Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 18)
September 5, 2010
Text: Luke 14:25-35

When you set out to do a project, be it large or small, you’d be a fool not to calculate the cost, weigh the risks, and consider the resources at your disposal. Can you do it? Should you even start? What happens when you run into a roadblock right in the middle of the project? The same is true for discipleship. Jesus tells us to count the cost. For discipleship is costly. Now understand, grace is free to you. The forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation, all come at a great cost, but it is Jesus who pays that cost in full. He pays it on the cross. He pays it with His suffering and death. And He offers it to you freely in the Gospel. So I’m not talking about any cost you have to pay for grace or forgiveness and all that comes along with that. Nevertheless, nowhere in the Bible does it say that being a Christian is easy. And that’s where many people, including many of us, go wrong. We think that being a Christian should be easy. We think of being a Christian, a disciple, literally one who follows Christ, as just one component of our life, namely, that component that is supposed to make our life easy and good. But of course, according to this way of thinking, there are other components and other contributors to the goodness of our life. Family, possessions, jobs, money, recreation, all of these things are also components of our life. Jesus may be a part of our life, maybe even the most important part of our life, but there are other components and other resources as well, and each of these demands our time and attention and loyalty, sometimes at the expense of Jesus. And we think that drawing on all these resources we can build our lives, build what Jesus calls our “towers.” But what happens when we find that these resources are insufficient? What happens when these resources are faulty? What happens when our enemies, the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh come and attack us and the construction comes to a screeching halt?

Building a Christian life is like building a tower. If you want to be a disciple, you have to sit down and count the cost. Who in his right mind sets out to build a tower without first sitting down and calculating the cost, asking the all important question whether he has enough resources to complete it? What a failure it would be if, after laying the foundation, he were unable to erect the tower! Beloved in the Lord, what you have to understand about our Gospel lesson this morning is that Jesus here teaches that we have absolutely no resource with which to construct the tower of the Christian life other than Christ alone. And in making this point, He goes for the jugular. He shocks us. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (v. 26).

Hate them? Really? Hate family? Hate self? This is where the Gospel becomes a great offense. You cannot dismiss the word “hate.” It comes from the mouth of our Lord Himself. The temptation is always to water it down, but that doesn’t really help either. The word is there. You have to deal with it. Here hate is not the opposite of love and honor. Jesus is not preaching against the Fourth Commandment, honoring father and mother. He is not contradicting the commandment that we love one another, that we love our neighbors as ourselves, including our family members and even our enemies. No, the point is that if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, He alone can be your God. Anything or anyone else that you fear, love, and trust above Him is an idol. We are especially prone to make family our idol. It even sounds good. In fact, it sounds sanctified. Family first, family values, the slogans of the religious right. And in terms of our civil life on this earth, the horizontal plane, yes, family first. But in our relationship with God, the vertical plane, no, family does not come first. Jesus does. Family is not the source of our Christian life. Only Jesus is. Only Jesus can be. When we make family the source of our Christian life, be it father or mother, spouse, son or daughter, brother or sister, we make them our gods. We look to them for every good. But family can fail us. Family can even lead us away from Jesus! They can lead us to sin. They can lead us to believe false doctrine. They can lead us away from the house of God and frequent use of Christ’s gifts. It never ceases to amaze me how many times I’ve heard as a pastor something along the lines of “We haven’t been in church because Sunday morning seems to be the only time we can get together as a family.” Beloved, repent. Your family can’t save you. Hating your family on the vertical level means despairing of them for salvation and rejecting them as your gods. Discipleship may mean speaking the truth in love to a family member who doesn’t want to hear it. Discipleship may mean dragging the family to church for family time with the whole family of believers, with Christ our brother, and God our heavenly Father. Discipleship definitely means looking to God alone in Christ for every good gift; fearing, loving, trusting God alone in Christ as your God; despairing of all other things and all other people for life and salvation.

