Saturday, September 8, 2007

Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 9, 2007)
“Discipleship Shaped by the Cross” (Luke 14:25-35)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text this morning is today’s Gospel reading from Luke 14, in which Jesus describes the conditions of being one of his disciples, one of his followers, a lifelong learner of Jesus and his will and his ways.

Difficult Discipleship

First, let me ask you a question. Is it hip nowadays to love Jesus? Ballplayers make the sign of the cross before going up to bat and point to heaven after every homerun or touchdown. Rap stars thank Jesus for letting them win a Grammy award, even though their lyrics are laced with profanity and are degrading to women. Best-selling self-help books quote him, but they neglect to call him the only Savior of the world.

In some ways, it is hip to love Jesus. It’s hip to quote him. It’s hip to think he was a cool guy. It’s hip to think he’s somehow going to make your life better than it is, that he will solve all your problems and make you healthier, wealthier, and wiser.

But the type of discipleship that Jesus calls us to is not hip. It’s not popular. Today’s Gospel lesson begins by describing the “great crowds” that were following Jesus. He turned to them and confronted them with a challenge. He wanted to see why they were following him. Did they even know why they were following him in the first place? You know how mobs can be sometimes...people just get caught up in the moment, and don’t even know the real reason why they are gathered together. Were they following him because they thought it was the popular thing to do...because everyone else was doing it? Were they following him because they were waiting for another one of his miracles, like feeding great crowds with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish? Were they following him to see when he would give them their marching orders and rise up against the Romans? Was he going to be the type of Messiah that they were expecting?

True Discipleship involves a cross. Listen again to how Jesus challenges the assumptions of the crowds about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus:
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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. "Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 14:25-35)

True discipleship involves suffering and sacrifice. Jesus calls each disciple to “bear his own cross” and to “hate...his own life.” The cross is an instrument of suffering and death. For followers of Jesus, this isn’t just any type of suffering, from pesky toothaches to pernicious cancers. For followers of Jesus, bearing the cross means enduring all consequences of confessing of faith in Christ. It may be something as pesky as being snubbed at work or school. It may be something as pernicious as death at the hands of those who believe different than you, if you happen to live or travel in a land where Christianity is not tolerated.

True discipleship also involves undivided loyalty. Jesus calls each disciple to “hate” his family. We need to understand here that Jesus is using a figure of speech that was common in the Middle East in those days. He is exaggerating to the extreme to make a point. Jesus is not truly teaching us to hate...that would contradict other parts of Scripture that teaches us to love others ... “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12) ... “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25) ... or even as Paul instructs Philemon in today’s Epistle to receive his runaway slave back as a “beloved brother.” (Phm 16) When we are taught to “hate” our family, we should understand it to mean that we are not to love anyone more than Jesus.

Undivided loyalty also extends to our material possessions. Jesus calls us to “renounce all that you have.” Followers of Jesus are to have a willingness, if need be, to leave their possessions behind. Disciples of Jesus are to have a willingness to part with all that is near and dear to them in order to follow him with singleness of mind and heart.

True discipleship also involves counting the cost. In any serious venture, you must always plan carefully. Before you begin any project, you have to decide whether you have the necessary resources to complete the task. And being a disciple of Jesus is serious stuff. It has to do with eternal matters. No wimps allowed. It calls for manly work (with all due respect to you ladies out there). It takes guts, strength, courage, fortitude. Being manly work, you’d think the church would be full of men ... to lead, to guide, to be examples, the way God ordained it in the Garden. But like Adam, many men have abdicated their responsibilities of being leaders in both their families and the church, and so Christian wives and mothers have had to take up the slack and be strong and courageous for their families.

Having said that, all of us—both men and women alike—share a common fallen nature. We are wimpy, weak, and cowardly when it comes to matters of faith. We have failed to be the salty, seasoning influence upon the world that we are supposed to be ... not even fit for the manure pile. We deserve to be thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Discipleship Shaped by the Cross

That’s why Jesus had to “bear his own cross” for you. Jesus was strong for us, courageous for us, victorious for us. He counted the cost in order to save us and knew what that cost would be ... undivided loyalty to his Heavenly Father’s will ... suffering the rejection of his own people, not to mention those disciples of his who were closest to him for three years ... and the sacrifice of his own life.
Like the builder in the parable, Jesus laid the foundation and was able to finish. In Ephesians 2, St. Pauls says that all believers in Christ become “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” (Eph 2:20) We sing about this in the hymn: “The Church’s one foundation / Is Jesus Christ, her Lord; / She is His new creation / By water and the Word. / From heav’n He came and sought her / To be His holy bride; / With His own blood He bought her, / And for her life He died.” (LSB 644.1) And we also sing this one: “Christ is our cornerstone, / On Him alone we build; / With His true saints alone / The courts of heav’n are filled. / On His great love / Our hopes we place / Of present grace / And joys above.” (LSB 912.1)

And like the king in the parable, Jesus went off to war, not with ten thousand, but alone ... doing battle with our enemy Satan and all his angelic terrorists ... and won. He faced every temptation thrown at him and fought them off, using God’s Word, the sword of the Spirit, to fight off Satan’s attacks. He died as the innocent Son of God and marched in victory right into enemy territory when he descended into hell. And on the third day, he proclaimed his victory to the rest of the world as he marched forth from the tomb and showed himself alive.

With his own life, Jesus negotiated the “terms of peace” because our sins put us at odds with God. In Colossians 1, St. Paul describes how Jesus reconciled “to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” (Col 1:20-22)

Our discipleship is shaped by the cross ... Christ’s cross. We are crucified with Christ in Baptism. This means the death of our old self and putting on the new self ... the new creation that we are in Christ. Now we can willingly and joyfully carry our own cross ... facing suffering and sacrifice because we are disciples of Jesus.

We are baptized into a new family ... the Church. Now we can love Jesus more than our earthly families, while still serving them in love as he calls us to do.

We are given treasure in heaven. Now we can willingly part with all that is near and dear to us in this life, especially when we see that the things we possess can help others in their need.

And in this way, we can be the salty, seasoning influence that God intends his Church to be. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.


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