Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sermon -- 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 8, 2013)

LUKE 14:25-33

In the name + of Jesus.

      In 1521, a German monk was declared an outlaw who could be killed on sight.  What was his crime?  He was preaching that forgiveness of sins came only through the merits of Jesus Christ.  He was claiming that the only words that are trustworthy and true are those in the Bible.  He stated that salvation comes by faith in Jesus and not in one’s own works and performances.  Worst of all, he declared that Jesus is Lord and that his words are final, far above the words of any church or council or pope.  For exposing lies and proclaiming God’s truth, Martin Luther was condemned as a heretic.  He was marked as an outlaw.  He lived the rest of his life under the constant threat that he or any of his family could be exiled, jailed, or killed.  Under these very real threats, Luther penned these words, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, TLH 262:4) 
     Do not get the idea that Luther was a sourpuss or the wet blanket at every gathering.  Luther enjoyed God’s blessings.  He cherished his wife and children.  He did not despise the gifts that God had given him.  However, he did recognize that, as thankful as he was for such blessings, goods, fame, child, and wife did not provide him with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  Even if he lost everything, he still had a Savior who gave him eternal blessings.
     That is how we understand Jesus’ words here.  Jesus’ words are purposely harsh because he wants you to understand how serious this all is.  The First Commandment is first for a reason.  You shall have no other gods.  You shall not place anything above your God.  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) 
     Now to be sure, father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister are all great blessings.  You receive much joy through them.  But you do not receive forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation through them.  And the fact of the matter is, one day you will bid farewell to all these things.  You have already lost possessions.  Chances are you no longer have your first car or your first baseball mitt.  Those things were easy to part with.  Other blessings are much harder.  Perhaps you have bid tearful good-byes to parents, siblings, or even children.  And if you do not bid farewell to them, they will one day bid farewell to you.  Therefore, do not cling so tightly to them.  Entrust all of these things to your Lord.  The First Commandment remains first.  Everything else is secondary or even lower than that.  Jesus urges you to count the cost.
     Jesus’ words are purposely harsh, and if Jesus shows you anything, he shows you for the sinner you are.  Who of us can do what Jesus says?  Who of us is able to call himself a faithful disciple?  We have not ranked Jesus above our families, our friends, and ourselves.  We would rather hurt our faith than our feelings.  We would rather lose forgiveness than friendships.  We have no interest in suffering any kind of loss for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus said, So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)  Who of us readily renounces all that we have?  Who truly prays, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, TLH 262:4)?  We don’t, because we don’t want to.  We do not keep the First Commandment first.  If you rank something above Jesus, then how can you call Jesus your Lord?  If you put anything above the Lord, then how can you be the Lord’s disciple?  Repent.
     Jesus urges you to count the cost.  There is a cost to being a disciple.  It is that you put your sinful cravings to death.  It is that you despise yourself for the wickedness in you.  It is that you recognize your only hope for salvation is not how faithfully you serve the Lord, but how faithfully he has served you.  Your hope is never going to be how much you give up for Jesus; it is how much he gave up for you so that you would be redeemed.  Your hope for salvation and your hope for peace come through Jesus Christ alone.
     Jesus delivers you from your sinful condition.  He did not count the cost, nor did he hesitate to pay the price.  Forsaking everything except his loving obedience to his Father in heaven, Jesus went to the cross which is what the Father sent him for.  Jesus was, then, forsaken by everyone including his Father.  He hung from the cross alone.  Alone he bore the guilt of the world. Alone he bore the shame of your selfishness.  Alone he shed his blood to atone for you.  Alone he paid the price and covered the cost.  Therefore, your guilt has been covered by the blood of Jesus.  Your shame is replaced by the verdict of forgiveness.  Jesus urges you to consider the cost.  The cost for your redemption was the life of God’s Son, and it is a cost gladly and fully paid by him. 
     Jesus would also have you ponder this: “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30)  Jesus Chris the foundation of your faith and your life.  There can be no other.  But beware lest you think that merely thinking about Jesus saves you.  Even the devil can do that.  And beware lest you use Jesus’ forgiveness as an excuse for your sins.  His forgiveness is not license to go and sin more.  And his mercy is no reason to neglect him.    Her mercy is the reason you need him.
     Jesus urges you to count the cost.  Every day, you will struggle with your own sinful flesh which still would rather forsake Jesus for momentary pleasures and peace.  Every day, you will battle your own selfishness.  You will fight against your weaknesses.  And you will often fail.  Some days, you will simply wonder if it is worth it.  You will want to give up the battle and you will want to give way to temptations and passions.  You ought to know that this is not unusual at all.  This is life in the Church Militant.  Jesus wants you to consider the struggle and to count the cost.
     But do not think that you are hopeless.  You are not alone.  Jesus upholds you and sustains you.  Jesus does not forsake you in your struggles.  And Jesus does not hate you because you are weak.  Remember, he took on flesh and blood and so he knows what it is to live in weakness and to be subject to temptations.  Therefore, he is not a harsh master, but a compassionate Savior.  When you sin and confess, “Lord, I’ve failed,” he assures you, “But I have overcome the enemy for you, and I forgive you.”  When you sigh, “I am so weak,” Jesus says, “But I am your strength.”  When you are feeling beaten down by life’s struggles and problems, Jesus summons you, “I am your refuge.  Find peace in my forgiveness, comfort in my wounds, and rest in my promises.  In my kingdom, no one can harm you.” 
     Dear Christians, the Lord may not allow anyone to take away your life, goods, fame, child, and wife.  You may pass from this world in peace.  But even if you pass away in peace, you will still bid farewell to all of these things.  And though they are great blessings to you, they still cannot save you.  Your hope and salvation are found in Jesus alone.  You do not have to wonder if his patience with you can hold up or if his mercy upon you will run out.  He continues to cover the cost.  His body and blood continue to deliver God’s mercy.  This has more value than everything on earth.  Jesus alone redeems, and that is priceless.

 In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.