*This sermon can be viewed on the archives of http://www.bethanylive.org June 29, 2016
This text is hard. I read numerous commentaries, some said God is the king, or the tower builder, or some wrote that Jesus is talking about transforming families, Jesus is saying that you have to give up all your possessions, you have to suffer to be a disciple, on and on. I read and reread those and none of that resonated and didn’t even make that much sense to me. I tried looking at this parable from a Lutheran lens, where’s God active? Where’s God’s grace named? Mmmm not obvious… I tried looking at it from what we know about the gospel of Luke: community matters, social justice matters, caring for the poor and marginalized matters. I got bumpkis. Parables are often hyperbolic and metaphorical. Ok….nope, doesn’t really work with this either. Here’s the deal: This parable is hard because sometimes, life and following Jesus is hard. This parable doesn’t really make much sense because sometimes, life and following Jesus doesn’t make much sense. This parable makes us very uncomfortable because sometimes, life and following Jesus is uncomfortable.
This is not a touchy, feely let me give you some free bread and fish Jesus. This is a Jesus who is more akin to what we might recognize from the Old Testament, Jesus seems to be saying that it means something to be God’s people and there are hard things that you may have to do. In our Bible in 90 Days bible study class we just survived reading Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We read through all of the laws and what God expects out of God’s people-not to make God happy or to appease God’s anger but to make living together as a people a bit more just, fair, and life-giving. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, don’t withhold from the foreigner or the widow, don’t harm each other, don’t take up after other gods or idols because they are shiny and easier to deal with. You are a set apart people, so you should probably act like it. If something or someone is in your way, keeping you from not acting like part of the people of God, remove it. Harsh isn’t it? We don’t like that at all. We love our version of God that loves us just the way we are. We love to rest in the idea that we are ok and nothing more is required of us. That is great pop psychology, but not really what being a disciple is all about. We want God to affirm all that we like, all whom we like and for God to operate in the way that makes sense to us. We like to predict what God will do, who God will bless, and who God will correct. We make God into our own image.
You see, those laws, those seemingly harsh, impossible, limiting, offensive, guilt-ridden laws, were not about punishment, exclusion or God’s love and grace having conditions. The law was about God loving us too much to leave us alone and to our own devices. The law was about breaking us open in order for God’s grace to pour into us and through us to the world. God breaks us open to make us whole, whole as a person and as a community. God breaks us open with the law to make room for God and each other in our lives. God’s heart is to be in relationship with us, whom God created. God desires only good for us, not perfection, and that could mean separating from anything or anyone who diminishes our fullness as a child of God. God created us in God’s image and God will continue to work in us, through us and around us to reveal the true us, which is indeed in God’s image.
That sometimes looks like separating from even your family, Jesus says. Family was everything in first century Palestine and it’s even the crux of Levitical law-but Jesus recognizes that those closest to us can also lead us away from God. It might cost you relationships to follow Jesus. Like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, you might have to drop your nets and walk away, leaving your own father standing alone on his boat. It might cost you the understanding of your friends and family as you go a different way.
Sometimes that looks like separating from the life you once knew, Jesus says. It might cost you when you walk away from the life you’ve always known, your own privilege, financial security, and comfortableness. When we drop our nets to follow Jesus, we are picking up the risk and the cost of building the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, we build messy, risky relationships with those whom society pushes to the edges but God commands us to love, our neighbors, all of our neighbors: our Muslim neighbors, our LBGTQI neighbors, our black neighbors, our native neighbors, our Asian neighbors, our Jewish neighbors, our Hindu neighbors, our immigrant neighbors. We will lose our privilege, we will lose our comfort, we will lose our status, but we will also lose our prejudice, and we will lose our ego. You will lose everything that you know today. It will be hard and there is a cost.
There is a cost. Can you afford it? Will you afford it? Can you afford not to? Can we as a people of God afford to stay in our bubble of what we know, of the world telling us that we are only as important as our status, who we hang out with, what we own and where we live? Can we afford to continue to wage war on those who differ from us, who scare us and whom we want to exclude from God’s kingdom? What is it costing us? Jesus says it’s costing us our very lives.
We were not created to own stuff, to wage war, for unhealthy relationships, or for death. God created us for life. God created us to reveal God’s Shalom, which is wholeness, grace, and love. The way of Shalom is not the way of the world. The world levies taxes on us that we will never be able to repay. There will never be enough to satisfy the bill of ego, material possessions, and status. But in God’s kingdom, there is not only enough, but we are enough, not because of what we say or do, but because of who God is, and what God promises: the promise to be with us always, the promise to fill us with the Holy Spirit that is always making us new and transforming our lives, our relationships and all of creation. We are enough for God to work with and we are worth the cost for God. God so wants us to know abundant life, love and grace that God risked great cost in Jesus. Jesus came to proclaim that love poured into us is always worth the cost-even his own life. This love transcends any separation from God and Jesus promises that this love is everything that we need and is free to us.
