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Sermon for the 13th Sunday After Pentecost 2022

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 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.”

Here’s Your Sign

Who here today doesn’t like comedy?  I for one, like what I call, down home humor.  Down home humor usually comes from actual experiences and from people not thinking before they speak or act.  As a teenager, I remember wondering why “old folks” used to go and sit around the mall, back when there were malls, and watch people.  I now know they were enjoying cheap entertainment: let’s face it, people can be funny.  Yes, we all enjoy good the comedy, which at times can be a bit harsh, and it usually borders on the sarcastic, and often times, I must admit, can hit a bit too close to home.  Nonetheless, we still laugh.

There are several comedians who fall into this category that I believe many of you will readily recognize.  As soon as I mention some of these comedian’s names, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  For example, if I were to say Jeff Foxworthy, the first thing that comes to mind is “You might be a redneck if”.  Or if I were to say, “Get er done”, you’ll know the comedian behind the phrase, and why Larry the Cable guy became a household name.  The third example of comic wit comes from a guy named Bill Engvall.  Bill has managed to make a name for himself based on the phrase, “Here’s your sign”. 

Here’s just a couple of examples of why I find Mr. Engvall so humorous.  “I pulled up to the dock the other day with my buddy in his boat.  After tying the boat off, I reached in and pulled out a big stringer full of bass.  A guy standing there on the dock looks at the fish and then at me and says, you catch anything?  Nope, I talked them into giving up!  Here’s your sign”.  Here’s another one he’s famous for.  “I was driving home the other day and got a flat tire, so I pulled into one of those side-of-the-road gas stations.  The attendant walks out, looks at the tire and then at me and asks, tire go flat?  Nope, I was driving around and the other three just swelled right up on me.  Here’s your sign”.

            I bring this up to talk about the signs in our lives.  The signs I’m talking about are those moments of reality that are either spoken, or are something we’ve read, that are intended to provide guidance, or to help us along in life.  Here are some signs that I thought you’d enjoy: A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.  If you don’t take the time to do it right, you’ll find the time to do it twice.  Don’t corner something that’s meaner than you.  The biggest troublemaker you’ll ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror every mornin’.  And as someone who grew up in cattle country; always drink upstream from the herd.  All these are good advice, words to live by.  Yet, how often have we been given good solid advice, only to ignore it. 

Far too often, in our own pride, we dismiss good advice by saying that it only applies to other people, I’m too smart to make the same mistakes.  Or, we say, the advice doesn’t apply to me, it was given for others who aren’t nearly as careful as I am; I can handle the situation.  And the arrogance goes on.  Over the years I’ve found that good advice usually comes from experience, from those who failed to heed the warning signs, or who refuse to listen to others.  In other words, advice, in almost every case, comes from fore knowledge.  In our Old Testament reading, God, through Moses, was trying to warn the Israelites. 

God was trying to give the Hebrew people good advice…no it was more than just good advice, it was life preserving instructions…on how to live a prosperous and peaceful life in the Promised Land.  God knows the destructive power of our sinful human nature, and the results of pride and poor decisions.  And one would think that after spending 40 years wandering around in the desert…all because of their failure to listen to God…that they would take God’s instructions and commands to heart.  But as history would prove, the people of Israel would listen for a while, then over time, the advice would either be drowned out, or ignored, either by them choosing to follow their own sensibilities, or by acting on the bad advice of their neighbors. 

When you look at the history of Israel throughout the Old Testament, you can’t help but see the effect of listening to their own self-focused human sensibilities.  Time and time again, the Hebrew people would forget to read, or listen, to the signs placed before them and would go the way of their own sinful desires.  God even sent messengers to point out the signs, but they chose to ignore them too, would then get into trouble, would then cry to God, God would forgive them, and the cycle would repeat.  Because of their haughtiness, they never seemed to learn from their past mistakes; to learn from their past refusal to put God first in their lives.  The good news is, these stories of the Hebrew people are written as signs for us, so we can learn two things by looking at their history. 

