Choose Life

Text: Luke 14:25-35
Date: Pentecost XVI (Proper 18) + 9/8/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! With these words we began this Church Year some ten months ago. As of first importance, we heard, lived and proclaimed the entire earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus in the Lord’s Half of the Church Year. And now we have been learning what it means for us to believe all that, to be baptized into that death and the life of Jesus in this long, green season of Sundays after Pentecost.

It’s been 17 weeks now sitting at the feet of St. Luke, this year, as he has been teaching us what it means to be the baptized believers and followers of Jesus. There’s so much to learn! It takes a lifetime. But spring and summer this year is passing us by. And now with the return to school or to the regular schedule of the work-a-day world we may be getting a little weary. The days begin to be shorter in length and the increasing darkness of fall and winter may symbolize the weariness, the wornness we feel.

To those who are weary and worn, to those who may be tempted toward boredom or just plain complacency, Luke wakes us and shakes us today that we may not fall away from faith because of the trials and difficulties we necessarily endure in this world on account of our faith in and identity with Jesus. We’ve been told to expect trouble, even suffering and persecution for the faith at the hands of a world still blind and dead toward the things of God. But expecting and enduring are two different things.

So St. Luke begins with some odd, even shocking words of Jesus. “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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” What’s this “hate” language? After all St. Matthew tells us that Jesus said only, “Whoever loves father or mother…son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37).

In today’s Gospel Jesus warns against barriers, things that may keep us from the daily repentance and faith required of all who would be genuine disciples: hating family, carrying the cross and leaving possessions behind.

Jesus uses the word “hate” in the sense and with the background of the Torah, the Law of the Old Testament. As such it does not mean to point to the emotions of how one “feels” about parents and family but to the knowledge of becoming in Christ a member of the true and larger family of God through faith and how this baptismal identity enables us to truly fear and love God and rightly love and honor father and mother and our human family. It is true, sadly, that one can be rejected, criticized, even excluded for the faith even among our most intimate relationships. How many individuals have I counseled who pray and hope for their spouse or their maturing child or even their parents to come to or return to faith engendered and fed by God through His means of grace in His Church, to be part of the larger family of God? Impediments to living in repentance and faith can and do come even through family pressures.

A second threat to continuing as a disciple of Jesus is the very carrying of the cross Jesus talks about. To speak of “the cross” widens the resistance beyond family to the unbelieving world around us. It is the rejection and persecution we are called to endure for the sake of faith in Jesus. This is not as much noticed when the majority of people claim to be Christians or at least religious. Those who have been around long enough may remember the filled pews with extra chairs in the aisle and the large confirmation classes of the 1950s, when even the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States was altered to include the phrase “under God” (June 14, 1954). But now the Christian Church is diminished in size and in popularity. It used to be a rule of thumb, for instance, that you could estimate the total membership of a congregation just by doubling the regular Sunday worship attendance. Now only about a quarter of members regularly attend on average. The earlier parable of the sower suggests the various reasons that people become complacent or fall away from faith, whether it be because of the devil, times of testing, or the cares and riches and pleasures of life (Luke 8:11-15). And now even that phrase “under God” in the pledge has come under attack most recently in the Supreme Judicial Court of the state of Massachusetts. People are becoming more and more bold in their rejection of God and of those who call on His name in faith.

With two parables, then, Jesus emphasizes the need for us to stop and take notice and count the cost of following Him in this world lest we forget and neglect His help and strength. To be built into the family of faith means to be built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles of God and that means remaining and abiding in the prophetic and apostolic Word of God. Without the daily repentance and faith engendered by hearing God’s Word there are no other resources available to complete the building of saving faith. Secondly, to “fight the good fight of the faith” means to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called,” to “take hold” of it through daily repentance and faith (1 Tim 6:12). Jesus mentions asking “for terms of peace.” The terms of peace established by Jesus are the forgiveness of sins through faith in His blood shed for you. After His triumphant entry the Lord, knowing what He was to endure in only a few days, wept over Jerusalem saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). Are these things that make for peace hidden from your eyes, crowded out by the temptations and confusions of the world around you? The only way to this peace is through daily repentance and faith in the Prince of Peace who, by His holy, substitutionary death and victorious resurrection has opened and keeps open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

Finally, as Jesus has warned before and should be most obvious, possessions, “the cares and riches and pleasures of life,” can steal you away from the life of repentance and faith. “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” To renounce doesn’t necessarily mean to give away or get rid of but to not put your trust or sense of security in mere possessions. How did He say it? “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:33).

Jesus concludes with the mysterious statement about salt. Remember that when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13), He meant that He continues to be present in the world through you, His representatives, His ambassadors, His witnesses. If we lose the flavor and effect of Christian faith we become worthless to anyone.

In one of my favorite translations, “The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts,” Clarence Jordan renders Jesus’ final words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” as, “Now remember that, will you?” We are called to remember. As the Lord says is Revelation 3:3, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” Remember God’s promise to you since the day you were baptized. Remember the great price with which you have been redeemed, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Remember that price as often as the Lord says at the sacrament, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Through His Word and Spirit God gives you the power to remember, to choose life each day through the blessed gift of repentance and faith. “Now remember that, will you?”