You have no resources with which to build the tower, and so finally you must even hate your own life, all your possessions, all that you have, all that you are, and realize you have nothing within yourself to be saved or live a Christian life. All your good works count for nothing on the vertical plane. All you have to offer God is sin. If you begin to lay a foundation on your own resources, you will find that not only must construction come to a grinding halt, even your foundation is worthless and crumbling. Finally, you must die to self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha. Understand that your bearing of the holy cross has nothing to do with earning salvation. Your salvation has already been earned by Christ on His cross. You are already saved. And in fact, you have already been called to be a disciple in your Baptism. But now you walk in the way of salvation. It is a narrow path. You must follow Christ, or you go off that path. Christ is the only way. And His way leads to Good Friday and Golgotha. It is the only way to Easter Sunday and the Resurrection of the Dead. To go this way would be impossible for you on your own. You would suffer and die without end. That is called hell. The only way through the cross to the resurrection is Christ Himself. He will get you through alive, because He has already been through death, and He has come out alive! Christ is risen! He is your only resource.

And it is important that you know this now, because the Christian life is also a great battle. It is a battle between God and Satan for your eternal life. The devil and his minions, the world, and your own sinful flesh, are constantly attacking you, tempting you to sin, leading you to doubt Christ, seeking to lead you off the path of faith. Outside of Christ, you are totally outnumbered. You have no hope of winning. Outside of Christ, you might as well surrender. But just as YHWH fought for His people Israel of old and won the victory on their behalf, so YHWH, even Jesus Christ our Lord, fights for His people Israel, the Church… He fights for you and wins the victory. He doesn’t do it by adding His resources to yours. You don’t have any resources. He does it fully on His own strength. He comes with His righteousness. He gives it to you. He takes your sin. He suffers. He dies. He rises. He wins. Jesus Christ is your victory over the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. Stay with Him. Take up your cross and follow Him.

Your cross was laid on you at Baptism, when you died to yourself, died to sin, and were raised to new life in Christ. Your cross is the suffering you will have to endure now as you live in your Baptism. It may be suffering on account of your family members. It may be suffering the afflictions of the devil within your own soul. It may be the suffering of persecution, the loss of family and possessions and even your life for Jesus’ sake and for the Gospel. Whatever it is, the cross will find you. You don’t seek the cross. It seeks you. But these sufferings are given you as a precious gift of God so that you despair of yourself and every earthly resource, even your loved ones, and look to Christ alone for salvation and every good. You are given the cross so that you realize your salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

For finally your cross only has meaning in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is on the altar of the cross that our Lord Jesus was sacrificed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is on the altar of the cross that our Lord Jesus was sacrificed as your substitute, paying your debt to God, suffering your punishment, that you might be forgiven, declared righteous by God, set free from sin, and given eternal life. There, on the altar of the cross, our Lord Jesus shed His precious blood. There, on the altar of the cross, our Lord Jesus spoke His Word of love, absolving His enemies, absolving you. There, on the altar of the cross, our Lord Jesus breathed His last and gave up His spirit, suffering Adam’s death, suffering your death. There it is finished: sin, Satan, hell, done to death. Christ’s death is the death of death itself. Christ has died once, for all, that all may live in Him. For Christ is risen. And the one who believes in Him, even though he die, yet shall he live. You, too, will rise!

So take up the cross now, in the faith of the resurrection, and follow Him. In this way, you will be what God has made you by His Word and Spirit: Christians! Disciples! And so you will be the salt of the earth. You will season the world with your love and confession of Christ, and root out the decay of this fallen creation as God uses you as His instrument. Not to bear your cross, to deny the faith, makes you worthless, like unsalty salt. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Die to self. And so live in Him. Your tower is already built… He built it! Your battle is already won… He won it! So abide in Him. Look not to any other resource, be it father or mother, spouse or children, sister or brother. Look not to yourself or your possessions or anything within you. You are dead to those things. Look to Christ alone, the author and finisher of your faith. Survey His wondrous cross! And come receive the fruits of His death for you in His crucified and risen body and blood. For He is your life. Live in Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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