Monday, September 10, 2007

Pentecost 15

Okay, I don’t think I’ve ever had the kind of response to a sermon that I had yesterday. I got some ideas from a sermon by Samuel Zumwalt, some from Sundays & Seasons, some from Kelly Fryer, and some might have come from other sources. Here’s the sermon.

15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 9, 2007
Luke 14.25-33
Thomas Arth

Welcome home. For the second year in a row
we’re calling this Sunday after Labour Day, Homecoming Sunday.
Our intention is to welcome people home.
Sunday School has been on a break since the end of May
and now the kids are back.
Some people have been on summer vacations and holidays
and now they’re back.
The calendars on our walls say that the new year starts on January 1.
The church marks time a little differently,
saying a new year begins on the First Sunday of Advent.
But for a whole lot of us we make a fresh start, we start a new year,
in September when all the kids and the teachers go back to school.
It’s a lot like that in church too.
The choir started practicing again this week after the summer off.
Church council met again this week
after not meeting in July or August.
We get back to some kind of routine.
We come back home.

Our hope for Homecoming Sunday is also
that some people who were away from the church
for a short while or a long while for any number of reasons,
might find their way back home again.
Our hope is also that people who don’t have a church home
might possibly find a home here with us.
So, with those intentions about Homecoming Sunday,
when I came around to reading the gospel lesson for today
I thought, “Oh swell!”
“You can’t be my disciple
unless you love me more than you love your family
or even your own life.
You can’t be my disciple
unless you give away everything you own.”
Not exactly the best way to market the church, is it?
There was a church in Welland a couple of years ago
that gave away Blue Jays baseball tickets
to the first hundred people through the door
on a certain Sunday.
Come to church and get free baseball tickets
or come to church and hear Jesus tell you
to give away everything you own.

The thing is, here in this church
we’re not about marketing strategies and giveaways
to convince, entice or bribe people
to come through those doors and maybe even stay.
Here in this church we’re about worshiping, following, changing.
We’re here to worship God
because we believe in a God who deserves to be worshiped.
And we’re here to support and encourage one another,
to hear God’s word, to learn how to follow Jesus.
And we’re here to be changed.
Yes, believe it or not, we’re here to be changed.
It’s not about hearing “I’m okay. You’re okay.”
I’m not. Neither are you.
God wants more from me and God wants more from you.
We want to see more people in church.
We want to be spreading the good news
about God’s love for the world
and what he has done for us through Jesus Christ.
That’s what Jesus calls us to do in the great commission.
“Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples.
Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Spirit, and teach them
to do everything I have told you.”
We have a message of love to share
and it’s a message that changes people.
When you’ve heard and experienced the love of God
you won’t be the same.
When the Holy Spirit touches you and works within you
things are going to change.
Some churches go about this in a different way,
and I think it’s a wrong headed way.
Jack Handey wrote a comedy book of Deep Thoughts
that included this:
“If a kid asks where rain comes from,
I think a cute thing to tell him is ‘God is crying.’
And if he asks why God is crying,
another cute thing to tell him is
‘Probably because of something you did.’”
A gigantic billboard had a picture of flames shooting up from the bottom
and a message that simply said NO GOD = NO FUTURE.
Both of those examples take the approach that you change people
by just scaring the heck out of them.
I think they mean well but they don’t get the point
that it’s God’s love that makes a difference for people.
It’s God’s love that changes people.

We Lutherans like to think we’ve got it all figure out right.
Who knows, maybe we do,
but we don’t do a very good job of showing it and telling it.
We talk about grace, the free gift of grace.
Pastor Samuel Zumwalt says
we can quote Martin Luther’s Small Catechism
saying that the Holy Spirit does what we cannot naturally do.
Working in the church we say the Holy Spirit creates faith in us
through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We say the Holy Spirit teaches us through the Gospel
to trust that we are made right with God
through no effort or merit of our own.
We say that as God baptizes us
into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
we are claimed by grace
as God’s beloved daughters and sons.
We say that we are reborn again and again
as we return to our baptism, confess our brokenness,
and approach God’s throne of grace with empty hands.
We say that we are responding to God’s goodness and mercy
by offering up our lives as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
Pressed for an answer many Lutheran Christians
can give a fairly simple answer to the question,
“What is the Good News of Jesus Christ?”
“Why grace is a free gift!”
We can say what the good news is
but we don’t seem to know about what the Gospel does.
We don’t get that Jesus is trying to do something with us
here and now.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus is telling us that following him,
being his disciple,
is going to change us.
It’s going to cost us something.
The German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book
that attacked a lazy Christian attitude.
Writing in his book The Cost of Discipleship
he took aim at Lutheran Christians
who lived a caricature of the Christian life.
He was attacking a crossless Christianity.
He was attacking us for singing “Take My Life and Let Me Be.”
He was attacking the old sinner in each of us
that wants to stay old—
that old unredeemed part of each of us
that wants to stay unredeemed, unclaimed, and unwashed.
Bonhoeffer was sending us back to Jesus,
to what he says in the gospels.
Jesus makes clear that God’s love changes us.
The old sinner in us cannot remain.
I can’t be God’s dear possession
when most of me is still hanging on to my possessions for dear life.
I can’t love the Lord with all my heart
if most of my heart is engaged
in making my child a better soccer player.
I can’t love the Lord with all my heart
if most of my heart is occupied
with how to make somebody love me like I want to be loved.
I can’t love the Lord with all my heart
if most of my heart and most of my wallet is tied up
with whatever it is in this world that delights me.
I can’t love the Lord with my all if most of my heart, soul, and mind
is consumed by ambition or control or the arts
or fundraising or church-building or politics
or whatever it is to which my heart is clinging.

