Pastor Will's sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, September 8 2019
Read the book of Philemon and Luke 14:25-33
(In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
Well, with those words from Jesus…
Happy Rally Day!
In all seriousness I tend to think of Jesus as a pretty positive guy
But this gospel story seems to have a lot of negative tenses flying around…
words like “hate”,
“losing one’s life”,
alot of “not” words like… “whoever does NOT carry the cross… canNOT be my disciple, “NOT able to finish”, “if you do NOT give up all your possessions”,
and other loaded words like “war” and “ridicule”.
This past week I joked with some of my pastor friends, of whom most are doing Rally Day and God’s Work Our Hands Sunday today as well… that we should be faithful to scripture and put up a banner in front of our church’s that say,
“Happy Rally Day, come hate your family”…
Or “Happy Rally Day, come give up all your possessions”
That will get people in the door!
Sorry for the sarcasm but perhaps that’s the point, it’s not just about getting people through the front door.
Sure these are hard sayings from Jesus.
If we read the scriptures closely we can see he’s not always kumbaya.
Jesus often challenges the status quo and cares enough not to superficially fluff things up. For Jesus it’s not a numbers game.
Realizing all this, we also should keep in mind that the most dangerous thing a person of faith can do is to read just one Bible verse and base their whole religion on it.
These hard sayings need to be placed within the larger narrative of the Jesus story.
In Luke 14, Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem, and when he gets there a cross and crucifixion is waiting for him. Along the way, while on the road, Jesus has been on a “the Scriptures are being fulfilled” tour.
Jesus is stopping in towns and villages along the way to teach and preach and not just with words… by proclaiming the Kingdom of God has come near, he reaches out to people where they are, eating with outcasts and sinners, often bringing healing to the sick and broken…. and challenging the religious status quo.
These stories and vignettes of Jesus’ life shares not only what God is up to in this person we claim to be the Christ, but also what it means to be a Jesus follower.
So you can imagine that along the way Jesus has pulled together a pretty large following. People want to be a part of this Jesus movement and who could blame them.
And so the heart of our story begins with the verse… “now large crowds were traveling with him”.
Awesome, we tend to think growth is good, large numbers mean success, right?
Jesus has other ideas. This story today is literally a “come to Jesus meeting”.
Perhaps Jesus wants to make a distinction between those who follow him, those who truly want to be his student, and those who are just traveling along with him just part of the way.
With Rabbinic hyperbole Jesus grabs our attention and challenges those competing claims on our lives... family, possessions, and all that compete for out attention.
Jesus leans into these images of “finishing a project” and following through on a goal and mission. Almost as if to say, “yes you are following me now when I am healing and feeding and getting snarky with the religious establishment, but what is going to happen when I get to the cross?” Jesus does want us to consider the cost.
Grace is free, but it’s not cheap.
I admit and confess these words are hard and difficult words from Jesus. They are hard to swallow. But as we get ready for our many fall programs and activities and ministries, these words are sobering and should challenge us to focus.
And so I believe this is a great gospel story for us to have on Rally Day and God’s work Our hands Sunday.
It challenges us to think through what discipleship looks like.
To go deeper in what it means to follow Jesus.
What are we attempting to build and can we follow through?
It’s not necessarily about buildings and things but rather people and relationships.
And most importantly our relationship with Jesus.
I see people post on social media the hard and rigorous work out routines from “Workout Boot Camps” and “Cross fit”. I follow some Yoga teachers that help show me proper techniques and workouts that I haven’t seen before and how I can go deeper.
It doesn’t look easy. People are sweaty and worn out, literally being laid out on the ground afterward.
And yes we need balance, we work hard and then we can go get a smoothie and some rest.
The Church should be a place of rest and Sabbath,
And yet it is also a place where we can do some heavy lifting.
A place where we comfort the afflicted, but also challenge the comfortable.
Our mission statement is simple - “Loving God, Loving Neighbor”...
it’s simple, but I don't want it to become cliché.
We have some heavy lifting to do,
The heavy lifting of putting our faith into practice.
The heavy lifting in how we do politics...
In how we work for justice and peace.
In how we wrestle with questions together.
In how we challenge systems and structures that see people as anything less than created in the image of God.
We indeed have some good news to share, that there is a Divine love that goes to the cross for us and in that cross it is revealed we are loved with a love stronger than death.
And so therefore, because we are loved with this Divine love, we are now called to put our hands to work, to go get our hands dirty.
“God’s Work Our Hands”
On Rally Day we rally around the goal and mission that we are called to continue to grow and learn and build up the gift of faith given to us in baptism.
Faith formation is a lifelong process.
A lifelong process and training of both head and heart, trust and action, learning and doing. And yep, it’s not always easy.
A great example of this is our second lesson, which is pretty much the entire book of Philemon.
While Paul was in prison he was aided by a runaway slave named Onesimus.
The slave’s owner, Philemon, was a Christian colleague of Paul.
This short letter, which was to be read out loud to the church that was gathering at Philemon’s house, shares that Onesimus and Paul had become close, that they became brothers in Christ.
To Paul Onesimus was not a slave, not an object to be possessed but rather in Christ they were connected on another whole deeper level. And so Paul sends him back to Philemon, with this appeal in love, that Philemon take him back, not as a slave, not as a piece of property, but rather as a brother in Christ.
It’s not a perfect or systematic letter.
Over the course of history this letter has been used to defend and protest slavery.
You can see that Paul is still wrestling with a lot of things in this difficult situation.
The Church added this to the canon of scripture not because it’s perfect and clear, but that you can feel the tension that Jesus brings to these relationships
When we follow Jesus… structures, systems, frameworks and relationships get reordered, reshaped, transformed.
What get's reshaped and reordered and transformed...
Not only our faith and how we live it.
Not only our possessions and allegiances.
Not only our lives.
Not only our relationships.
Not only our families.
But also the Church itself.
One of my favorite seminary professors was Dr. Siegel, he was professor of New Testament and Biblical Greek at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia SC. I was reminded this past week of a story that when he was working with a congregation in the south during the civil rights movement in the 60's a congregation member came up to him after worship one Sunday and said, “Pastor, I think this Civil Rights movement is dividing the Church.”
Dr. Siegel pastorally and prophetically responded,
“Or perhaps it’s revealing the Church.”
May these words of Jesus, stir up in you a call to a deeper faith and a deeper commitment.
May they call you into a deeper discipleship, and may they challenge you to reflect on what you are building and being reordered in your life.
With all this negative talk from Jesus and this talk of losing one’s life when you follow Jesus… There is a plot twist… There is more to the story…
If you read a little further in the story and the very next chapter you will see that Luke chapter 15 is the “lost” chapter in Luke. It’s the chapter where Jesus tells three straight parables of things that are lost… a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.
In each case… each time… the Shepherd, the Woman and the Father finds that which is lost.
It that which we lose, in the midst of the struggle, in the wrestling, in the hard process of reordering and transforming… It is God who seeks us out and finds us first.
And so NOT if but when God finds us, we are called into a Divine love that calls us to go deeper.
And so, yea… Happy Rally Day!
We have some God gifted hands to do God’s work in a world God so loves.
There is a Christ who leads the way, all the way to a cross.