Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2013

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

Text: Luke 14:28-30
Theme: Free But Not Cheap

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God has made you a child, a son, an heir, and a disciple. The Spirit has grafted you into the body of Christ. Your redemption is free and your placement gratuitous; but the cost was immeasurable. What value can be placed on the blood of Jesus? Today He asks His followers to count the cost and bear their crosses. Admirers are not the same as disciples. Discipleship demands real change. It necessitates a reordering of priorities driven by an altered viewpoint and perspective on life.

A biblical perspective on life always begins with an honest recognition of our independent status before God. How do we fare when we stand alone? Jeremiah was sent to the potter’s house. There he witnessed an object lesson that was intended to help call the people to repentance. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel,”1said the Lord. It remains a stinging reminder that we are not masters of our own domains: He is the potter, we are the clay. Repentance is as much a confession of our frail mortality as it is being sorry for particular sins.

If we had hoped our independence would bring us freedom we soon learn that it means nothing less than bondage to sin. Here enters the Saviour. He comes as Shepherd seeking the lost sheep. He sends the Advocate and mirrors the image of the Father. The believer never stands independently before God because he or she stands in Christ. Never again are we autonomous, nor would we want to be. This fact is a true Sabbath rest for the soul.

The conscience can only be put at rest when it knows the blood of Christ has satisfied the cost of redemption. As soon as we try to factor in our merits, contributions, or even good intentions we confuse the issue and are sure to lose the heart of the gospel. The Reformers said this, “This whole teaching is to be referred to that conflict of the terrified conscience, nor can it be understood apart from that conflict. Accordingly inexperienced and profane men, who dream that Christian righteousness is nothing else than civil or philosophical righteousness, have bad judgment concerning this teaching.”2

Security in the gospel, however, does not mean we are resting on our laurels. The maturing of our faith is not programmatic. There is no simple formula. Your faith may mature as you witness more fully God’s very tangible goodness. Perhaps you are cured from serious illness, spared from a dangerous situation, blessed with material prosperity, or affirmed and valued in your vocation personally or professionally. But your faith is much more likely to mature in the crucible of trial. This may involve betrayal in broken relationships, cynicism in professional pursuits or opposition to Christian values. The deeper our cry for mercy the nearer we are to a compassionate God.

Within the dynamic tension of grappling with temptation we come to rely on God’s grace more fully. Some temptations are particularly carnal and easily identified; sexual immorality, greed, lust, theft, violence, substance abuse, just to name a few. Others are more subtle; arrogance, doubt, fear, false humility, self-serving agendas and ambitions. King David, the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, and St. Peter all struggled with temptations that had overcome them. Their faith was tested, refined and strengthened. What matters in the end is Christ’s faithfulness not our failures.

The most dangerous of temptations involve being lured away from the foundational truths of the faith. This is often a gradual and sometimes barely noticeable process. Little by little the apostolic teaching, the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,”3 which Jude tells us to contend for is re-imaged, marginalized or abandoned. Anything that compromises the work of Christ for the salvation of the world is the devil’s tool. The Holy Spirit alone can shield us from these powers that are beyond our means. And He must do this continually. Without the Spirit we become estranged from Christ.

We live in a culture of affluence and that can quickly side-track us from true purpose in life. For many it causes a loss of focus. One social critic defined decadence as the loss of an aim or object in life. "Men and women become decadent when they forget or deny the objects of life, and so fritter away their years in trifles or debauchery."4 Oh how much time we spend engaged in trivial matters! We chase wealth and reputation in a vain pursuit of security. We worry more about material possessions than spiritual truths. Perhaps Will Rogers captured it well when he said, “I am not as concerned with the return on my money as I am with the return of my money.” But what about our investment in spiritual things?

The only way to tell the difference between wasting and investing is to know one's ultimate purpose in life and to judge accordingly. Baptism plunges you into the fray. At the same time it is the power and promise of your baptism that gives you the strength and the certainty to stare even death itself in the face. It is a strength that is renewed each time you receive Christ’s body and blood. It is a strength always on loan from Christ. He was the all-sufficient sacrifice for your sins. He rose from the grave and lives as the source of all life.

The desire of a believer to follow God’s will follows automatically as a result of trusting Christ has secured for us the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father. In other words, faith is active and simply cannot be restrained. But the spontaneity of faith certainly does not exclude planning. So how do we best live as believers in the present time? Obedience to Christ is not meant to be chaotic and disorganized. We have great privileges and responsibilities as stewards! Any worthwhile or substantial undertaking requires preparation and commitment, thus Jesus’ reference to building towers and fighting battles. God calls us to design and implement those activities which we believe prosper the work of the kingdom personally and corporately. That includes your charity. It should also involve planning and pursing your deliberate education in the faith.

Christ said, “He who has been forgiven little loves little.”5 Of all the words of Scripture relating to faith and good works, these words of Jesus are perhaps the most relevant and the most impacting. If I don’t highly cherish the forgiveness of sins my actions will show it. If I am deeply grateful my devotion will be evident. Not evident in the sense of an ostentatious show, but clear to those who know me best. There can never be a complete privatization of personal faith. Faith is always a gift possessed by an individual but it is always engaged in community.

Salvation is free but it was not cheap. We can bear our crosses for the fleeting moments of this life because Christ bore His for our eternal future. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Jeremiah 18:6
2 AC XX, 17-18
3 Jude 3
4 Russell Kirk
5 Luke 7:47
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
8 September 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

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