FOLLOWING JESUS: UNRESERVEDLY

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 8 September 2019
A Sermon on Luke 14:25-35 by Samuel David Zumwalt

Luke 14:25-35 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, 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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or 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? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. 34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It 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.”

[Professor Jeff Gibbs is particularly good at unpacking this text at www.concordiatheology.org.]

FOLLOWING JESUS: UNRESERVEDLY

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Bunch of Different Reservations with One Thing in Common

A woman said: “I will only follow Jesus if I can bring my iPhone, the weather’s nice, the food is good, and He doesn’t expect me to change any of my beliefs about myself or anyone else. Jesus has to keep His laws off my body. Jesus has to stay out of my bedroom. And Jesus can make no demands of me, or I am out of here.”

A man said: “I will only follow Jesus if He doesn’t get in the way of my making money and doesn’t expect me to live as if being His disciple changes me, my kids, or my parents, in any way. If Jesus can’t deal with the fact that my work and my family are my life, I won’t follow.”

This lady said: “I used to go to worship at this church that made me feel depressed, because all they ever talked about was the cross of Jesus. I wanted a church that made me feel good about myself. I got tired of being told I was a sinner who needed Jesus every day. I wanted to hear how all of us are really good people, and I like to sing songs that tell me I’m fine just the way I am.”

This guy said: “I used to preach the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, but, then, I had to tell people that all of us are sinners. Someone was always getting mad and telling me how the really big churches don’t have crosses or the confession of sins or communion all the time or hymns that make you think or tunes that are musically complex. So, one day, I said to myself, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them. And … I decided to tell people that Jesus lets us be who we are.”

A student said: “I’m taking this religion class taught by this really funny professor, who said that most churches and preachers get Jesus and the Bible totally wrong. He said that if Jesus were living today instead of 2,000 years ago, he would probably be like a Zen Buddhist. So, after he said that, I realized there was no point in praying or going to church. I’m much happier now.”

A teacher said: “I used to be into Christianity in my teenage years. But, then, when I got to college, my suitemates were (I kid you not) a Jew, a Muslim, and a Hindu. We would stay up late talking, and I began to realize that I just couldn’t say Jesus is the only way to be saved. I mean, my suitemates were such good people, and I just couldn’t exclude them by continuing to be a serious Christian believer. Now, I go for a run on Sunday morning, stop by Starbucks after, and read the Sunday New York Times instead. Now, I focus on loving people and being kind.”

So, Then, … How Serious Is Jesus, Really?!!

Jesus knew how to draw a crowd. Now, we’re not talking Joel Osteen big. Or Kenan Stadium big. Or New York Yankees big. Or Carolina Panthers big. But Jesus probably got up to megachurch big; you know, several thousand, at least, five and change without two services.

Jesus was a really good storyteller. He took examples from daily life… things people could relate to. And, then, there were His mighty acts … what Luke calls “miracles” and John “signs.” Heal a lame or blind person. Stop a storm. Set free someone possessed by a demon. Restore to life someone already dead. Feed 5,000. If you can do those things, you can draw a crowd.

Invariably, Jesus always said something that gave people an excuse to turn away, because Jesus spoke and acted as if He was God. When you speak and act like you are God, and You are God in human flesh, people will always find an excuse not to believe you are God and certainly not to say so. Why is that? Could it be the implications of believing are too tough? It costs you?

Sooner or later, Jesus says something that really ticks you off and gets you to saying: “Well, Jesus can’t mean that, because that would force me to examine how little I really do love Him compared to all the other loves in my life. Think about it! Does Jesus really expect me to turn my back on everything my parents taught me? Does Jesus really expect me to turn my back on the child that came from my body or the child I have raised from infancy? Does Jesus really expect me to forget about all the things I hold dear … what I believe about God … about church … about family … about politics … about all the things I learned in school … about my daily life and work and relationships? Are you serious? There has to be room for me! I’ve got to be me!”

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when He said these things. Rabbi Jesus knew how to use hyperbole to make the point that He was going to the cross. Did He actually mean to hate or be mean to your family? That might come as a bit of a relief with some of our relatives. But, No! The Lord Jesus’ point is clear: “If you follow Me, you don’t get to bring along your reservations about discipleship.” So, not like that (trying to take along your explicit upfront reservations) but like this (renouncing every claim to the people and things God has placed in your life and mine)!

I always laugh thinking about that musical bride and groom, who serenaded each other at their wedding. He chose: “I Love You Truly.” She sang: “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”

There’s a cost to following Jesus. The Gospel is not God loves you just the way you are. That’s Billy Joel, before he divorced his first wife. The Gospel is not repeating the word “grace” whenever Jesus says something you don’t believe, you don’t feel like doing, and you don’t like. The Gospel is not partisan politics, economic theory, ideas about race or gender, or the freedom to do whatever you think is most loving or kind. The Gospel is God’s sinless Son in human flesh, Jesus, nailed to a cross to die the painful, barbaric execution you deserve and so do I for all our rebellion against His Father’s good and gracious will, so that we might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

If you don’t like that Gospel, then you don’t love Jesus, and you cannot be His disciple!

