Sermon Pentecost 16
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes we all exaggerate to make a point.
Sometimes we even take it to extremes.
We say things like:
That was the best dessert I ever ate in my whole life.
It was the ugliest dress you ever saw.
Kids sometimes say – My parents would kill me if I did that.
Others may say – I love Nebraska and hate “whoever the football rival is this year.” I don’t really know.
We all know that those things are exaggerations. They are said to make a point. No one actually believes that their parents will murder them if they behave badly. It’s a figure of speech. Nobody takes it literally.
Nobody literally loves or hates a sports team either, at least not the way we love our spouses or our children. Saying you loved one thing and hated another was a figure of speech in Jesus’ time, too.
Today’s gospel lesson makes me glad that we are not among those Christians who believe we have to take everything the Bible says literally. I am glad, really glad, because today we hear some of what we call the “hard sayings” of Jesus. They are hard to hear. It is hard to figure out what he meant when he said them.
Here is what Jesus said, “you cannot be my disciple unless you do these things:
Hate your family – father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters!
Hate life itself!
Give up all your possessions!
Carry your cross and follow me!”
Jesus is telling us what we have to do to be one of his disciples. He is describing the lives of his followers.
Jesus is not talking about what we have to do to earn our salvation. Our salvation is a gift. We are saved by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Christ. We do nothing to earn God’s love and grace. Our salvation is completed by God’s grace alone.
Jesus is not talking about how we get saved. Jesus is talking about the “Now what?” Now that we know we are saved, what do we do to respond? How are we to live our lives?
Jesus is using some strong language and expressions here to make an important point. A large crowd is following him. He has become like a rock star. He is headed to Jerusalem and they think he is going there to be crowned as the king.
So Jesus gives the crowd a dose of reality. He tells them it is costly to follow him. You can’t just be one of the crowd. You must make sacrifices if you want to be a disciple.
Being a disciple is not something you sign up for and then forget about it. It isn’t like an organization that you join once and then rarely attend the meetings.
Being a disciple isn’t one of the things you can check off your list of stuff to do this week. Being a disciple is not like getting out your good china, so you can use it on holidays, like Christmas and Easter.
Being a disciple is a total way of life. When we follow Jesus we measure every thing we do, by whether it serves God and our neighbor. Our Christian faith is the lens through which we see everything. Everything.
Moses reminds his people that the choice about following God is really a life or death choice. When we choose to live as disciples, we are choosing to live by the commandments and walk in God’s ways. We are choosing the abundant life that God wants for us all. We are choosing to live with God’s blessing.
Jesus is telling us we have to have our priorities straight. This really goes back to the first commandment, doesn’t it? You shall have no other gods. Nobody, no thing, no relationship, not even your life itself, is more important than God.
Jesus reminds us that sometimes, your family won’t be happy about that.
A number of years ago William Willimon, who was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, basically the campus pastor, got a call from an upset parent, a VERY upset parent. “I hold you personally responsible for this,” the father said.
“Me?” Willimon asked.
The father was hot, upset because his graduate school bound daughter had just informed him that she was going to throw it all away and go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti. “Isn’t that absurd!” shouted the father. “A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she’s going to go dig ditches in Haiti.”
Willimon said, “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.”
“Look,” said the father, “this is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible,” he said.
As the conversation went on, Dr. Willimon pointed out that the well-meaning, but obviously unprepared parents, were the ones who had started this ball rolling. THEY were the ones who had her baptized, read Bible stories to her, took her to Sunday School, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship to ski in Vail. Willimon said, “You’re the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me.”
“But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian,” said the father, meekly. Hmm. (William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Sept 10, 1995)
We could just as easily say Lutheran. A friend told me once that he wanted to be sure his children were “exposed to religion” at some point. Doesn’t that sound like a vaccination? We give them a little dose so they don’t get the full blown disease.
Jesus wants our whole life, not just a few minutes or even a few hours a week. He knows he is asking for us to make a sacrifice.
We know what sacrifice means. We have counted the cost of things before making decisions that require sacrifices.
You may have counted the cost before taking a new job. You decided if it was worth the sacrifice of moving, maybe working weekends for a while, spending less time with the family.
You may have counted the cost and made the sacrifice to work long hours at jobs you don’t love, to provide for your families, or pay for your children’s educations.
You know what sacrifice means. You only do it when you decide that it is worth the cost. We find that we value things more highly when we sacrifice for them.
Jesus asks us to take the long view and look at our lives. He wants us to ask ourselves what is important to us, what our real priorities are. What are our hopes for ourselves and our families?
The life of discipleship is a life of sacrifice. It is made possible by God’s grace.
Being a disciple means consecrating your whole life to doing God’s work with your hands.
When we give our hands to help our neighbors, we are choosing life and blessing. Then we have the privilege of sharing the abundant life of blessing God wants for all of us.