Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 04 2022

Posted on September 12, 2022, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

September 04 2022

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Luke 14:25-33

Worship Service Video Sermon  Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

How many choices do you make in a given day? A lot, right? It starts when we wake up. We choose whether to get out of bed – on time or at all. We choose what to have for breakfast, whether to bathe and brush our teeth. We choose whether to go to work. And on, and on.

[1]We learned about the importance of choice in our childhood, and that making choices isn’t always easy. Because whether we’re aware of it or not, to choose one thing means to choose against others. To choose a best friend means that other friends aren’t considered “best.”

To choose a path, a career, a priority, a place to live, to change our lives – means that we’re choosing one thing over another. And sometimes it means we’re choosing a person or group of people over another. And we know that some choices are more important than others – that some are tougher to make than others, because of the way they affect us and other people.

We know that Jesus took choices seriously. Today’s gospel reading makes that clear. The cost of choosing to follow him is recorded in the other Gospels, but this is the only one where Jesus says we must hate our family in order to follow him. And “hate” is a really strong word.

And Jesus meant to get people’s attention, but he didn’t just say this for shock value. In Greek, the word for “hate” doesn’t mean anger or hostility. It means to denounce; to love someone or something less than someone or something else; or to renounce one choice in favor of another. Which expands the meaning without softening it.

But in biblical times, the family was the source of a person’s identity. It determined what a person’s life was like in the community and also where they fell in the social order. And what Jesus was getting at here is that the choice to follow him might mean making the choice to cut ties with one’s family – the foundation of who a person was.

And he needed to be that direct because he knew what lay ahead for him in Jerusalem. And he needed his followers to know that living his way wasn’t all fun and games. There’s cost to it. And it’s a cost that transforms who people become as Jesus’ followers.

This is a hard passage because it’s so clear. There aren’t any riddles or guessing games in this one. So when we read passages like this one, it’s crucial that we remember that Jesus speaks more than just these words here.

That isn’t to try and make all of this easier to digest – there’s no middle ground when it comes to following him. We either do it or we don’t. But beyond this reading – Jesus’ teachings before and after this moment – we get a fuller picture of why he’s this direct because we get a fuller picture of who he is.

And we come to understand that he’s asking us to think more broadly, beyond ourselves. Because we don’t only follow Jesus for ourselves; we follow him for the sake of the people around us and who come after us.

His words here are woven together with his other teachings and with who he is. The grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that he gives are woven together with our choice to follow him. They’re inseparable. They help us remember that Jesus chose us. And when we choose to follow him, we choose life – not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us.

One Sunday in my previous congregation, a man came up to receive Communion. It was his first Sunday there, so I hadn’t seen him before that day. That sanctuary has a long nave, so Communion is received continuously – people come up, receive, and then return to their seats – and there are two stations, one on each side of the aisle.

As this man came up to me, I gave him the host and said, “The body of Christ given for you.” He held the host and said, “I have no idea what to do with this.” And I said, “Go that way” and pointed to my left because that’s where the wine and juice were that day.

I didn’t get a chance to talk with him until the next Sunday before worship. And I apologize, I don’t remember his name, but I do remember his story.

He had been recently released from prison where he’d served a sentence for killing someone. And he admitted to committing the crime. He told me that his years in prison were rough – he was involved in a lot of fights. But that he worked his way up through the hierarchy of the inmates and became part of the inner circle of the inmate in charge.

And then he told me that God found him. His exact words were, “God found me in the prison yard.” And he recognized the event for what it was and the conflict it caused within him, because he knew that he could no longer commit an act of violence against anyone.

And within a day or two of that, the inmate in charge told him that he would be the one to run the yard. Which often meant committing acts of violence against other inmates – or ordering others to do it. He had a choice to make, and he knew which way he needed to choose and that it could cost him his life.

So he told the inmate in charge that they needed to talk, and he said, “Alright. Let’s go for a walk.” And after the man told his story and said, “I can’t do this the way you want me to do it – the way you do it,” the inmate in charge put his arm around his shoulder and said, “This is your yard. You run it the way you see fit.”

When we make choices in our day-to-day lives, a lot of times we make a choice and just move on to the next thing, like what to eat for breakfast or not. There isn’t a lot of depth to it, there doesn’t need to be.

But choosing to follow Jesus has a lasting impact on our lives.

When we choose to follow Jesus, it isn’t only about learning new stuff and changing our behavior so that it lines up more closely with Jesus’ teachings. When we choose to follow Jesus, our hearts and our lives are transformed because we don’t just follow him without thinking.

In our core, we follow Jesus with our heart. And where our heart goes, the rest of our life will follow. And there’s a cost to it.  Sometimes following Jesus does mean giving up certain things – letting go of relationships, changing jobs, shifting priorities. Sometimes even risking our own lives.

Because when we follow him, we live as he did: intentionally, lovingly, and with compassion and grace and mercy.

This life of discipleship is a lifelong process. We choose whether to follow Jesus every day – and sometimes many times throughout the day. And over time, that choice changes who we are and how we interact with the world.

Because each time we choose to follow Jesus, we choose life. And we’re able to make this choice because Jesus chose us. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[1] Spirituality of Conflict. Commentary for September 4, 2022.