Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sermon -- 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 4, 2016)

LUKE 14:25-33


In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus says one of the most provocative statements he ever makes in our Gospel lesson: “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.  ...Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26,33)  What is provocative is not so much what he demands of us, it is what Jesus says of himself.  If anyone were to come up to you today and insist on your total allegiance, demanding that you prioritize him above your family, friends, and all that you have, you would either accuse him of being insane, or you would accuse him of blasphemy.
     Our Lord Jesus Christ is not insane.  He knows exactly what he is saying, and he says it on purpose.  Jesus is not guilty of blasphemy, either.  He is God, and he says so in unmistakable terms.  The First Commandment is about him.  “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3)—not your father or mother, not your spouse or child, not your family, not your friends, and not anything else you have including your own life.  If you are going to call Jesus your “Lord,” then he should be.  He must be.  If you follow Jesus' word only when it is convenient, then you are not his disciple.  Jesus urges everyone who wants to call himself a Christian to count the cost of being a disciple.
     Count the cost of discipleship.  It is no small matter.  If you take on the title of Christian, then you also are taking on the duty to believe all of God's word and to live a life according to it.  It means you will order your life according to what God says is good and will shun what God calls sin.  It means that you will not feel superior to those trapped in their sins; you will feel compassion for them.  It means you will love your neighbor and seek his good—even when your neighbor will not return the favor, or even when he is your enemy.
     Count the cost of discipleship.  It will not be easy.  You cannot be a casual disciple anymore than a soldier in combat can be a casual fighter.  You dwell in the Church Militant, and that means you will battle and struggle every day against your sinful flesh and this sinful world.  Jesus has you consider: “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)  
     Unbelievers have no interest in following Jesus.  They do not believe his word has any authority over them and they live like it.  But they expect you who bear the name of Jesus will live Christ-like lives.  Unbelievers will even mock you if you do not.  They despise Jesus.  They despise you because you call yourself a disciple of Jesus.  And they pretend to be outraged when you do not live up to God's word.  “Aha!” they cry.  “You call yourself a Christian, but you sure don't act like one!”  With this mock outrage, unbelievers are trying to prove to themselves that they are righteous even though they do not love God or keep his word.  Although their mock outrage is self-righteous and self-serving, such rebukes still sting because they are correct.  We do not act Christ-like.  We do sin, and we do sully the name of Jesus and his Church with our sins.
     Count the cost of discipleship.  It is not easy to live a Christ-like life because your flesh will never want to.  Your flesh will tell you that those who are lost are losers and not worth your time and effort.  Your flesh will tell you that those who are damned deserve what they get, implying that you have earned better for yourself.  Your sinful nature will always love and praise and exalt you above others.  And you will always struggle with these opinions because your sinful nature does not go away or get better.  That is why Jesus says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)  You must bear the cross, and by that cross, put your sinful nature to death.  And it will not be easy, because the sinful nature never wants to die.
     Count the cost of discipleship.  While the mockery of unbelievers is hard to hear, we do not deny the charges that we have fallen short of holiness.  We do not pretend that we are perfect.  On the contrary, we confess our sins and our sinfulness.  We are not disciples of Jesus because we need someone to give us orders so that we do better.  We follow Jesus and yearn for his word because he has mercy upon us.
     Jesus recognized the cost of saving sinners.  It cost him his life.  Jesus did not hesitate to pay the price for you.  He went to the cross on purpose.  He who has authority over all things submitted to the crooked authority of sinners who demanded his death.  He who has boundless power was willingly bound and beaten by cruel soldiers who reveled in their thuggery.  He who is just willingly endured injustice.  He who is innocent died bearing our guilt.  He who is the source of blessing died under a curse.  The living God was put to death for the sins of mortal men.  He did all of this on purpose to pay the price to redeem us from sin and Satan and the grave.
     Jesus counted the cost, and he did not hesitate to make the payment.  More than that, Jesus knows your every weakness.  He knows that you and I still sin against him.  He knows that our love for our parents, our children, our friends, and ourselves will vie for our affection above his word.  But Jesus does not mock you when you fall.  Jesus does not regret suffering and dying for you even though you are still weak.  Jesus does not cancel the payment for our sins because we are still sinners.  He continues to declare the terms of peace—that he is your Savior and that his blood purifies you.  He summons you to this altar where penitent sinners find forgiveness, where grieved hearts find comfort, and where weak souls find strength.
     Count the cost of discipleship.  While the Lord gives you the blessings of parents, the First Commandment remains above the Fourth.  “Honor your father and mother,” but not above your Father in heaven.  While the Lord may give you a spouse, the First Commandment remains above the Sixth.  “Husbands and wives shall love and honor each other,” but not above the heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus.  While the Lord may bless you with many friends and goods, the First Commandment remains above the Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth.  You shall care for all that God gives you, but not more than you care for God and his word.  Jesus is Lord and God.  Jesus is Savior and Redeemer.  Since family and friends, fame and fortune cannot change that, neither should they replace it.
     Count the cost of discipleship, and do not value your Lord's gifts above the Lord who gives them.  Finally, the day will come when you will bid farewell to them all.  Some have already bid farewell to parents or spouses.  You will one day bid farewell to your children.  May God spare you the grief of having to bury a child, but the day will come when your children will bury you.  Over time, you will lose your goods, your agility, your senses, and finally your breath.  No matter how much people labor to cling to these things, they will all taken from them.  When all of these things are gone, you will only have one thing left to your name—Jesus.  Or, more specifically, Jesus will have his name upon you.  For, he has redeemed you.  He is your Lord, and you are his.  But that is all you need.  For with Jesus, you have forgiveness of all your sins, deliverance from death and the grave, and the resurrection to everlasting life.  There is no other Savior and no other hope.  But Jesus is all the hope you need.  He remains your Savior.
     Count the cost of discipleship.  Though you may suffer loss here on earth, you will never lose Christ's mercy and salvation.  For, he has covered the cost for you.

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