Tuesday, September 6, 2016
The masks of the eternal in the temporal. . .
We like to think that the Scriptures comfort us and this they surely do. But it is not hard to find shocking things in the Bible and to be repulsed by the very words of Jesus Himself. If you came to church today expecting to hear something warm and sweet, you hit the wrong Sunday. Instead, you heard: 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.
It is hard to find a more shocking statement than this. There are few things more sacred than family. Blood flows thicker than water. I can criticize my family but no stranger is allowed that privilege. Family is the shape of human life and family defines us. Family first. We expect that this is what God thinks, too; that these priorities come from Him.
Scripture offers us a host of images that our God uses to describe our relation to Him. He is our King, our Master, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Holiness, our Bridegroom, and our Shepherd – just to name a few. Yet the most profound description of God’s relationship to us is that of family. He is our Father who art in heaven. . . Christ our Brother in flesh. . . the Spirit our Lord and who teaches us faith and keeps us in holiness and righteousness.
The Trinity is itself a description of family. God is Father who begets our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. This is the perfect family not simply because they are perfect but because none seeks self above the other and all are perfect in the love that defers to the other. This is the love that we see at work in Christ, come to trust by faith by the Spirit, and learn to pray Our Father who art in heaven. There is no greater affection and intimacy than this saving love.
The Father wills our salvation. The Son comes to fulfill the Father’s saving will, joyfully taking the Father’s purpose as His own, and the Spirit awakens within us faith to grasp this salvation and rejoice in what love has done. The Father’s saving will not only redeems us but transforms us, taking us into Himself so that we will become like Him, seeking the things of the Father the way the Son seeks to do His will.
It is into this context that Jesus speaks. 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. We tend to assume that God has come to bless what is already ours and make it better. The shocking truth is that God has come to transform us and our relationships. He has not come to help us get what we want.
He has come to instill in us the desire to want what God wants. He has come to give us all things new; to bestow upon us that which transcends and replaces what we have. The Kingdom of God reshapes and replaces everything. Our earthly fathers are masks and mirrors of our Heavenly Father. Their best work in us is to reveal our true Father in heaven, just as Jesus has come to reveal the Father to us and to do the Father’s will.
We have a new mother, the Church and the Spirit who, like a mother, gives us new birth by water and the Word. Our earthly mothers are masks and mirrors of the mothering love of God who from the womb of baptism give us the new birth death cannot steal. We have a new brother in Christ who took on our flesh to suffer and die in our place and to rise again on the third day. Our earthly brothers and sisters are masks of our true brother, Jesus Christ. God has given us a new family, those who with us confess Jesus Christ and who rejoice in the redemption He has purchased and won for us with His own blood. All our earthly families point us to the heavenly family to which we were born anew and in which we now live by faith.
And if that were not shocking enough, we have a new self. We are not who we were. We were bought with a price. We don’t belong to ourselves but to the Lord. We were redeemed to be free – not in the sense that we can choose our own fates and futures but free to receive by faith the fate and future written for us in the blood of Jesus. We are made new, we are given a new family, and we live new lives. Jesus is blunt. You cannot live with one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world. You cannot love Jesus but love your earthly families more. You cannot love God but love yourself a little more. You cannot love this life and love Jesus just a little bit more. God’s claim is not to part of you but to all of you. By faith, you claim Him above all other things.
The sinful heart within us fears such radical new birth, the new shape of our family, and new self we live as the children of God. We would rather have a little bit of everything than to risk investing all our hopes in one thing. Faith has become like a visit to the smorgasbord in which we take what we want but God pays the bill. Jesus is blunt. Faith cannot pick and choose from the things of God and the things of this mortal life. We cannot live half on our own and half in the power of God by faith. The radical truth of God is the radical claim of radical discipleship.
And it gets even more shocking. The radical path of discipleship is not earthly ease, comfort, or victory but suffering. What does Jesus say? Whoever does not bear his own cross and follow Me, cannot be My disciple. Your path of faith on earth is tested by trials and tribulation, sorrows and suffering, pain and persecution, life and loss. Your victory is by faith and not by sight. The future that belongs to you is the future you see not with the eyes in your head but the eyes of faith opened by the Holy Spirit. The struggles of the day are not the lens by which you see your eternal future but just the other way around. Your eternal future and your new relationship with God your Father, Christ your brother, and the Spirit your mother is the lens through which you see the struggles of this mortal life and the troubles of this day.
So what does Jesus call us to do? Count the cost. Jesus does not promise a rose garden but a life wearing the cross and enduring suffering. I know that is not what you thought you would hear today but it is the truth. Yet despite it all, God is still our heavenly Father, Christ our brother who has saved us from our sins and death, and the Holy Spirit still the mother who bore us in faith that we may endure to the day of Christ’s coming and be found holy and blameless before His judgment seat.
Count the cost. Know what it is that tests you and what it is that waits for you. Know what it is that you are called to sacrifice for the Kingdom but never forget what Christ has sacrificed to give you the Kingdom. Know that here on earth your sufferings are not in vain, your faithfulness is not without reward, and your life not without purpose. Count the cost. Repent. Believe the Gospel. Keep the faith.
Some of you undoubtedly complain about the government, about taxes, about the choice you must make at the ballot box, about the weather, about your spouse, about your children, about your parents, about life’s disappointments and its defeats. I know I have. But our comfort does not lie in an improving world or family or life. We are citizens of an eternal city and our citizenship is in heaven. We belong to Him. Everything on earth was created to point to God from the food we eat to the families into which we were born. They are shadows of the eternal and even though sin has corrupted them, the temporal things of this life do not fail to point to the eternal. The Spirit is given so that we can see this with eyes of faith -- seeing what our physical eyes cannot see.
Our earthly families are not substitutes nor are they competitors for the heavenly family but earthly masks or mirrors of God’s love and family. We cannot choose one over the other for the only way our earthly relationships endure is to belong to God, to know Him as our Father, Christ who was incarnate as our brother, and the Spirit who acts as our mother to give us birth in faith. We cannot choose our old self over the new life God has created in us. The only way we are truly free is to be drowned in baptism and rise as the new people of God’s own creation. Every day we recall this death through repentance and rise in faith to live as the people of God, rejoicing over this new birth, new family, and new self.
If you do not renounce all other claims but Christ, you cannot be His disciple. The only things that are truly ours are those God has given. Count the cost. Repent. Believe the Gospel. Your life is not defined by today but by Christ and the eternal tomorrow He has prepared for You. Let he who has ears, let him hear. Amen.