16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 4, 2016
Luke 14: 25-35 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser
OK Jesus. You’re scaring me. You sound like all the church people who have made me feel bad because I’m not good. I don’t sacrifice enough, I don’t behave well. I don’t quote Jesus enough or know my Bible well enough. I have loved church all my life and have tried to live a good lifem why do church people make me feel that I am being judged. I fail all the time to be the kind of believer I know I should be. You are just making me feel worse with this hating father and mother, and carrying the cross and counting the cost. Be a better disciple.
Rules. Sacrifice. Bearing our cross. Is that the good news of the Gospel? A little context, please!
When I teach the Ten Commandments to my Confirmation kids, I want them to understand that God’s Laws are not just a bunch of rules to make us miserable. They are God’s way of teaching us how to organize life so that relationships flourish and our hearts are free to love and be loved. So we put God first and our beloved next and our neighbors next. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul.” Jesus says this is the first commandment. The other is just like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So when Moses tells the Israelites to ‘choose life,’ he’s telling them the same thing.
The Old Testament reading is Moses last speech to his people. A new generation is about to take over. The new leaders have not lived as slaves, they aren’t the ones who made the refugee journey and barely escaped with their lives. But they have been hardened by the wilderness and its limited resources. They have had God traveling with them as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. They have eaten mana and quail provided for them every day, and learned to depend completely on God’s gracious care. Now they are about to enter a new pattern. They will become farmers and merchants. They will work hard and prosper, and begin to take credit for the fruits of their labors. God’s hand will not be so direct in their lives, and they will begin to forget to say thank you. They will begin to envy people who are more successful and begin to save for a day when things aren’t going so well. They will feel entitled to their success and look down on people who aren’t as successful. Don’t go there, says Moses. That’s not God’s way, it’s the way of the wicked. Choose life!
Jesus is saying the same thing. He’s on the road to Jerusalem, and is getting closer and closer. Lots of people are following him because of his wonders of healing and feeding and teaching. But Jesus knows what’s in his future. He’s about to come up against the way of the world, and it will involve the sacrifice of his very life to stand up for God’s ways in the world. He will make the ultimate sacrifice to show us how much God loves us. He didn’t die to win us or to pay for us, he was willing to suffer the injustice of this worlds’ powerful elite to show us that God’s love is for all people, and in his rising, to shows us that there is no power greater than God’s love. We never have to be afraid that we will be left out of God’s grace and forgiveness because of what we do or don’t do. Never. We never have to be afraid that we are not good enough or faithful enough to be one of God’s beloved. We never have to be afraid that God isn’t listening to us or doesn’t know what we need. God’s love is always ours, was always ours because God loves. God’s love is life-giving and embracing. And that is at the heart of what Jesus wants us to understand about how we live.
All the sweetness of life flows from loving God and then loving others. We act out of gratitude for God’s great gifts of love and care. That is choosing life. That is choosing what is lifegiving. What is it that is lifegiving for you?
In this climate of political rhetoric that panders to our self-interest, we are expected to grasp what is ours.. We are not encouraged to worry about people who are not like us. As long as we get what should be ours we will be happy, right? No says Moses, that’s not the way. No, says Jesus, if you are not willing to be worried about those who have the least and need your generosity, you can’t be my disciple. But make no mistake, it will make you different than the people around you. Don’t do this without being sure you are ready for what it will cost. We may find ourselves at odds with other Christians who see faith as being about the rules and about saying the right things. But the good news is that the promise of God’s unconditional love frees us to choose life, which is the way the Gospel always works, creating for us the very thing we ask for. Amen.