Monday, September 6, 2010

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 14:27
Theme: “My Disciple.”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The word of God always challenges human complacency. The work of the Spirit is always as much a threat to the sinful nature as it is a comfort to the believer. One danger of casual familiarity with the teachings of Jesus is the domestication of His truth. The hard edges of His revolutionary doctrines are softened to make them more palatable. Time and tinkering seek to tame offensive beliefs, even re-imaging them in human fashion. Let us pray that God would preserve for us His divine word in all its vigor and purity in its proclamation in every form.

Again today we are faced with challenging words from Christ. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate, etc.-cannot be My disciple…..any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.”1 What are we to make of these words? All followers of Jesus are disciples in the broad sense. Of course, not all disciples were apostles. To become a full-time disciple of Jesus, as the Twelve were, required complete sacrifice of personal ambitions. Jesus does not intend to play one vocation off against another. Obviously the call to apostleship was more all-encompassing of life’s circumstances.

But that is not Jesus’ concern here. The vocation of farmer, teacher or nurse, husband or wife, father or mother is no less godly than that of a pastor or full-time church worker. Normally the farmer doesn’t have to leave his farm to be a Christian, nor the mother her family. But there is a radical refocusing involved and a corresponding dying to self. Jesus wants the crowds to consider what being a believer actually entails. It is a journey characterized by a daily carrying of the cross. Here we have a call to repentance and trust.

The daily carrying of the cross is nothing less occupying ourselves every day with the mission of Christ. It is to live baptismally. It means being transparent with our deeds and desires. It entails being hidden in the wounds of Christ but exposed to the insults of the world. It means we are secure in the promises of the Spirit but susceptible to the criticisms of men. It involves having everything we are, have and aspire to subject to His truth. The cost is high: estrangement from the agenda of the world. But the reward is immeasurable: peace with God and eternal life.

Jesus presses His point with two parables about counting the cost. Just as an under-manned king would be foolish to go to war, and an under-resourced builder unwise to begin a large construction project, we would be foolish to think the confession of Christianity is an easy undertaking. The obstacles are far too great for us and the enemies too strong. The worldly advantages are almost nil. Perhaps the farmer will not have to leave the farm, but certainly his selfish ambitions. Likewise the mother will have to stop making idols of her children. Faith cannot be reconciled with egotism, or spiritual poverty with self-righteousness. Nor can there be a happy truce between the two. Self-indulgence and unbelief are by their very natures insatiable and intolerant. They may permit harmless dabbling in religious ideas, or even ethical pursuits, but never a clear confession of Christ as God and Lord.

Dear friends, discipleship involves a constant reorientation of priority and perspective. At the centre is Christ who atones for sins. He declares the unrighteous holy and calls the dead to life. The Bible says He is the One “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and has made us to be a kingdom.”2 This resolution of sin is what daily bearing the cross is all about.

What sin is it that particularly traps, troubles, and ensnares you? Is it jealously or pride? Lust or anger? Discontent or apathy? Greed or fear? Who are the people and what are the events, and circumstances associated with the cycles of temptation, denial, breakdown, and crisis that you may face? In your loss of perspective do you often consider God’s blessings to be burdens? Are the people closest to you- your spouse, children, friends- often tolerated instead of celebrated? Do you expect leniency, compassion, and understanding from others, but offer little yourself? No one is exempt from such challenges.

Yes, you say, but God forgives. Even this great truth can be turned into an opportunity for selfishness. It is a particularly foul tendency of human nature to want to misuse God’s forgiveness. In our darker moments we may seek to control the dispensing of His pardon according to our own objectives. This is a specific danger when one party has power or influence over the other because of position or even spiritual knowledge and maturity. Guilt and blame are powerful slayers of healthy relationships. People who are out to find fault seldom find anything else.

The Scriptures call us to reflect more deeply on what it means that God forgives, recreates, and restores. Forgiveness transforms not because it finally renders judgment on whose opinions were most valid or whose feelings were more severely offended; rather forgiveness restores because it transfers the burden of resolution to the shoulders of Christ. Forgiveness frees by breaking the power of guilt and blame. That doesn’t mean sin is to be overlooked or right and wrong disregarded. God demands honest self-evaluation and repentance. These things necessarily involve the commitment to love one’s neighbour- which entails not sinning against them by action or inaction.

But forgiveness elicits new motives and relies on divine promises. Instead of being driven by revenge or satisfaction we seek reconciliation and renewal. Jesus has counted the cost-for the entire human race- and He has made the sacrifice. Only Christ can rectify the past. Only He can secure the future. He does not fail to do so. The cross involves the re-establishment of true life.

Jesus is always present among us as the Crucified One; just as He is always with us as the Risen One. Understanding this is important. It’s not a matter of mental gymnastics or wishful thinking. The time to benefit from His crucifixion didn’t pass when the historical event ended. It was not necessary for us to be there and neither do we need to reconstruct a vivid memory of the circumstances to receive its blessings. Christianity does not rely upon commemorations. Jesus is the Christ of history who reaches into our time and space with eternal mercies. In divine perspective the death and resurrection of Jesus are present realities.

This uniquely Christian dogma underlies the importance of your presence here today. Here God’s word crucifies and resurrects, sustains, renews, and restores His people. Here we have the body and blood of Christ, not merely symbolic gestures or ancient remembrances. In, with, and under the bread and wine we have the body and blood of the crucified and risen Christ. Here the baptized have a foretaste of their inheritance. Here is both a refuge from the profane and a communion with the sacred blessings of God. Here the challenge to our complacency and the consolation of the Spirit fulfill God’s purposes in Christ. The Scripture says, “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.”3 “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”4Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
5 September 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 14:26, 33
2 Revelation 1:5-6
3 1 Thessalonians 5:24
4 2 Thessalonians 3:5