Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 9/9

Our Identity Comes From God

Time after Pentecost; Rally Day
September 9, 2007    
Luke 14:25-33
Bethany Lutheran Church

Well this is most certainly an interesting predicament. I have been here a mere three Sundays and my first sermon for this congregation is on the text in which Jesus tells us “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” What am I to do? I certainly do not want to initiate any family feuds or encourage sibling rivalry.

Imagine, if you will, living in India as a Dalit, the lowest class on the caste system. In fact, Dalits are considered so low that they are not even a class, rather they are often called Untouchables, and all because of their race and the color of their skin. If you were a child born into this untouchable caste, this text might not be as difficult to hear. A child might hear this text and find it easy to hate their father and mother. For these untouchable children despise the very circumstances into which they were born, that of an untouchable who is regularly denied the basic freedoms of life that most of us enjoy. For Dalit Christians, this gospel text points to hope as the words of Jesus are read in such a way that they can deny their circumstances, they can deny their own identity as an untouchable and instead cling to a new identity, that of Christianity. For Dalit Christians, may this text fill them with hope so that they may envision an eternal kingdom where they are loved and respected despite their race and despite the color of their skin.

Ah, but we are not Dalit Christians. We are mostly white citizens of either the US or Canada, living right here in the upper peninsula of Michigan, a place referred to as God’s country. So how are we to hear this text that instructs us to hate our families and even life itself?

Let us have a quick Greek lesson. Spare me the moans, I never liked Greek much either, but it may be helpful here. The Greek word translated in our text as hate is miseō. The actual definition of miseō denotes a lesser degree of love. A similar version of this story appears in Matthew’s gospel, although there the Greek text is different and the text is instead translated “Whoever loves his family more than me cannot be my disciple” (Matt. 10:37). If this is the case, then Jesus is not telling us to hate anyone. The gospel writer of Luke rather uses the Greek word miseō to emphasize exactly how important our love for Jesus really is. How important it is even over that of our families.

It is Rally Day today. That often means that this is the date with the highest level of Sunday School attendance for the year. It is easy to come up with dozens of excuses for why we will not be able to make it to church in coming weeks. Soccer and football games – too much homework – the need for an extra day to sleep in – the rain or snow simply discourages us from getting out of our warm beds – or perhaps you are heading out to camp with your buddies. Our daily and weekly lifestyles say much about our identity. They give witness to the things we value most in life. But if we start making excuses for why we have to miss church on a particular Sunday, are we not making a statement that suggests there is something more important? “Whoever does not hate […] even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

What a great statement of faith it is to tell your soccer or football coach that you have to miss practice or even a game because you have to worship the Lord. Or to tell your buddies that you cannot be at camp until Sunday afternoon because the morning is for church. And better yet, be a disciple. Invite your friends, who are five, twenty-five, or even eighty-five to come to church with you. Bring them here to Bethany and show them what it is that we do here. Show them why this community is so special. Show them how this community gathers around the breaking of bread. Reveal to them your identity as a Christian and tell them about the great things that the Lord has done. We could easily double our attendance if everyone only invited one other person.

Despite the fact that this is only my third Sunday worshipping here with you, it is already quite obvious to me that almost all of you sit in the exact same spot Sunday after Sunday. While the members of the choir upstairs have acoustical and harmonious reasons for sitting in the same seat each week, I wonder why each of you sit where you are. I admit, even my grandparents have their spot – the fifth pew from the front on the right – that is their spot no matter what church they are visiting. But I do not understand it. Why sit in the same place each week here at Bethany when there are thirty-eight pews to choose from?

We often stick with those things that are comfortable for us. Some of you I suspect sit in the same pew each week because that is the pew in which you sat, even as a child. So, then, is this not a perfect time for a change? I could pause here for a few minutes for a little exercise, but it is only my third week and I do not want to make any of you too uncomfortable. I could pause here and invite each of you to change pews and to sit next to someone you do not know all that well. Adults could look after someone else’s small child. Teenagers could assist in holding a hymnal for one of the elders. And do not forget the strangers among us. Someone could sit next to them to make them feel more welcome, more a part of our family here – because that is precisely what we are about. We gather here Sunday after Sunday, constantly learning to live and grow as one family knit together in Christ, for that is the very core of our identity. And to have an opportunity to sit next to someone you do not know, what a magnificent gift. What a glorious chance to encounter the wider diversity within our Christian family, the diversity that defines you and that defines me, the diversity that gives greater understanding to our Christian identity. We will forgo my little exercise of having you change pews at this time, but try it during coffee hour. Try sitting with someone who you do not normally sit with and share stories so that you may better know your Christian identity. And when you come back to worship next week – and I do hope that you will come back – try sitting in new pew.

My dear people of God, what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel text is not an easy thing to hear. Our families take second place to being a disciple of Jesus. Even our very lives are meaningless without our Christian identity. It is no wonder that Luke’s gospel has chosen to use the Greek word miseō, because the large crowds that were with Jesus, mentioned in the opening verse of the gospel text, will no longer be with Jesus a few chapters later. In fact, Jesus will bear the cross alone, down through the streets of Jerusalem, all the way up the mountain to Golgotha, the place of the skull – the place of total alienation and abandonment.

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” It sounds like a death sentence because it is a death sentence. But, that is not the end of the story. We die with Christ so that on that great Easter morn we might rise with Christ to a life that is eternal. To a life that knows no end. To a life that is free of pain and suffering and humiliation.

Nora, Sabrina, Jessica, Shayla and Jaren, today you have each been presented with a Bible, the holy scriptures that help us to understand our very Christian identity. When you read them on your own, you will hopefully discover many of God’s comforting promises. When you read them with others in this congregation, may you know the great Christian community that surrounds you and supports you in your very Christian identity.

My dear people of God, no one has to hate anyone. Rather live as a Christian father or mother, a Christian husband or wife, a Christian brother or sister – and never forget that part of your identity, for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, one to another. Let Christ be at the very core of who you are. May Christ bring us all through death into newness of life.

Vicar Luke Smetters

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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