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Sermon for Sunday 8 September 2019

First Reading                        Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Psalm                                                               Psalm 1

1Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful! 2Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night. 3They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper. 4It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. 5Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous. 6For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Second Reading                              Philemon 1-21

1Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. 8Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you — I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus — 10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother — especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it — to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Gospel                                             Luke 14:25-35

25Great crowds accompanied {Jesus}, and he turned and said to them, 26“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. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. 34Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”


  • The mark of any great leader is the demands they make on their followers.  The Italian freedom fighter Garibaldi offered his men only hunger and death to free Italy.  Winston Churchill told the British people that he had nothing to offer them but “blood, sweat, toil, and tears” in their fight against their enemies.  Jesus spoke of the necessity of total commitment -even to the point of death.  He conveyed this in no uncertain terms when He said to His disciples, “You must take up your cross and follow me.”  But why was He so harsh?  
  • Jesus knew what lay ahead for His disciples:  According to tradition, Andrew died on a cross.  Simon was crucified.  Bartholomew was flayed alive.  James (son of Zebedee) was beheaded.  The other James (son of Alphaeus) was beaten to death.  Thomas was run through with a lance.  Matthias was stoned and then beheaded.  Matthew was slain by the sword.  Peter was crucified upside down.  Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows and Philip was hanged.  Only John made it through alive, but he was exiled to the small island of Patmos in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  The demands that Jesus makes on those who would follow Him can be extreme.
  • Despite popular opinion, Christianity isn’t a Sunday morning religion.  It’s a 24/7/365 hungering after God to the point of death if required.  The demands of true discipleship shakes our foundations, topples our priorities, pits us against friend and family, and makes us strangers in this world.  We learn from our gospel reading for this morning, that a large crowd was traveling with Jesus.  Now, in large crowds you’ll have many motives.  Some, in this crowd, are following because they’ve seen Jesus feed a multitude of people and they themselves want to be fed.  Some are following because they’ve heard of Jesus’ ability to heal and they’re looking for an opportunity to approach Him and be restored to health.  Still others are following for the excitement.  It’s safe to say that only a few are truly committed to this itinerant preacher’s teaching.
  1. Aware of their multiplicity of motives, Jesus turns to the crowd and tells them what’s involved in a true commitment.  It’s at this moment that the crowd learns, and we as well, that to follow Jesus, we must first establish our priorities.  Too often we allow things to stand in the way of that which we consider important.  And so, hobbies interest us more than our children.  A job takes precedent over a marriage.  And television displaces family conversations over dinner.  Oh, we have the best of intentions, but the priorities we know to be vital to a good and happy life never get carried out in our day to day living.
  • Someone calculated how a typical life span of 70 years is spent.  Listen to these surprising numbers:  Sleep…23 years…32.9%.  Work…16 years…22.8%.  TV…8 years …11.4%.  Eating…6 years…8.6%.  Travel…6 years…8.6%.  Leisure…4.5 years…6.5%.  Illness…4 years…5.7%.  Getting dressed…2 years…2.8%.  And the biggest surprise, Religion…0.5 years…0.7%.  We spend 4 times more time getting dressed then we do on religious matters.  When put in these terms, we see how little a priority spiritual matters occupy in our lives.  But Jesus is a demanding leader.  A thousand times more demanding than many will ever know.
  • Jesus said, “So, therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”  Possessions cannot stand between us and the Lord.  Jesus went so far as to say, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own mother and father, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, he cannot be my disciple.”  Even something as noble as the love of family, as good and right as that is, cannot stand in the way of commitment to God and His kingdom.  Jesus said, “If any man would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Laziness, fear, selfishness, family, nothing can stand between us and our call to discipleship.  
  • Now if you’re like me, Jesus’ command to hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and your own life sounds very confusing.  Is Jesus really telling us to hate all else?  There are some who would insist that we must read this passage literally.  But think about that for a moment: if we take this passage literally, then we must completely despise everything.  Nothing in this world can bring us enjoyment.  Nothing in this world is to be held with any regard other than contempt.  Hate is a very strong word and that means that we must absolutely loathe everything if we take this passage literally.  But taking this literally goes against every grain of our being, and it also goes against the Bible and God’s commands.  So, what do we do?  How do we remain faithful to God’s word and understand this command?
  • Do we try to explain it away?  Do we tell ourselves that Jesus was using the word hate as an attention grabber?  Or, do we simply ignore this passage because it’s way too difficult to deal with?  The answer is of course no.  As faithful followers, we must struggle with this passage because of its sheer importance in our life as a disciple.  And in order to wrestle with this, we must do two things.  First, we must accept that this is a command from Jesus, just as all the other commands in the Bible are.  Second, we must turn to the only source that can adequately give us the answers we need, and that’s the Bible itself.
  • Starting in the book of Exodus, we read that it was by God’s own hand that the 4th Commandment, to honor our father and mother, was given.  According to Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism, “we are to fear and love God so that we listen to our parents and other people in charge, and do not make them angry.  Instead, we should love and serve them, by doing what they say and treating them with respect.”  There’s no way we can hate our parents and respect them and fulfill this commandment.  Next, we need to look at what St. John says in his epistle.