We are called to reflect and be this love from Jesus. But Jesus knows and affirms that for us, love that is not about self, is hard. Love that pulls you out of your own needs and wants is risky. Love that moves us to change our behaviors so that our neighbor knows this same love is costly. But when we connect with that love of God for the sake of following Jesus out into the world for the sake of our neighbor, it’s always, always worth it, not matter what the cost. Amen.
Always Worth It, Sermon on Luke 14: 25-33 July 1, 2016
*This sermon can be viewed on the archives of http://www.bethanylive.org June 29, 2016
New Year’s and the promises of God December 30, 2013
This is the time of year when we are trying to make predictions about the up coming new year might be like, removing ourselves from the baggage of the past year and make resolutions about what we would like to be different in the coming year. Many of us think that when “I can accomplish losing weight, praying more, volunteering more, spending more time with the children, working more or less-then, then I will have my life completely together, I will have friends and family who love me, I will be financially stable, and all will be well”. Or for us here at LCM as a congregation-when we have worship a certain way, or the best outreach or the best SS, confirmation then we will be a “successful” congregation and grow to a 1000 members, have a bigger building and all will be well. We think that then we will know in our personal and community life that God is truly present when good things happen.
What I love about the prophetic books of the Bible is that they have recorded the real mess of life along with the real hope in our lives in an honest way. These later chapters in Isaiah, (55-66) tell of the Israelites homecoming after Cyrus the Great released them from exile. They had spent long years dreaming of going home to the holy city of Jerusalem. The Israelites had thought: Oh how wonderful it will be when we are home! It will be just as we remember it and even better! We will stick to our promises we made to God when were in exile. We will stick to our promises we made to God when were in exile. We will be the perfect beloved people of God and we will know that God is present and all will be well. The three verses we have out of Isaiah 63 are words of hope, comfort and reassurance of God’s presence and being God’s people. They seem sweet and idyllic. But let me read for you a few verses before and after:
4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year for my redeeming work had come.
5 I looked, but there was no helper;
I stared, but there was no one to sustain me;
so my own arm brought me victory,
and my wrath sustained me.
6 I trampled down peoples in my anger,
I crushed them in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.
10 But they rebelled
and grieved his holy spirit;
therefore he became their enemy;
he himself fought against them.
Verses 7-9 seem a little different now don’t they? They are not part of a long sugar coated message of “good news for all people,” but part of the memory of Israel that life with God ebbs and flows. They had indeed returned to Jerusalem but not all was well. How quickly they had forgot all the ways that they would forever praise and work with God and not for themselves. These verses are as Barbara Brown Taylor writes “airlifted” or rescued from the surrounding words of God’s anger, disappointment and disillusionment with the Israelites. Verses 7-9 can make it seem as if everything is going perfectly. But to not look at the verses around them is to gloss over the reality of what was happening-real life had crept into Israel’s resolutions for post-exilic life with God and one another.
For us here on December 29th, we have a similar issue: just a few days ago we were all aglow with the the sentimental, pastoral scene of the baby Jesus and God’s angels. We were excited for the day of family and friends. We as a congregation were looking forward to all the visitors and community people who would join us for the evening. But now-real life has crept in. Many of us have gone back to work. Maybe the family tension is back. The radio went back to playing Miley Cyrus versus Bing Crosby. We look around the worship space and realize that it will take more than one night to share the good news of God’s love for all people for all time with our community and well…now all we have left is real life. Real life where we may or may not lose that 20 lbs in the new year, read the Bible more, pray more, be a better parent, or whatever we think that it is we need to do. Real life where we fall short of our relationship with God and each other. Real life where God’s people forget to work with God for justice each day. Real life where we have to ask for forgiveness over and over as well as offer it.
But here is why these three verses are so important and are inserted into the disappointment, disillusionment and messiness of the real life of the Israelites and us: God inserts God’s own self into our real life. In the hardships of life, the broken promises, the times when we haven’t quite lived up to what we said we would do with God or with one another, the fear, the questioning–God is in the middle of it all. God inserts Gods promises in the midst of real life.
It’s not that these words of Isaiah 63: 7-9 are a problem; they are not and they are absolutely true. But they ring most true when set in the reality of our broken human existence. It’s easy to hear the words of being carried or being shown mercy when life is clicking right along as we think it should. But when in our distress, we are offered by someone to be carried when we can’t literally take one more step on our own, to hear that God says we belong to God and that she trusts and gives us benefit of the doubt even if we don’t deserve it, to experience that God doesn’t send an errand boy but comes directly to be with us, is a profound, powerful and hopeful declaration of God’s unending love for us.
This new thing of God made flesh dwelling with us, that Isaiah heralded, is God’s promise to us that while we may not be able to hold up our promises or expectations for the coming year: God does. God has promised to be with us from the beginning of time and forever. Jesus proclaimed that every time we gather, God is present, when we share in the bread and in the wine, God is present, when we feel the most alone and broken, God is present, as we gather here as imperfect people, God is present.
While we look to the new year with visions of how we think it should be and what we hope to change, Isaiah reminds us that if we want to predict what our relationship with God will be in the future-look to the past: God’s steadfast love, lifting us up, carrying us, forgiving us and promising that nothing will EVER change– that is what we can count on in this new year and in every new year. Thanks be to God.