It affected me when I started having children too, with each pregnancy I kept hoping for a boy. It took a lot of practice to break free from that stronghold, but I was adamant that my daughters weren’t going to grow up thinking that just because they are girls they aren’t enough.
Jesus calls us to go against these generational strongholds that influence the next generation. The strongholds that separate us from the rest of humanity.
Jesus calls us into radical actions that go against the norms that you were raised on, that go against norms defined by YOUR people
. Jesus came to send a powerful message to destroy this generational stronghold. His message was this: if you do not hate your mother and father, you cannot be my disciple.
He went from Honor your mother and father to hate your mother and father, because he wanted them to break away from their parents’ tribe and enter into another tribe – a connection to the rest of humanity, the tribe that includes the entirety of God’s creation – the uncircumcised, the Samaritans, the lepers, the Gentiles.
Jesus was inspiring his disciples by saying, your tribe is much bigger than what your mother and father told you, your people and your empire are much bigger than what you have ever known.
Your tribe and your people are inclusive of all of God’s creation – every community, every tongue, all abilities, every orientation and every gender identity. So whatever norms you were used to or influences that had strongholds on you, it’s time to turn from that, because it’s clouded you from what God’s true intention is.
It’s time to turn from norms your parents have set that say, as a woman you must be silent or your value is in marriage and in bearing children, or turn from norms that say, as a man you can’t show your emotions, you aren’t allowed to be weak, or as a person, your value is in being the BEST, the richest, the most gender normative.
It’s time to turn from communities that exclude people that fall outside their norm.
It’s time to extend your community to include the homeless and the poor, and other marginalized folx. For some of us in this room, you might be completely going against your parents when you extend your community to include Muslims, Immigrants, Undocumented folx, trans folx or even anyone who identifies as LGBTQ. Even if we know that according to our faith, God’s grace covers all of us, and we are all part of one body and one community.
When I look around this room, I see the many individuals who have told me stories of your progressive faith being an act of rebellion. I know you practice a progressive faith even knowing that on the holidays, when you see your families, there will be pained discussions about the kind of faith you belong to that supports asylum seekers illegally crossing our borders and affirms the humanity of trans folx. I see the division that brings to your homes when you worship a God whose love transcends borders.
I see how you’ve turned from your communities and entered into another when you protest against the ways in which your communities have hurt others.
Don’t think I came to bring peace to the earth! I came to bring trouble, not peace. (Contemporary English Version)
You live this out in your acts of civil disobedience which goes against everything your parents taught you by fighting for the equity and inclusion of marginalized folx.
Jesus calls us into these spaces outside of the borders of our people, and calls us into extending our inclusion, warning us that it’s going to bring conflict. But we must do it. We must do it because our faith calls us into inclusion, affirmation, equity, liberation and radical love for all, ESPECIALLY to the marginalized.
For so long my parents have had such a stronghold on me and influence in shaping who I am as a person. Some of the norms I was raised with was poisonous: that I should stay silent and obedient, that my value was in having a respected job and in how much money I made, that I needed to align myself with the right people and the right morals. Honoring and obeying my Mother and Father meant I had to align with these norms. But God calls me into another community and another way of being – individual from my parents’ norms.
I’m living my parents’ worst nightmare working in ministry, but I do it. Because I feel it like a fire in my stomach that this is what God has called me into. I entered into this community of God’s creation, doing all the things I was raised not to do: speaking up, being disobedient to the norms and expectations of my race and gender. I am not a model minority or a subservient Asian woman. I will continue to rebel against these norms because God calls me into a people where it is my place to shout, and to lead.
I say this today, my last sermon as one of your pastors (at Forefront), because I didn’t believe that it could happen for someone like me, for someone like me to have a voice, or a platform or even lead a congregation. I’m thankful for this community that has cultivated this safe space and given me a platform to speak up for the inclusion of my people, as a woman, as an immigrant and as a person of color. This community, this people right here, has uplifted and supported me and has been a window into what the Kingdom looks like.
I challenge you all to step out of the strongholds of your people. We can’t hide in the shadows, silently waiting for things to change, or be afraid to push up against norms. We must break free from the baggage of our upbringing, break out of normative expectations of our gender or race, we are called to speak up, and raise our voices even louder now. We need to keep marching, and keep fighting, because this is the space that Jesus calls us into.
And for the minorities in this room, for the people of color, for the women of color, for my siblings of Asian descent:
I’m not asking you to step out of your cultural identity, and into a white washed space of perceived celebration of diversity. I’m challenging you to step out of the expectations we were raised on, whether it was as a result of our upbringing or expectations set on us by others.
Maybe you grew up being told to stay silent and not to take up space. God is calling you into taking up space, make your presence known, speaking louder. Maybe you’ve been told that your ideas, your opinions, your voice, that they don’t matter – it’s time to turn from that because God is calling you into positions in leadership, into telling your story, into platforms to showcase your ideas. Maybe you’ve been told you had to behave a certain way to be accepted. God is calling you into being true to who you are because God takes pride in how you were divinely created.
God is calling you into this community and you belong here so make your presence known. And not to blend in and be like everyone else, but to becoming whom you were divinely created to be. God calls you into this space so take it up. It’s going to ruffle some feathers but let’s do it. You can do it here in this church, and then out into the world, because our presence, our voice and our lives, bring us closer to God’s kingdom here on earth.
The Kingdom of God comes as we all step out of our communities and seek connection with the rest of God’s creation where we work together to ensure that each and every life in this community flourishes.