Saturday, September 7, 2019

Is it worth it?, Year C, Pentecost 13, Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Luke 14.25-33,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Make a choice”, Moses said.
“Choose life!” he declared.  And if you do, you will reap the benefits of God’s blessings and have a long prosperous life.
“Make a choice”, Jesus said.
“Choose to follow me!” but before you do, know that it may cost you everything that you have, even your own life.
There is no more pronounced contrast than this.
Moses is urging us to “choose life”.
Jesus, on the other hand, invites us to “choose death”, as we follow him on the way of the cross.
We are here because we want to follow Jesus.
But his words challenge us to the very core of our being.
1.       “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.”
2.       “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
3.       And finally, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Our family.  Our life.  Our possessions. 
What more could Jesus possibly ask of us??
What else is left?
Just let that sink in a bit.

Wouldn’t you rather follow Moses than Jesus?
Moses promises God’s blessings and prosperity.
Jesus warns us that following him means giving up everything, including our lives.

One movement in contemporary Christianity today is called the “Prosperity Gospel”.
I quote:  “The prosperity gospel is an umbrella term for a group of ideas — popular among charismatic preachers in the evangelical tradition — that equate Christian faith with material, and particularly financial, success. It has a long history in American culture, with figures like Osteen and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, glamorous, flashily-dressed televangelists whose Disneyland-meets-Bethlehem Christian theme park, Heritage USA, was once the third-most-visited site in America.
A 2006 Times poll found that 17 percent of American Christians identify explicitly with the movement, while 31 percent espouse the idea that “if you give your money to God God will bless you with more money.” A full 61 percent agree with the more general idea that “God wants people to be prosperous.”
“If you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.”
Ok, I have to confess that I don’t know if that is actually true.
What I do know is this.  If you give your money to God, as in the Church, God will bless ME with more money.
I mean, “Hey, Joel Osteen is worth millions.”
I can be very crass about this.  But the point is a bit more subtle than that.
A lot of us would like to believe that if we are faithful Christians our lives will be good and prosperous.
Even Karla’s mom and dad, who were hardly followers of Jim and Tammy Faye, would share their own experience of making the decision, early in their marriage, that they would tithe everything that they had.  This decision came one Sunday morning when they had one dollar to their names, and were thinking about what they could give as an offering that day.  They decided to give 10 cents, and throughout the rest of their lives gave 10 percent of everything that they had.
Their believe was that by doing so, they were trusting in God to provide, and also, they believed that because they did so they always had enough.
I admire Karl and Becky’s faithfulness.
I really do.

But this understanding of the tithe and the blessings that we will receive for our faithfulness is an Old Testament concept.  It’s roots lie with Moses’ teaching, not Jesus’ teaching.
Moses said to give ten percent.
Jesus did not let us off so easily.
“Give everything.”

Here’s a question for you to consider.
“Does following Jesus and doing what he commands, make you in the least bit uncomfortable?”
If it doesn’t, are you really following Jesus?
Jesus said:
1.       “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.”

But you know what.  Even as a pastor I have to admit that my family comes first.  If I’m honest.  If I’m truly honest there is very little in life I would be willing to commit myself to if it got in the way of my relationship with my wife and kids, and especially my grandchild, Jasper.
Jesus said:
2.       “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Truth be told, I’m  more concerned about having my health insurance paid for than giving my life on the cross. 

3.       And finally, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

OK, so maybe this is a “three strikes, you’re out” thing.  I’m not interested in giving up all my possessions.  I’m interested in securing my retirement, making wise financial decisions, and doing everything I can to insure that Karla and I will have enough during our retirement years.

Jesus is a radical.
Christianity, however, has become domesticated and tamed.
I remember a statement made by one of the members of Agnus Dei, Karla and my home congregation in Gig Harbor, WA.  At the time, this member was shopping around and had attended one of the mega Churches in the community.
“I feel good when I leave there,” she said.  “I feel good.”

Is putting Jesus before your family a good feeling?
Is putting Jesus before your life a good feeling?
Is putting Jesus before your money a good feeling?
No.  Probably not.
Again, I go back to my own struggles as a pastor.
We have a purpose statement, that we as a congregation have adopted and recited for many years, now.
“God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love, and serve all in our local and global community.”
That statement speaks to the radical nature of Jesus’ love, and often I’ve referenced it in my preaching and teaching here.
But do I really want to push the issue?
Welcome all.
Love all.
Serve all.
Locally and globally.
We have domesticated and tamed Jesus’ radical message, and one of the ways we have done so is to subtly change that “all” to “some”.
Yes, we “welcome, love, and serve”, but only some, and we pat ourselves on the back for being ‘pretty good’, even if we are not perfect.
The problem with welcoming, loving, and serving all is that it might cause conflict with some of our own brothers and sisters in faith, it might put us at risk, and it might affect the bottom line.
In other words, if “welcoming, loving, and serving all” means that we might lose members, experience risks, or see our offerings decrease, we would prefer to change that to a more palatable “welcome, love, and serve SOME”.
Case in point, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has tried to live out that command of Jesus to ‘welcome, love, and serve all’ and the result has been conflict, numerous conflicts.
I was struck this last week by one of the comments on our Facebook page.
“How ironic,” the person wrote, “to see ‘Peace’ and ‘Lutheran’ in the same name.
It was an obvious reference to the conflicts we’ve experienced as we sought to welcome, love, and serve all.
But is it worth it??
That’s the question.
It is worth it?
Is following Jesus worth the cost?

That’s a question each of us will have to answer in our own lives.

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