First, following our own desires or sensibilities may in the short term seem like the right way to go, but in the end, it leads to destruction.  Second, when we do live as God commands, God is a loving and merciful God, who protects us and provides for us.  Look again at our First Reading and see the four key ingredients of faithful living that the Lord is telling the Children of Israel.  Starting in verse 16, God tells His people, #1). “If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, #2) by loving the LORD your God, #3) by walking in his ways, and #4) by keeping his commandments, his statutes and his rules;” let me repeat that, 1) Obey God, 2) love God, 3) walk in His ways, 4) keep His commands, statutes and rules: “then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.”  Next comes the warning, “however, if your heart turns away and you will not hear but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish; you will not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  

All that’s needed here is for Bill Engvall to say to the people, “Here’s your sign”.  It doesn’t get much clearer than this.  But our sinful human nature, for one reason or another, seems to drive us to ignore the signs.  Yet for all the sermons we hear, and for all the Bible reading we do, we, as a society, seem to want to repeat the behavior and mistakes of the past.  We refuse to admit that others failed because they would not heed the signs set before them.  And the reason for our rejection is simple; we pass the signs off as applying to others, not to us.  We justify our actions by saying that the consequences won’t happen to me, God was talking to them; we’re different, we’re smarter, we’re in total control. 

For example, we rationalize that money has no power over us, we’re careful with our promiscuity, that the First Commandment is talking about actual idols made of wood, metal, and stone.  We can control my desires for financial independence, power, and prestige, that these aren’t things we crave or worship.  Heeding God’s word and following His commands and statutes are for the weak.  Science has proven…I think you get the picture.  The reality is, God gave us these signs and warnings for our own good. 

God’s commands, statutes and rules were given to protect us from the number one hazard in this world, ourselves.  Again, history is replete with examples of unchecked human pride and behavior.  How much more of a sign do we need?  And the answer to the problem is simple.  Listen to what God is telling us; obey His commands, love God, walk in His ways, follow His commands, statutes, and rules, and read the signs He places before us.  And if we listen and obey, then we will live a successful, blessed life.  The psalmist understood this and echoed this advice in our Psalm reading for this morning.

Psalm 1 is perhaps one of my most favorite of all the Psalms.  It’s one of those hymns that gives sound advice about a successful life and the results of failing to follow God’s commands.  The reason I enjoy this psalm so much is that the psalmist takes this advice one step further and demonstrates it in a way that can only be seen in the original language through the use of a Masoretic punctuation mark called a maqqeph.

The maqqpeh in the Hebrew language is used to bond two words together, like our hyphen, so that they’re treated as a single word or phrase.  In the original language, the maqqeph ties the words esher, or blessed, and ha-ish, or individual, together in a way that indicates that what follows, modifies the first.  Look again at our psalm reading, “Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.  In all that they do, they prosper.” 

For those who choose to follow the signs God gives, God promises to bless them.  So, according to our psalmist, blessing or happiness and obedience are tied together in a way that they can’t be separated for those who live by God’s decrees.  Now this isn’t to say that living by God’s statutes and commands is simple, Jesus makes this plain in our gospel reading.

As I was considering our gospel lesson for today, I realized that the lectionary skipped over the parable of The Great Dinner.  I’m not sure why they did this, but to me, they’ve done us a disservice.  The reason I bring this to your attention, is that I’m not sure we can fully appreciate the Gospel reading for today, without first considering what precedes it.  In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the dinner guests to conduct themselves with humility when attending a dinner party; to choose a lower place, rather than the place of honor.  Then after telling the host to invite those who cannot repay, He turns to the crowd and tells the parable of the Great Dinner.  In this story, Jesus describes how invitations are sent at first only to the select; the chosen, the Children of Israel. 

Of course, you and I understand the host in this parable to be God and the first messenger were the prophets.  Upon receiving these personal invitations, the children of Israel rejected the offer, choosing instead to come up with excuses for not being able to come.  The excuses Jesus describes show a preoccupation with things, with possessions, or the relationships that tend to occupy our time. 

Things like land, animals, or some of the people in our lives, the blessings, or riches of this world if you must.  So, through Jesus a second time, the invitation is then sent to others, those who were seen as the rejected, the outcasts, the gentiles of the world.  These responded.  But the hall was still not filled, so the servant, this time the Holy Spirit, is sent out to compel others to come.  This is the invitation for you and me today.  It’s an invitation that’s a wonderful opportunity and promise; the assurance that there’s still room at the banquet for more, and this message comes to anyone who will listen and respond.  But the call isn’t without cost, and price required is found in our Lucan reading for today.  It’s a message that for some, can be troubling.  In today’s gospel reading we find our sensibilities tested a bit. 