The Daily Cost of Cross-Bearing Fleshed Out

Holy Baptism isn’t kind of a big deal. Holy Baptism is being crucified with Jesus once with water and thereafter day by day through repentance. Taking up your cross and following Jesus means dying daily to being in control of your life, your home, work, and family, and the Church.

When we follow Jesus, He always sets the agenda every day. That’s not my opinion, my interpretation, or my way of trying to manipulate you to do what I want. Take Jesus at His Word. To be even clearer that Jesus means what He says. Look at the parable of the banquet that Jesus tells in Luke 14:15-24. When the invitees to the banquet RSVP’d with good excuses, they were all disinvited. All of the original invitees were no longer welcome. Those who had nothing were invited in their place. If people persist in refusing Jesus’ invitation, they will finally be left out!

Seventeen years ago, this past Wednesday, I said wedding vows to my wife. As a 48-year-old man, I knew what I was saying when that black Bermudian pastor bid me repeat after him: “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and, thereto, I plight thee my troth” (I pledge you my faithfulness). I made those promises knowing that she loves Jesus more than me, and she knows I love Jesus more than her. Because if we don’t love Jesus more, then we will make each other miserable with wrong expectations about what it means to be married. Loving Jesus more makes it possible to love each other better by regularly confessing our sins, asking and giving forgiveness, and treating each other, our daughter, our dog, our families, our life, our work, our possessions, and life together in this congregation as gifts from the Father’s gracious Hand!

We proclaim Christ crucified, yes, we take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus to the end of this life, because we know that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And we will rise, too.

My dear sisters and brothers, I ask you pointedly in the mighty Name of Jesus: What are you trying to hold back? Who don’t you want to give up? What objections and control needs are you still trying to hold onto? What resentments and what exclusions are you trying to keep from Jesus? In his second book, Luke writes in Acts 5 about Ananias and Sapphira, who held back from the Lord and then lied about it. Each dropped dead. Some people die spiritually before they die in the flesh. Don’t hold anyone or anything back. Let go of trying to be God. Jesus is Lord!

And … If you go with Jesus, you will die to yourself, yes, that is true. But you will rise to a future that is better, truer, and more beautiful than you can imagine … both here and forever!

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

©Samuel David Zumwalt
szumwalt@bellsouth.net
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Following Jesus: Unreservedly

 

Praying

“Grant to us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 619).

Listening

Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children…”

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “As a rule, this is more upsetting to the mind of new Christians who are eager to begin at once to live in accordance with the precepts of Christ… Whoever wishes to prepare himself now for the life of that kingdom must not hate people but those earthly relationships through which the present life is sustained, the temporary life that begins at birth and ends with death. Whoever does not hate this necessity does not yet love that other life in which there will be no condition of birth and death, the condition that makes marriages natural on earth” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 240).

Luke 14:26 “… yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

St. Cyril [5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “By adding ‘more than me’ it is plain that he permits us to love, but not more than we love him. He demands our highest affection for himself and that very correctly. The love of God in those who are perfect in mind has something in its superior both to the honor due to parents and to the natural affection felt for children” (240).

Luke 14:31 “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit… and deliberate….”

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “Christian warfare invites us to destroy this earthly affection both in ourselves and in our relatives. Of course, no one should be ungrateful to his parents or mock the list of their services to him, since by them he was brought into this life, cherished and fed. A man should always pay his family duty, but let these things keep their place where higher duties do not call. Mother church is also the mother of your mother. She conceived you both in Christ… Know that her Spouse took human flesh that you might not be attached to fleshly things. Know that all the things for which your mother scolds you were undertaken by the eternal Word that you might not be subject to the weakness of flesh. Ponder his humiliations, scourging and death, even the death of the cross” (240).

Luke 14:33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

St. Basil the Great [4th century Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca, Turkey]: “Whoever would truly be a follower of God must break the bonds of attachment to this life. This is done through complete separation from and forgetfulness of old habits. It is impossible for us to achieve our goal of pleasing God unless we snatch ourselves away from fleshly ties and worldly society. We are then transported to another world in our manner of living. The apostle said, ‘But our citizenship is in heaven.’” (242).

Reflecting

1. Which of my relationships do I place above the Lord of the Church by refusing to love them as He demands and, thus, expecting that He must accommodate my reservations about them?

2. Do I know that I will relinquish everyone and everything in this world sooner or later? If I do, then why do I keep withholding from the Lord God my full and undivided love and devotion?

Learning

(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)

As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

The Second Commandment

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. Sunday School classes continue at 9:45 a.m. If you have children or grandchildren, will you bring them to learn the Bible stories? Will you be either a teacher of children or an adult learner?

4. Have you been intending to join the Crossways Bible study? We resume with unit 54 of 60 on 2nd Corinthians this Wednesday at 6 p.m. or Thursday at 10 a.m.

5. Do you have a 6th, 7th, or 8th grade child ready for Confirmation instruction? Confirmation instruction continues each Wednesday at 7 p.m. in McCombs Hall.

6. How will you serve joyfully both at St. Matthew’s and beyond? Don’t put it off any longer. Sign up in the narthex today to serve at and beyond St. Matthew’s. Mail: dcapozio@stmatthewsch.org

7. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”