Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 09/08/2013

My guess is that no one would be too upset if someone had accidentally pressed the delete button and chapter 14 of Luke’s gospel had disappeared into ancient cyberspace.  It’s a tough chapter as it’s just full of things that we know we’re not going to do even though we know Jesus says we should.  We’re not going to ignore our friends and relatives and just invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind when we have a dinner or a party which is what last week’s gospel told us to do.  We’re also not going to hate our families or willingly seek out suffering or sell all our possessions as this week’s part of chapter 14 tells us to do. 

If I said to you if you’re not going to do all that you might as well go home right now, you don’t belong here, you’d all be heading for the door and I’d either be right behind you or leading the way.  Maybe we’d stop for one last cup of coffee before we went home but I don’t think anyone would be left in here.

The trouble is, no one hit the delete button and, based on the evidence,  Jesus must have said things like this; Luke chapter 14 isn’t the only place this kind of content shows up.  But…because what is asked is so difficult and because we know we’re not going to do it, our tendency is to say “That’s not what Jesus really meant,” and then, those of us who preach will tell you what he did really mean. 

For example, we say that Jesus was intentionally using shock value, overstatement to make a point, that he didn’t intend any of this be taken literally.  There could be truth in that; Jesus did sometimes use overstatement to get people’s attention, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” comes to mind, so that could be a factor here.  The fact that Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem where he knows the religious and political leadership will be after him may also be a factor.  There is a sense of heightened tension and urgency about what Jesus says in these chapters and that too could play a role in these difficult statements.

Those factors do perhaps tell us that a literal reading of chapter 14 might not be the best approach but, even taking all such factors into account, you can’t get away from the level of commitment Jesus is asking for.  This isn’t a recipe for casual, come when you feel like it Christianity.  There is a cost and it’s significant and Jesus is making it known up front.  That’s what the two little parables about the man building a tower and the king going to war are about; think things through before you commit.  So what Jesus is saying is, “Don’t make a commitment to me unless you’ve really thought about it, unless you know what you’re getting into.”  This isn’t a how to text on easy church growth; it’s about discipleship and if you want to be a disciple, this is the cost and you might as well know it now rather than later.

Having said all that and knowing what the cost is, we all still know that we’re not going to do it; we’re not going to pay the price that Jesus asks.  We either can’t or we won’t.  Before we start the march to the exit doors though, let’s think about this.  It’s funny that this text bothers many people and I know it does because some of you have told me, especially the part about hating your family but the rest of it too.  It’s funny that this text bothers those of us who preach and I know it does because as soon as I saw that this was the gospel for today I immediately thought, what are the other lessons?  There’s got to be something better to preach on this week and I gave those alternatives serious thought.

It’s funny though because we’re Lutherans.  As Lutherans our theology begins with the fact that we aren’t good enough, that we can’t fulfill God’s expectations for us, that we can’t earn our way.  I don’t know if that point is made every week in every Lutheran church, but it’s made a lot.  And yet, when we hear a text like today’s it bothers us but maybe that’s good, because knowing that we’re not going to do it should also remind us of the word that is at the center of Lutheran theology, that word being…grace. 

Martin Luther’s greatest insight was that the God revealed in Jesus is a God of grace.  Being loved and accepted and forgiven by God isn’t about our ability to perfectly fulfill the difficult teachings of the Old Testament law or the prophets or Jesus; it’s dependent only on the grace of God.  So…when we read or hear a text like this one today and say, “I can’t do it,” rather than be bothered by it, maybe it tells us that we’re ready for God’s “I can.”  We’re given a better understanding of grace and our need for it. 

Most of you, however, have been around long enough to know that while knowledge of God’s grace should keep you from despair, it doesn’t let you off the hook relative to the demands of today’s gospel or any other challenging Bible passage.  There’s more to it than saying “I can’t do it, but I’m saved by grace anyway so it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do.” 

Chapter 14 of Luke is about discipleship.  The two main things that Jesus addresses in this chapter relative to discipleship are our relationships with other people and our relationship with our possessions.  In both cases what Jesus is calling for is pretty clear; we can dance around it, but we know what he’s talking about.  Regarding relationships with other people, having greater concern for the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame is the point he’s trying to make; don’t ignore those people and think they’re not your problem.  Regarding our possessions the point is that life shouldn’t be about the accumulation of money and material goods.  The one with the most toys at the end doesn’t necessarily win.   We know what he’s saying and note too that none of this represents anything new on the part of Jesus; it’s all straight out of the Old Testament law and the teachings of the prophets.

The challenge for each of us then, with the knowledge that we are dependent on God’s grace, is rather than saying, “I can’t do it,” instead we say, “What can I do?  What can I do to have greater concern for the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame?  What can I do to make money and possessions less of an idol in my life.”  The truth of it is, each of can do more than we might first realize, but maybe not all at once. 

At first, what Jesus asks of us can seem overwhelming; it does bother us and make us uncomfortable.  On the other hand, it’s not all that different than many other things we encounter in life.  If someone just starting to play the piano heard a virtuoso play a Beethoven piano concerto, they’d say, “I can’t do that.”  But, by starting to play scales and simpler pieces, eventually that beginner might be able to do it; if not, at least they’d be closer to the goal.

One thing I always remember is back when I was going to church in New Hampshire as part of the stewardship drive one year they distributed the little cards that tell you what percentage you’re giving; if you make this much and you’re giving this much here’s the percentage.  Well, I was surprised and embarrassed to find out I was giving about one percent, maybe it was even less and I felt like a shmuck.  But when I looked at what ten percent would be, a tithe, I said, “I can’t do that,” and I didn’t.  It was too much.  I did increase my giving though, I don’t remember if it was up to four percent or five percent but it was more.  What I soon realized though, was that giving more didn’t cause my lifestyle to change.  I still had plenty of money for anything I wanted, so I gave a little more and eventually I did get to the goal of ten percent, but again, my first response was “I can’t.”

Sometimes we need a wakeup call of sorts.  Kathy and I are in the middle of having some of our floors refinished.  One of the things you have to do when you do that is move all the stuff out of the area that’s they’re going to work on.  In the process of moving things it didn’t take long to realize that we’ve got way more than we need relative to furnishings and other such things.  That doesn’t mean we’re going to immediately sell it all or give it all away as Jesus might recommend, but there will be an effort to downsize; we’ll do something and I’m pretty sure we won’t miss anything.   

The commitment that Jesus asks of us is huge; it’s total and we have to take that seriously.  But we don’t necessarily have to do it all at once.  It’s another one of those things that comes under the category of faith as a journey.  It’s a process and with the knowledge that we are dependent on God’s grace, rather than saying we can’t do it, we can take steps, we can do something.

Maybe that’s what Jesus really meant.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

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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