The passage may sound harsh, demanding, or counter to the teachings of love.  Well surprise!, it was meant to be.  The truth is, the cost of discipleship is high.  It means focusing our lives and energies on what God wants, not on the desires of our heart.  And because of this passage’s seeming harshness, I looked this passage up in the original language.  After some research, I believe I understand why the translators used the word hate, in verse 26.  It’s the only way to word this passage without a lengthy explanation.  So the task of explaining it is left to commentators, teachers, and pastors. 

The Greek word used here is mis-eh-O, which can be used to indicate hate.  But in this context, it’s better translated to mean, to completely shun, or to place second.  Eugene Peterson in his book, “The Message” uses the phrase “refuses to let go” instead of “hate.”  I think that either of these explanations are faithful to the original language here.  Jesus is telling us that our service to God must come absolutely first in our lives; that families, friends and the things of this world are to take a back seat. 

To be a follower of Jesus is to understand that it’s a commitment, that taking up our cross is 24/7; it isn’t a once-a-week activity.  It must be the focus in our lives, it must inform and drive everything we do, and it must be our hearts desire.  As the psalmist says, we must delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his laws day and night.  To take up our cross may mean giving up some of the activities we enjoy in order to support the church and its ministries. 

For example, right now, we’re in the process of restarting our Children’s Sunday school classes and we need your help.  We need people to help with lessons, activities, and crafts.  We cannot ignore this need telling ourselves that it isn’t our responsibility, it’s someone else’s job, or use the tired old excuse of, I don’t have the time or the talent.  Our children’s Christian education is far too important, and we cannot afford to ignore the signs that tell us that if we fail now, the cost in the future will be extremely high. 

We’re talking about the eternal welfare of our children’s souls here.  Excuses simply won’t cut it!  Yes, this may mean that we need to make sacrifices with our time, talents, and monetary resources.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:21 that where the desire or our treasure is, that’s where the heart is found.  As followers of Jesus, we may be called to give up some of the time we so preciously guard, forego some of the pleasures in this life, let go of some of the friends we’ve come to associate with, or part with some of the wealth we’ve acquired.  Taking up our cross means, that our wants and desires must take a back seat to God’s commands and statutes.  To some, this may sound harsh, but this is what God is calling us to do.  Let me ask you this: How is the call to discipleship any more challenging than the demands that are made in many other callings in this life? 

Professionals such as preachers, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, rescue workers and military are told, that it’s service before self.  Funny, we don’t seem to have a problem accepting that.  So why should it be any different with our Christian walk?  The good news is, this service before self isn’t without reward. 

Our reward is an invitation to a banquet, a feast that’s being given by the Author and Giver of life.  The price we’re being asked to pay, is nothing compared to the cost God paid, in giving us His only Son.  And best of all, it’s a banquet that will never end.  And even more, it’s God’s desire to give us our daily bread, those things we need for our work in His kingdom today.  Besides, when you really think about it, what are we really giving up or forsaking anyway?  Grief, hard times, disappointment; probably. 

All good things come from God, and all that we’ve been blessed with belongs to God.  We’re just the stewards of His blessings.  Our job is to use those blessings for His Kingdom.  So the only thing God is really asking of us, is to obey Him, to love Him, to walk in His ways, and to follow His commands, statutes and rules; these should be the focus of our lives.  And if we abide by His request, He has promised us life and blessing. 

In closing I’d like to leave you with the warning that’s given in verse 19.  God implores the Israelites to “choose life so that you and your descendants may live”.  In this short appeal: God is telling us that the decisions we make today, will affect our children and our children’s, children.  How we live our lives, and the choices we make today, set the example, and will impact those who follow. 

After the Israelites had taken possession of the Promised Land and were about separate into their tribal areas, Joshua implored the people to, “Choose this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).  The signs that Lord has given are before us, all God is asking of us is written in the Bible, both the cost and the reward.  All we have to do is obey God, love Him, walk in His ways and follow His commands, statutes and rules, it’s that simple.  So, in the infamous words of Bill Engvall, here’s your sign.  God said, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (vs. 15).  Reading the signs and deciding what we do with this information, and then accepting the consequences of our decisions, are now up to us.  So “Choose this day whom you will serve.”                  


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