Preachers listen to Jesus selectively.
We read or hear a gospel lesson and think
“that’s a good text for a stewardship sermon
or an evangelism sermon.
That’s a good text to grow the church.”
Too many of us preachers fail to see or believe
that the Gospel actually transforms lives.
But lay people listen to Jesus selectively too.
Maybe you read or hear today’s gospel lesson and think
“Jesus doesn’t want me to hate my family.
He just wants me to put God first.
He just wants me to be a little nicer
and a little more forgiving
and a little more active in my congregation
and a little more generous.”
None or us, preachers or lay people,
want to admit that following Jesus means changing our lives.

I came across this joke.
How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?
Twelve. One to change it, and the other eleven
to say how much they liked the old lightbulb better.
But that’s assuming you find one who is willing
to climb the ladder and change the bulb.
I’ve heard the joke told a little differently.
How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?
We can laugh at ourselves.
We can laugh about change.
But will we actually change?

Jesus tells us, in today’s gospel reading, to carry a cross.
“You cannot be my disciple
unless you carry your own cross and come with me.”
That’s serious stuff.
A convicted criminal sentenced to crucifixion
was required to carry the crossbar of his cross
to the place of execution.
When Jesus tells us to carry a cross he’s asking us to die.
That’s the gospel to which we say “Praise to you, O Christ.”
But wait a minute.
Are we ready to die?
Are we willing to set aside what we want
and do what God wants?

God’s Son Jesus had to die for us,
because we didn’t want to die to ourselves.
And we still don’t want to die to ourselves.
It cost God everything to save us from ourselves.
It cost God everything to free us
from the power of sin, death, and evil.
God so loved us that he did for us what we can’t do for ourselves.
It’s not that God somehow changed his mind about sin.
Rather God didn’t give us what we deserve.
In Jesus Christ, God gave us what we didn’t deserve.
Mercy. Forgiveness. Love. Himself.
There’s a story about a mother who once approached Napoleon
seeking a pardon for her son.
The emperor replied that the young man
had committed a certain offense twice
and justice demanded death.
“But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained.
“I plead for mercy.”
“But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied.
“Sir,” the woman cried,
“it would not be mercy if he deserved it,
and mercy is all I ask for.”
“Well, then,” the emperor said,
“I will have mercy.”
And he spared the woman’s son.
That’s what God did for us when we deserved punishment for our sin.
God showed us mercy.
God gave us what we didn’t deserve.

That giving, that mercy, that forgiveness starts at our baptism
when we die to our old sinful self
and rise again to Jesus’ righteousness.
It’s the beginning of a pattern that isn’t complete
until our body finally dies
and we live with God forever.
Until then, in the meantime,
in the time between our first washing
and the day we breathe our last,
we die and rise.
Die and rise. Die and rise. Die and rise. Die and rise.
Disciples of Jesus do die and rise.
We follow the Master, at times as well as we can,
at other times not well at all.
But as we follow we die and rise, we change.
“You cannot be my disciple unless you love me
more than you love your father and mother,
your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters.
You cannot come with me unless you love me
more than you love your own life.
You cannot be my disciple
unless you carry your own cross and come with me.
You cannot be my disciple
unless you give away everything you own.”
Jesus is talking about not being satisfied
with our brokenness and sinfulness.
He’s talking about loving God and following Jesus
with all that we are.
He’s talking about putting the old sinner to death,
letting go of our possessions,
setting our hearts and wallets free
from any other delight, ambition, or control.
We can’t do it alone.
We come here for the support of a community of others
who are also being changed.
We can’t do it alone.
The Holy Spirit molds us to be what God wants
rather than what we might intend.
We can’t do it alone.
We do it with Jesus by our side
as we die to ourselves
and rise to become more of what God intends for us.

The Christian life is not just talking and singing about Jesus.
It’s not dabbling in God while we cling to the things of this world.
The cost of discipleship is the death of Jesus.
Those of us who follow him will die too.
And when we die in Christ God gives us new life,
life as we could never imagine it.


Pastor David said...

Very nice - a challenging, yet also encouraging word.

LutheranChik said...