The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18C (9/4/2016)

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 (1)

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.

14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; 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.

 

A Cross Shaped Life

Is living as a faithful follower of Jesus a relatively easy thing to do in our day, or does it take an extraordinary effort to do it justice? This is a question that has been on my mind this past year.

I realize that there is no mortal danger in being publicly identified as a Christian in a 21st Century United States of America. It may not be as popular a stand to take as it was 50-60 years ago, and it may seem as though we have less influence on our society than we did a generation or two back, but the rate of martyrdom in our country seems to be especially low these days. Some Christians contend that they are being muzzled or marginalized or even persecuted in our society, but it is pretty mild stuff compared to what the faithful have suffered in more dangerous times and places.

Yet I want to make the case that this is not an easy time and place to be a Christian. Not so much because the powers that be are seeking to suppress our faith, but because the societal norms that surround us have the capacity to draw us away from our faith. There is a subtle pressure — a temptation — that tugs on us. And the less aware we are of it, the more effective it seems to be.

I’ve referred in recent sermons and adult classes to Kenda Creasy Dean’s contention (Almost Christian, 2010) that many of us who think of ourselves as Christians actually aren’t. She draws a sharp distinction between those who “pick up a cross and follow Jesus” and those who ascribe to what she calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: a form of religious belief that espouses a sense of right and wrong (moralistic), that has mostly to do with making our lives better (therapeutic) and that has something to do with God (deism), but mostly consists of thanking God when things go well.

Contrast that with what Jesus teaches us in this weekend’s Gospel lesson.

  • “Whoever does not hate life itself cannot be my disciple.”
  • “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
  • If you want to be a Christian, first “sit down and estimate the cost.”
  • “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

This passage makes it clear that to be a Jesus-follower is not for the faint of heart. Christianity is not a system of belief that will make an already pleasant life even better. It is not an invitation to an easy and successful existence. Christianity is the invitation to embrace the way of Jesus — an invitation to join him in having a heart for this world, and reaching out to it, even when this comes at great cost.

This weekend Jesus invites us to experience Christian faith in all of its depth and power. It may not be an easy road to walk, but it surely is the best one!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What forces were drawing the first followers of Jesus away from him?
  2. How might his original listeners have understood what he says in this passage?
  3. How were these words a source of comfort and strength to the first generation of Christians, who were persecuted in many ways?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How would I describe the impact my faith has on my life?
  2. Who do I know, whose faith is an example of self-giving sacrifice?
  3. When have I been the recipient of (or the source of) sacrificial love?