Monday, September 5, 2022

Discipleship comes with a cost. . .

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18C, preached on Sunday, September 4, 2022.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke we hear the call of Jesus to follow Him and at the same time are warned of the cost of following Him.  It is not how any one of us might recruit followers.  Especially here in the Church we tend to minimize the work of the Kingdom telling prospects for an office that it is really no big deal, it is easy, anyone can do it, and it takes hardly any time.  So why should we be surprised if we get church leaders who think their service is not important, should not take any time, and could just as easily be done by others.  We are more than foolish in the way we treat the things of the Kingdom of God.  But not Jesus.

Jesus shocks us all by saying that anyone who does not hate father, mother, wife, children siblings, and himself cannot be His disciple.  Of course, we know Jesus did not mean that.  Didn’t He?  If He did not mean it, why did He say it?  Of course, we presume Jesus means we should love Him more than we love everything else.  But if that is what Jesus meant, why did He not say that plainly?

Hate seems such a strong word.  Especially after a few chapters before affirming the call of the commandments to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus says hate and not simply a lesser love.  Not to be fair, Jesus is not saying that we are to harm our parents or spouse or children or anyone.  Jesus does not justify hurting anyone.  But Jesus is clear.  We must renounce all – even self – in order to be His disciple – the cost of discipleship.

Lest we think that this is unique in all of Scripture, Jesus says the same thing in different ways and St. Paul makes it personal.  I am determined, I have decided, I have resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  This is not some novelty for those who are extreme disciples and it is not the particular calling of pastors and church workers but the common call of Jesus to know the cost of being His disciples and every day to bear that cost for the very sake of Christ.

We always sugar coat life with Jesus.  We tell people the convenient lies that following Jesus will give you peace in your heart, tranquility in your home, joy in your work, recognition from others, and help you achieve your dreams.  We front load discipleship with all sorts of promises that sound great but may not be true at all.  In contrast, Jesus tells us the inconvenient truth He will not be one among many priorities and claims upon your heart or your life.  Ever, only, all for Him.

This is not you are given to do as a private or personal assignment.  This is why we are here in God’s House today.  We pass the baptismal font where we died and rose from those waters of life and promise to become new people.  Not the same old people with a new understanding of life or new priorities for our lives but brand new people.  We no longer belong to the world and we do not belong to our selves either.  We belong to Him.  That is not simply the first or the highest claim upon us but the only claim.  Every other relationship has to be seen in the context of this life we have in Christ or we cannot be His disciples.

Self-denial is not something we do from time to time but the shape of our daily lives.  Though this is the pattern of our lives in Christ, we will deviate from that path and go our own way, playing with Christ as if He were a toy instead of dying to be raised to be Christ’s own, God is on our side.  He provides us the means to rescue us from our failures.  This is why the Church talks not about one repentance but daily repentance and daily restoration.  This is why the Church calls us to the blessing of confession and the gift of absolution as a regular part of our daily lives.  Self-denial is not one decision or even many decisions but is the daily fight of faith.  We count the cost – a cost Jesus has made painfully known to us – and we daily deliberate on what is our baptismal calling and how it is to be lived out.

The reality is that for too many of us the things of our homes and families and workplaces and leisure and self-interest are the things we know best and the things of God are always a little strange, somewhat unfamiliar, and less urgent to us than these other things.  God’s House is not our house but a place we visit.  Prayer is not a daily conversation but an occasion tweet.  The food of the Sacrament is not the most important food but a snack for the moment.  Baptism is not the pivotal event in our lives and identities but merely something that happened to us long ago that few of us can even remember.  Count the cost.  Renounce all.  Follow Jesus.  But only for an hour or so on Sunday morning and a few scattered minutes in our busy days.  If Christianity is failing and we are failing as Christians it is not because we have taken Jesus too seriously but too lightly.

The Christian life is not some peaceful meadow where our souls enjoy complete tranquility but a battlefield in which the enemies of the kingdom fight against us with the ally of our own sinful flesh, heart, and mind.  The reason there is so much battle imagery in Scripture is because this is the shape of Christian life.  Even in the 23rd Psalm, Jesus sets His table in the presence of our enemies.
Moses puts it clearly in the first reading.  The struggle before us is nothing less than life and death, good and evil.  There is no muddy middle ground.  The choices before us are not simple but the choices of life and death, good and evil.  It is not individual but for all our household and the generations who follow us.  To love the Lord, to obey His voice, to hold fast to Him only, and to see Him as our life and our future, this is the battle waged in our hearts, minds, and lives every day.

So Jesus does not mince words.  The call of Christ is to come and die.  To surrender all that we are and all that we hope for and all that defines our lives to Him.  This is not the condition which He places upon us which we must fulfill before He loves us but the fruit of discipleship and the work of His love in our hearts, minds, and lives.  The Christian path does not look like all the other paths of the world except on Sunday when we Christians detour to Church.  No, indeed.  Ours is the cruciform life that we see in Christ.  He loved us more than life, more than His own life, and more than anything else in life.  Such wondrous love will work in us the same radical discipleship.

The call of Christ is not a once in a lifetime decision but the daily call issued through His Word, pointing us to what happened in baptismal water, what equips us for this life in absolution, and what feeds us for this journey with His flesh and blood in Holy Communion.  Jesus is constantly at work in us merging our double-minded scatterbrained focus so that it shoots as straight as an arrow.  From the cross, in the shadow of the cross, and to the cross we live.  It is not one small thing but the everything that defines us.  Not sexual choice or felt gender or sins we love to hate or lives we hate to love but Christ in us, Christ to us, Christ for us, now and for everlasting life.  Amen.

1 comment:

Timothy Carter said...

"The Christian life is not some peaceful meadow where our souls enjoy complete tranquility but a battlefield in which the enemies of the kingdom fight against us with the ally of our own sinful flesh, heart, and mind."
Strangely comforting words of Gospel after the harsh Law of hearing Jesus say "Unless you hate your family you cannot be my disciple."
Your sermon helps explain these troubling verses.
Thank you. God Bless the Preacher.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport, TN.