The 15th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18C (Sept. 5, 2010)

The Call to the Disciple Life

Lessons: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Psalm 1 (3) Philemon 1:1-21 St. Luke 14:25-33

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 18:1-11 Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Prayer of the Day: Direct us, O Lord God, in all our doings with your continual help, that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name; and finally, by your mercy, bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text

14.25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

 St. Luke 14:25-33. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Some time ago the leaders of our congregation considered developing a membership pledge. We thought that if we could put into words what it means to be an active member of this congregation, and by providing a time each year to pledge our support, we would be given the opportunity to renew our membership on an annual basis. The effort stalled out, however, because we found it especially difficult to come up with words that we could all embrace – words that could inspire and enthuse each one of us.

What if we based such a pledge on the words of Jesus (a novel approach…)? In this week’s Gospel lesson he speaks of what it means to be one of his followers. Certainly, membership in a Christian congregation involves becoming a follower of Jesus. So to paraphrase his words a bit, let me propose the following membership pledge for our congregation (those of you who belong to other congregations will have to insert your own church name before proposing it to your leadership group…):

As an active and supportive member of Saint Peter Lutheran Church, I understand that my allegiance to Christ must come before all else. Therefore I promise to: hate my father and my mother, hate my wife and my children, hate my brothers and my sisters, hate my own life, give up all my possessions, pick up my cross, and follow my Lord with all my heart, so help me God.

Now before you all rush my office, clamoring for a chance to be first in line to make this pledge, let me say that you won’t find my name signed on to it. To be perfectly honest, my family means the world to me, I enjoy life, and I’ve got a few possessions that I hope to own until the day I die (not to mention the possessions that are essential to doing a good job of being a father and a husband (like a house, a car, clothing, food…).

With that said, what do these words of Jesus mean to me? Am I ducking their intensity? Am I making excuses for myself, and watering down Christ’s command? Is my commitment to family and life and home a higher allegiance than it ought to be? That, of course, is the tension we live in as followers of Jesus.

Christians know that family, life and possessions are gifts to us from a loving and gracious God. They are gifts for which we are deeply grateful. They are compelling gifts – gifts that have touched us very deeply. But they are gifts that can cause us to confuse the ultimate with the penultimate. Jesus calls us to be his disciples, and teaches us this week that if we love parent or spouse or child or sibling more than him, we cannot be his disciples. He teaches us that if we would rather preserve and protect our possessions than respond faithfully to him, we cannot be his disciples. He would rather have us hate our families and lives and possessions, than love them more than we love him.

Family, life and possessions can be rich blessings, and God can work through them to strengthen our faith and empower our discipleship. But if they become the ends, rather than the means, they can function as great distractions for us. If they become the focus of our lives, instead of gifts that draw us nearer to the God who gave them to us, it would be better to hate these things than to let them draw us from faithfulness.

This week’s Gospel lesson is a challenging one – calling us to place discipleship at the very top of our priority list. May God grant us the wisdom to understand what crowds discipleship out of our lives. May God grant us the courage to reject all that prevents us from following Christ. May God grant us the strength to do all that we can to see that God’s creative and redeeming word is proclaimed to the entire world. This is our central calling, as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What priorities and commitments might first century people have had, that kept them from giving their whole lives to God?
  2. Why did St. Luke remember Jesus as giving such a strong challenge to family ties (as opposed to how it was remembered in St. Matthew 10:37)?
  3. How must Jesus’ listeners have responded to these words? (Does St. John 6:66-69 give us a hint?)

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What are the five highest priorities in my life, and where does my commitment to Christian discipleship fit into that list?
  2. How might I allow my faith to be a stronger influence in my life, without being irresponsible in the many roles God has called me to play?
  3. How might my support of local congregational ministry affirm the central role of faith in my life?