First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Psalm: Psalm 1
1Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats | of the scornful!
2Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on God’s teaching day and night.
3They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.
4It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked shall be destroyed.
Second Reading: Philemon 1-21
1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
Jesus speaks frankly about the costs of discipleship.
25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
CHILDREN’S SERMON: How many of you remember the lyrics to the chorus of this old youth song?
I cannot come,
I cannot come to the banquet,
Don’t trouble me now,
I have married a wife,
I have bought me a cow,
I have fields and commitments,
That cost a pretty sum,
Pray hold me excused
I cannot come.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Last week we stood with Jesus as guests at a meal in a prominent Pharisee’s home. We were admonished by Jesus to be humble and not grab the best seats but wait for the host to seat us and exalt us. The Pharisee hosting was questioned about his motives too. Was he inviting people for what he would get in return, whom he might impress, or was he looking for whom he would be blessing. Was the host willing also to wait until God rewarded him at God’s banquet? Waiting for God is tough stuff!
Following those verses Jesus tells another parable about a great banquet where again all are invited but those invited begin to make excuses. They are preoccupied with a new wife, a new cow, and fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum so cannot accept the invitation to the banquet. We sang that song about our excuses for not obeying God’s word. The host is not defeated, though, and sends his servants to the highways and byways to invite people. Again we understand the host to be God, the banquet is our welcome into his kingdom, and the guests are you and me. Luke continues to focus on this theme of our invitation to a banquet. All are invited BUT…
Jesus expands on the parable in our text today and is quite blunt. Jesus can see into our futures and he warns us that discipleship is not about health, wealth, and prosperity even though the banquet is. He is not calling us to be successful members of the kingdom of this world. He is calling us to a heavenly banquet that is in the future. As followers of Christ we look at family, fame and forgiveness differently and it is a challenge that can only be met with faith. Jesus concludes, “ 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Ouch. Let’s ponder this.
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother…
“Whoever.” Some of us who had abusive, absent or horrible fathers might say, “No prob, Bob,” but for most of us this is a challenge. Assumed family relationships offend me. I feel uncomfortable when in the presence of people who call me “sister Collins” as it feels like an invasion of privacy. I have probably told the story of being in Kenya where first names are never used because names carry power, so sharing your name opens up the ability to be cursed. I was “the wife of Collins,” or “teacher.” Returning to the States and going to the bank where the teller not only called me by my first name but also shortened it to a nickname was mouth dropping and offensive. Whom I include as “family” is a highly cultural and personal experience. To hate family is not usually natural.
Jesus tells us these parables about the banquet we are invited to but he also sees the journey we will go through to come to the eternal banquet. We are going to be tempted to ask to be excused for “we have married us a wife.” The importance of family is huge and can undermine our devotion to God. We love to breeze past the genealogies in the Bible that define who was related to who because they mean nothing to us. Jesus knew his followers would soon be dispersed all over the world and the definition of family would shift from biological to faith parameters.
Family knows us – our past and our present, those embarrassing moments, our failures, our weak points they can pressure. Family implies a certain transparency that we usually do not find in churches. We like to keep our public faces on when in public. A modern day example that we can identify with – kinda – is how the refugees fled from Ukraine and Christians were challenged to broaden their definition of family and to include new members into their homes and deal with all the complications that brought.
Faith not only challenges us to broaden our definition of father, mother, sister, or brother but it also challenges us about our priorities. Jesus is telling us that we will be challenged to value faith over family. Ouch. Back in the first century that may have meant the difference between the arena and a small lie. Today the temptation is still there to compromise our integrity for the sake of the security of our families. Was there not a case recently where the mother cheated on the college application to get her child into the college she thought would give the child a better future? Compromising faith for family challenges us daily.
Today’s text addresses “whoever” to evaluate their priority of faith over family. Do we hesitate to share our faith for fear of offending? It could be we do not reach out to the “other” because we are not biologically or socially connected. Do we “bend the truth” to help those we love? These are serious questions Jesus asks you and me today! Do we love God more than family and friends? Will we stand up for God if family might be compromised?
