Lectionary 23C
Sunday, September 8, 2019
Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

Watch Here Minute 31:44

In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

Disciples of Jesus are called and sent like Andrew …
Are humble in heart and humble in service …
And in our scriptures today we learn:

disciples of Jesus die to self and live in Christ.

Our first reading this morning, from the 30th Chapter of Deuteronomy, is a matter of life and death. The first verse of our reading is this: “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” 

In context, the Hebrew people are in the last days of Moses’ life on the wilderness side of the River Jordan. They are on the eve of taking possession of the land  promised to them. At that moment in time the Hebrew people are reminded of a simple, straightforward, binary choice, clear and unequivocal:

Follow God’s law and live … walk in God’s ways, observe God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances and live long in the land promised.

Or, disobey God’s law and die … turn away from God, bow down to other gods and the people’s days in the land will be numbered.

Now that football season started, let me throw in some football. In one of his first preseason press conferences, Coach Belichick was asked about the chances of some of the younger and newer players making the team. Each time he was asked this question he responded,  “It’s not up to me, it’s up to them.”  That seems laughable to think about, the coach controls everything.

But the message to his players was clear.  The coach was presenting two options: work hard, give 100% effort, do the right things – and the reward is a spot on the team.  Or, choose to be lazy, miss practice, and disregard the coaches, and a player’s days on the team will be numbered.

As the Hebrew people prepared to enter the promised land, God’s message to the people was clear: you are NOT free to run wild and do your own thing, go your own way, and make up your own rules.  Do that, and your days are numbered. Instead, to be able to enjoy the gifts being given, to live long in the land and be blessed, live in God’s word, obey God’s word, and blessings will flow.

Disciples of Jesus die to self, and live in God’s word.

Keeping that in mind, we turn to our Second Reading today, this little letter to Philemon. The story is another life and death story and starts with Paul encountering a runaway slave named Onesimus.

Scholars aren’t in total agreement how they met. Had Onesimus run away because he had stolen valuables from Philemon? Or, had Onesimus been sent, with his master’s permission, to find help to solve some sort of disagreement that had arisen between them? Either way, Paul encountered Onesimus, and after a period of time, sent Onesimus back to Philemon, with a letter that Philemon receive Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother.

Paul appealed to Philemon for a change of heart, to let the old  master-slave relationship between them to die, in order to live in Christ and faithfulness by receiving Onesimus back as an equal into a new relationship of mutual love and respect. Philemon was called to die to his understanding of the economic structure and household hierarchy that had ruled his life.

One interesting implication of this instruction to consider, is that in Paul’s appeal to Philemon, to receive his former slave as if receiving Paul himself …

Philemon was being asked to receive Onesimus as one who had something to teach him about life and faith!  A complete reversal. The former slave became the teacher!  The former master becomes the student of the slave!

Today we begin “Dialogues on Race.” We begin these dialogues not by pointing fingers and making accusations to say that anyone is a racist. But rather, it is a recognition that we as white people are called, like Philemon,to listen and learn from those who are being sent to us like Onesimus.

We are called to humbly receive, listen to, and learn from the stories, and the lived experiences, and lived realities, of people of color. We are called to listen to them, and listen to each other, like we would listen to Paul, in order for mutual love and respect to flow. In so doing, again with Philemon, we are called to let old hierarchical relationships that have wounded, pained, and killed to die, so they can be replaced by the Kingdom of God revealed in Christ.

Disciples of Jesus die to self, disciples put aside cherished opinions and paradigms, in order to see new ways and the new work of the Spirit. Disciples of Jesus live in Christ, and in Christ, courageously embrace the people, relationships, and possibilities that God has in store.

With both these stores in mind, we turn to the gospel reading. 

Specifically, we address this very troubling verse: Luke 14:26. Said Jesus,  “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 disciples.”

Let’s talk about that word hate. I believe we can all agree there’s enough hate in the world today.  Is Jesus adding more fuel to the fire? I think it’s helpful to know that one scholarly reference suggests that the original Greek word we translate into English as hate, might be understood as having a spectrum of interpretations ranging from “intense malice” to “casual disregard.”

Given that Jesus fulfilled the law, and in so doing fulfilled the Fourth Commandment to “honor our father and mother,” I think we lean away from “intense malice” and lean more toward “casual disregard.” Disciples of Jesus do not show intense malice towards family, or friends, or even life itself, but there are times when disciples of Jesus must disregard the ways of our families, expectations of our biological or national families, the prevailing currents in our society, that lead us away from God’s command and the call of Christ.

Disciples that die to self and live in Christ, are ready to disregard, to name, to stand against, sin and the devil that defy God and work against God.

Jesus acknowledged that discipleship is not easy. There are costs to discipleship,and Jesus suggests we should embrace this from the beginning. Who builds a tower without first estimate what it is to cost? Said Jesus. Who wages a war without first estimating chances of success and how many causalities there might be?

Sometimes the costs of discipleship might be relationships with those closest to us. Not because we hate them or hate life, never hate, but because instead, living in Christ, we speak words of truth in love, words of accountability, a word that we as disciples cannot participate in the joke, in the gossip, in the bashing of another, in systems of sin and oppression, in the ways of death.

In dying to self, disciples of Jesus die to all that self likes to draw favor from – those who think like us, act like us, and believe like us, disciples die to the desire to fit in, to be popular … in living in Christ, disciples  in order to live in Christ.

Disciples see the cross, the self-denial, the self-sacrifice, and the self-emptying of Christ as life and salvation for the world. Disciples of Jesus understand that dying to self and living in Christ, is not just a cute phrase and slogan. It is the real and hard work of love, in a world of sin and death. It is the lasting, enduring, and patient work of sticking with one another, seeking to listen and learn from one another, and enduring one another.

The Good News today, is that in Christ’s death on the cross, God sets before us life and prosperity.

In our call to die as disciples, we are not called by a deranged cult leader like Jim Jones, calling his misled followers to a mass suicide event. Rather, our call to die, comes from a savior leading us to life through transformation, renewal, and resurrection!  Our call to death, is from the savior calling us to life, pouring out salvation upon us and upon the world.

Today, in the waters of baptism and in the bread and cup of the table, here is Christ announcing healing and salvation for the world.

Here is Christ welcoming NOT the perfect, NOT those deserving reward, NOT those who have it all figured out.

Here is bath and meal and word of promise for sinners, for those of us who have chosen wrongly and because of our sin will choose wrongly again, here is Christ for us marked, and scarred, and defeated by sin and death.

Here is hope and promise for sinners. That though we choose wrongly, again and again, God, in Christ, chooses death so that we might live. God, in Christ, always chooses us, choosing to be faithful, steadfast, and persistent, holding us in love, leading us in healing, delivering us from sin and death and into life and healing.

And so, friends in Christ …

  • Alive in faith, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, may you be granted the faith to trust that life is found in the death of Christ on the cross …
  • In the power of the Holy Spirit, with Philemon, may you have the courage to change your mindset, embrace a new paradigm, and live in new and restored relationships with those with whom you may disagree, or have been estranged from, whom God sends back to you …
  • As disciples dying to self, may you live in Christ. Alive in Christ, may you be love, mercy, and hope especially for the poor, the homeless, the naked, the dying, the strangers.

Thanks be to God.