  1. In 1 John 3:15-16 we read, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  Again, how can we obey the 5th Commandment, “Though shalt not murder” if we hate our brother and hate is said to be murder?  Third, Jesus also answered when asked by a teacher of Jewish law, “of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  Jesus said, “The most important one, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28b-31).  Again, how can we literally hate our family members and fulfill this command as well?  Clearly, God expects us to love others, therefore, we must continue to dig deeper.
  1. In the Psalms we are told to hate evil (97:10); were also told we’re to hate falsehood (26:5).  Then in Luke 16, Jesus was telling the parable of the dishonest manager and He concludes the parable by saying, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”  There is an important difference here.  Nowhere in the Bible do we find that God commands us to love things.  And what we do discover, over and over again, is that it’s the things of this world that cause us to sin.  And it’s the things of this world that should never come before our devotion to God.  And while this is helpful, it still doesn’t completely reconcile the problem between the contrast of love vs. hate.
  1. In order to completely grasp all these passages, we need to also understand that in the ancient Hebrew and the Aramaic languages, there is no word for like.  Hate or the Hebrew word sane, and the Greek word miseo both mean hate as we understand it.  And of course, the Hebrew word love aheb, means to cherish, adore to hold in the highest regard.  Now the Greek is a bit more helpful with a delineation for love, agape, phileo and eros.  Each of these denote a varying degree level of love for people.  I’ve placed all this before you in order to hopefully help us better understand Jesus’ statement here. 
  • Based on God’s word then, we are to hate, despise and loathe anything that comes between us and God.  If the things of this world, its people, pleasures and distractions prevent us from serving and placing God first in our lives, then we’re to absolutely despise those things, remove them from our lives and do everything we can to stay away from them.  However, when we place God first, we can then love others and do our best to serve and protect them, but we are to love them less.  Even though we love them, they are second in God’s Commands.  God is to always come first; this is why Jesus said this is the first and greatest commandment.  Our love for others comes second.  But Jesus wants us to clearly understand that this will be difficult.  Jesus is demanding our complete obedience above all else.
  • Jesus isn’t some wishy-washy fellow coming up to us, hat in hand, hoping to win our favor, saying softly: Please, may I have a word with you.  He comes to us as the Lord of History, as the One who declared to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”, (Matt. 28:18) and makes demands: put Me first and “Take up your cross and follow me.”  Jesus comes to us as the One to be obeyed.  He says this to help us to understand that to follow Him, we must first establish our priorities and secondly, we must count the cost.  Look at how Jesus illustrated His point.
  • Suppose, Jesus says, one of you wants to build a tower over your vineyard so you can keep a lookout for thieves who might want to steal your harvest.  Before you build, what is the first thing you will do?  Will you not, He says, first sit down and estimate how much it will cost you to build the tower?  This is a rhetorical question and the answer is: “Yes!  Yes, I would first count the cost.”  In today’s language: If you can’t write the check, don’t do it.  You don’t want to appear to be a fool by laying the foundation, running out of money, abandoning the project, and becoming the laughingstock of the community.  But there’s something else we must remember.
  • When Jesus told this story, He was on His way to Jerusalem.  All around Him the crowds followed; they were thinking they were on their way to an empire; He, on the other hand, knew He was on the path leading to a cross.  What a contrast.  I used to think that the crowds in the Bible followed Jesus because He was so wonderful.  I later learned the tragic truth.  So many followed for terribly shallow reasons.  What He wanted them, and us, to do is sit down and take stock.  Do we have the stamina to go the distance even if the finish line is death itself?  That’s the heart of the matter.  Jesus wants the crowd to answer that question—each and every person must personally respond to that question.
  • Don’t let it be said of you:  He began to build but he wasn’t able to finish.  She followed the teacher, but she didn’t learn the lesson.  He followed the Lord, but he didn’t carry his cross.  And that brings us to the third point.  To follow Jesus, we must establish our priorities; we must count the cost and we must be willing to pay the price.  In no uncertain terms Jesus told the crowd, “Any of you who is not willing to give up everything cannot be my disciple.”  Could Jesus have been any clearer than that?  
  • Jesus spells out the extremely high cost of discipleship.  It will cost all that you have.  If you chose to follow, there is no part of life that will be immune to that call.  Look again to the Bible:  Abraham gave up his Son.  Moses gave up Pharaoh’s court.  Peter gave up his family and their fishing business.  Matthew gave up the lucrative profession of a tax collector.  Paul gave up his prestigious position as a Pharisee.  Now, for the vast majority of us, we’ll never be asked to do as much as these men have done.  But, none of us, clergy and laity alike, can escape the need to establish our priorities, count the cost, and pay the price.
  1. I’ve often wondered what would have come of the church if Jesus’ Disciples had not made those ultimate sacrifices?  If they had not paid the price of discipleship with their very lives, where would the church be today?  Geographically Christianity is the most widely diffused of all faiths, and a third of the earths 6 billion people claim Christ as their Lord.  What kind of church would we be, if the 12 had put down their crosses and refused to accept the cost?
  • Several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople.  He made a good decision.  He decided to build them a church.  No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished.  At its grand opening, the people gathered and marveled at the beauty of the new church.  Everything had been thought of and included.  It was a masterpiece.
  • But then someone said, “Wait a minute!  Where are the lamps?  It’s really quite dark in here.  How will the church be lighted?”  The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship.  “Each time you’re here'” the nobleman said, “the place where you are seated will be lighted.  Each time you aren’t here, that place will be dark.  This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark.”  What a poignant story.
  • The story makes the very significant point about the importance of our commitment and loyalty to the church.  The poet Edward Everett Hale put it like this: “I am only one, but still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can do.  In closing, I’d like for each of you to ask yourselves these questions: What if every member of our church supported the church the way I do?  What kind of church would we have?  What if every single member served the church, attended the church, loved the church, shared the church, and gave to the church exactly as I do?  What kind of church would we be?
  1. Amen

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