27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me
Here is another “whoever.” The first “whoever” challenged our beliefs about family. This “whoever” challenges the values that drive our life. As far as we know, Simon of Cyrene was the only person who helped Jesus carry “the cross” and so we have to ponder what this phrase means. The cross is mostly found on a necklace today! Matthew 11:28-30 shares Jesus saying,
28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Let’s take our two pointer fingers and form a cross infront of ourselves for a moment. Perhaps you have heard the explanation of the cross as the horizontal beam representing our relationships with each other, with those we encounter daily. The vertical, up and down, post represents our relationship with God, with the divine. The cross of Christ makes holy all our relationships with fellow people and our relationship with God. It is the crossroad where the holy meets the ordinary in our lives.
The phrase does not end with the “carry your cross,” though. We all have burdens, crosses, we carry for others as we seek to honor the divine as we know it. All religions deal with moral and social dynamics. But Jesus continues to say, “and follow me.” It is not just about being spiritual about being religious. It is not that all roads lead to God. This challenge asks me if I am living in the light of what I know about Jesus. It challenges me to know Jesus better that I might be his disciple better – not to earn salvation because Christ did that on the cross, but because I believe Jesus teaches us the best way to live. Loving God and loving others fulfills the Golden Rule but also will challenges me on all fronts. This challenge goes beyond who I associate with as family to what are the values that will govern my actions.
So stop for a moment and reflect on some of the top values and priorities in your personal life. Do we want to be famous for who we are or for living a life that demonstrates loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves? Perhaps there are some course corrections we are challenged to make today.
Lastly Jesus says,
28For which of you, intending to build a tower,
does not first sit down and estimate the cost,
to see whether he has enough to complete it?
Jesus confronts us about our relationships and who we call “family.” He asks us about our values and what drives our lives. Now he comes to the arena of conflict. He zeroes in on the offenses that often consume our attention. How do we deal with people who offend us? Jesus presents two possibilities, building towers to protect ourselves or like a king actively go to war against our offender. Jesus advises, “Count the cost!”
We may never build a tower or wage a war, but we have other ways we defend ourselves and attack others. I think a popular technique today is to “defriend” someone on social media. We use to call it a “cut off.” We stop communication on any platform so the person cannot enter our castle. When we cannot hear their words we think we are protecting ourselves from being hurt. Words are like arrows shot into our lives. I would say “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words often hurt me.”
Keeping gossip alive is a real danger as we pass “news” about what we heard in the market place of life. As we age and are less occupied with childcare or vocations and our social world narrows, it is easy to fall into sharing hearsay. It is easy to ruminate on who said what, old grievances, and perceived slights. One way we can defend ourselves is with silence or sharing the story with another hoping that person will affirm our worth.
Jesus does not say to not protect ourselves from enemies. Some people or situations are toxic. Alcoholics do not just go into a bar because they will go to AA afterwards. The setting and the people will lead to a problem. Playing with fire, we can be burned. Jesus does say to count the cost.
For me this raises the question of forgiveness. As we evaluate the potential threat of hurt from another because we have experienced them as “the enemy,” it seems to me we are faced with a choice. The Christian method of dealing with offense is through forgiveness, through turning the other cheek, or through kindness. We do have options for how we decide to deal with offenses. We have alternatives. Counting the cost of carrying a grudge that cuts others out of our lives will cost as we look down the road of life. Others like our children are watching and will be impacted as we walk through an offense. We do face problems daily. We feel wronged. We defend ourselves and unfortunately we attack others. Conflict has a price and we need to evaluate in light of the Gospel whenever we are involved in conflict.
33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Jesus concludes that we must give up our possessions. What do we “possess”? What do we hold on to? We hold on to family, to our relationships that so much inform us about who we are. We hold on to our choices, the burdens we carry when our lives with others cross the values we are taught by God. And we possess our ability to forgive and forget rather than wage war with others when others offend us. Discipleship, following Jesus, will challenge us to trust God. It is not easy but as we are invited to the banquet we do not want to be found guilty of refusing because “we have married a wife, we have bought a new cow, because of fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum.” May we not ask to be excused but be willing to hold God as most important. I look forward to meeting you at that banquet. The cost of admission is faith!
And the people of God said, “Amen!”