Monday, October 18, 2010

Sermon for 05 September 2010, Proper 18C

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Luke 14:25-33 (34-35)

The Cost

Proper 18C, 05 September 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The lectionary often surprises us. Sometimes our three-year cycle of readings gives us just what we need at just the right time, e.g. towers and war. For nine years, America has been counting the cost of being an affluent, free, open, and sometimes arrogant society. The human toll is staggering. At the same time, our nation’s leaders have been considering the continuing cost of war.
With this background, and parables from our Lord with which we can readily identify, Jesus calls upon us to count the cost of being a disciple.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:  26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he is not able to be my disciple.  27 And anyone who does not bear his own cross and follow me—he is not able to be my disciple.
Jesus doesn’t mean “hate’ in the way of the common use of the term. He uses “hate” in the way of overstatement, similar to how Malachi describes God in the middle of Genesis: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. God loved them both, but compared to the great love and favor God gave Jacob, whom He renamed Israel, Esau was hated. Jesus’ overstatement could be rephrased into a question, “Do you love God more than anything else on earth, even your own family?”
God calls upon each one of us to love father and mother and family and all in authority. He’s not contradicting Himself. Consider it put another way, perhaps more attuned to the culture of Wyoming. Do you love God more than hunting, shopping, fishing, watching immoral TV programs, camping, sleeping in, and watching the early NFL game? The answer to that is yes. You’re here this morning. That doesn’t mean you don’t love hunting, shopping, fishing, watching TV, camping, sleeping in, watching football. It just means you’ve got your priorities in order—God first, then everything else.
Peer pressure works on all of us. It feeds into our human nature. On vacation, or just during the summer, some may not see the harm in taking Sundays off from God. That leads to taking weekdays off from God, eventually. An occasional church attendee ultimately thinks it’s a big deal when he or she or the whole family decides to come to church. It almost become, “Well, we’ve done our duty this month. We’re good for a while now.” Don’t think you’re doing me any favors coming to church. Don’t think you’re doing God any favors either. We aren’t here primarily to serve God. We are here to be served. This is Divine Service. The Divine, God, comes to us to give us His gifts. That’s the primary thing going on here.
“Well, we’ve done our duty this month. We’re good for a while now.” What these words reveal about that person’s understanding of God is serious. That person is in spiritual danger. These words see God as a divine roll-call reader, making checks when someone shows up. If you or someone you know thinks you can play with God that way, think again! If you want to do your duty, you reveal the sinful human desire to want to please God by living a good life. If someone wants to meet God’s standard of a good life, be warned: it is perfection. See the spiritual danger of living under the law, despising God’s Gifts?
It is not so with you. We are called to live by the Gospel. No obligation is laid before us to worship, but opportunities. Faith lives for and participates in such opportunities to receive the Lord’s Gifts.
If people don’t hear the Word of Life, faith starves to death. That leads to the despising of preaching and His Word that Luther warns about in His explanation of the Third Commandment. The danger is spiritual. We want people to hear the Word of the Gospel. That’s why we want them at the Divine Service!
Peer pressure is tough, no doubt. It’s easier not to pray, to not study the Word, to avoid the Divine Service. Do you see the cost of discipleship?
The peer pressure of family members can be exceptionally strong. Old habits die hard. Husbands, you are the spiritual head of the household. Your responsibility to the Lord is to keep your family alive in the faith, spiritually alive. It is hard when your wife and kids aren’t motivated to participate with you in family devotions.
In some families, it’s even tougher. Since the husband, due to unbelief, disbelief, or inactivity has neglected his God-given role as spiritual head of household, the wife may have to take on that responsibility on an emergency basis. Sometimes, the husband may make decisions that make faithfulness difficult, if not almost impossible. Sometimes sons and daughters have the mantle fall upon them. Let us pray for our families that the faith may be exercised, practiced, encouraged, and lived in Christian homes!
At the very least, you have the abiding presence and promises of Our Lord and the support and encouragement of your family of faith gathered here around Word and Sacrament. Scripture often talks about believers as a family. In the Epistle to Philemon, Paul calls Onesimus his son, i.e. his son in the faith. Perhaps Paul was Onesimus’ confirmation instructor, his catechist.
26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he is not able to be my disciple. 
Christianity is a great comfort, but it is not always comfortable. Jesus doesn’t say, “Take up your La-Z-Boy and follow me.” It may cost you ridicule at school or at work or at home in this life, but the eternal reward is worth it! It will not be easy, but Our Lord has promised to be with those whom He has called. We in Green River have a lot in common with the early Christians, living as a minority in a non-Christian environment, with the larger culture being antagonistic to or indifferent to our beliefs. Let us pray that the current national trauma directs many to God in Christ.
Our message of law and Gospel is not a popular one. We can identify with the personal experience King Solomon shares in Proverbs 9. 7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Pray that the inhabitants of the United States of America will find True Wisdom in the fear and reverence of the Lord, and Salvation in Christ Jesus in the wake of the fall of the World Trade towers.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him,  30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
I was taken aback by the specific language about a tower that Jesus uses in this section of St. Luke 14. Estimate the cost. How much did it originally cost to build the World Trade Center towers? How many worked there? How much capital passed through those offices? How much money was made there on a daily basis? How many lives were lost? How long will it take to recover the dead and remove the rubble? How much would it cost to rebuild something as spectacular (or more so) on the same site? Consider the cost. Count the cost. Know what you’re in for as you follow Christ. Recently folks have been counting the cost of a religious center blocks away.
Is there enough to finish the job?  If you as a Christian tried to go it solo, you would soon run out—there wouldn’t be enough to remain faithful to the end if you depended upon your own resources. I know that I could not have survived as your pastor the last two months without the Gifts the Lord gives. My service to you has not been based upon my own sufficiency, but the power of God made perfect in my weakness.
God is Love. God is just. We cannot keep the law perfectly. We cannot live a good enough life according to God’s standard of perfection. We cannot always love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Going solo is dangerous. Being solo isolates us from the community of faith and encouragement of the other members of the Body of Christ. We also separate ourselves from regular hearing of His Word, the comfort of Holy absolution, and the forgiveness of sins in the Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for you.
God’s Gifts nourish God-given faith to give you enough to complete the job, to fight the good fight of the faith, enough to deliver you faithful and righteous in God’s sight on Judgment Day. The battles with Satan continue, but the war has been won by Christ!

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  33 In the same way, any of you who does not [bid farewell to all of his own possessions] give up everything he has is not able to be my disciple.
The illustration of Jesus about war describes well how to count the cost.  You have counted the cost, and by faith, you can forget what you are giving up and focus upon what God is giving you.
Our God has promised you what you need to equip you to the end. Ephesians 6. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Pray for the Lord’s protection, as in Luther’s prayers, “Let your holy angel watch over me that the wicked foe may have no power over me.” And use the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Our Bible classes will soon focus on defending the faith. I pray you will join us!

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Some have counted the cost and have decided that the Christian life isn’t worth it. Sadly, we all know people like this. It is not a good position to be in. What if the Lord returned this minute? Would He find faith on earth?
How can salt be made salty again? With God all things are possible! The Word of God that called them to faith through the work of the Spirit can bring a person to faith again!
Consider the cost to the Father. Your salvation cost His Only-begotten Son. He was willing to pay. Consider the cost to Jesus. It cost Him His life! We follow Jesus because He’s on His way to Jerusalem to die—for you—to pay the ultimate price. The cost of following Christ may cost you popularity in this life, but what is that compared to Eternal Life and your worth in the eyes of God, who was willing to pay the cost so that He could be in a relationship with you to bless you. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.