16 Pentecost Proper C18
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 14:25-35 Sermon
September 4, 2016
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 17 "O Worship The King"
TLH 405 "I Gave My Life For Thee"
TLH 439 "O God Of Mercy"
WOV 771 "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"
GRACE WITHOUT GUILT TRIPS
TEXT: (vs. 26 & 33) “If any one 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. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
About 20 years ago, more or less, I went to a pastors' conference. The main purpose of those conferences is educational, although I think that fellowship and informal visits with other pastors is also a huge benefit. This morning, I'm going to share a bit from one of those conferences.
But before I do that, I want to call attention to the hymn we just sang, hymn 405 (Click here for the entire hymn text) . Take a look at it again if you wish. How did those words strike you? How do you feel after singing that hymn? There is nothing theologically wrong with it, otherwise we wouldn't have sung it in the first place. The hymn speaks of the life and suffering of Jesus, and that he did it all for the likes of us. That makes sense. But I'll also tell you that in almost 30 years of ministry, this is the very first time that I've used this hymn. I always pass it by; that is, up until today.
Keeping that in mind, let's get back to the pastors' conference. One of our lecturers was Professor John Jeske from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, and he was doing a presentation on homiletics, which focuses upon the writing and preaching of sermons. Since I didn't go to WLS, I never had him for my homiletics classes, so this conference presentation was of particular interest for me.
Professor Jeske stressed the importance of preaching law and gospel in a sermon. The law exposes and convicts us of our sin, and the gospel shows us the love and forgiveness we have through faith in Jesus Christ. The warning here is that it is so easy to go very heavy on the law; that is, placing an emphasis on the "do this, and don't do that" parts of the sermon, and overshadow God's love and acceptance of the sinner.
To emphasize this, he used this hymn 405 as an example. I'll attempt to paraphrase what he said as he quoted the first stanza: "I gave my life for thee, my precious blood I shed, that thou might'st ransomed be and quickened from the dead. I gave my life for thee; okay now, you filthy dirty rotten sinner, what have you given for me? That just rips the heart right out of the gospel. Yeah, there are some real dogs in the old hymnal." It was especially interesting to see this rather gentle peaceful individual get so wound up.
If you go through that hymn verse by verse, it's all law! It's just one big and ever increasing guilt trip. It can drive a person to despair, and there's nothing there to show the blessings of the gospel or the hope for a glorious future. Talk about a real downer!
I told you that I have never used that hymn, either before or after hearing what Professor Jeske said about it. It's just plain depressing.
And here's a few more things to remember. Just because a hymn is doctrinally correct doesn't necessarily make it a good hymn. Just because a hymn is old doesn't necessarily mean it's a good hymn either. There are good and bad old and traditional hymns, just like there are good and bad newer and contemporary hymns.
So do you like being put on a guilt trip? Do you like to hear about how bad and ungrateful you are? Do you appreciate preachers that emphasize the horror and fire of hell, and completely neglect the fact that Christ came to set you free from all of that?
Today, I've chosen as a theme "Grace Without Guilt Trips." We know we're guilty of sin. We know that we've transgressed God's law time and time again. We know that we've gone the wrong direction too many times. Yes, we are indeed guilty.
But faith in Jesus removes that guilt! God's grace is love, and not threatening. You might remember the verse from that favorite hymn that says, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved." And that really isn't the proper way to look at it. It was God's law that taught your heart to fear. His grace relieved those fears. Many hymnals simply eliminate that verse because of that.
Our text for today is one of those that seems rather harsh, and can put us on a guilt trip. This is one of several very pointed lessons taught by Jesus. If we look back a bit from our text, we find Jesus saying in Luke chapter 12, verse 51: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division;” This is telling us that there will be divisions on this earth, even amongst members of one’s own family. And these divisions won’t be easy ones.
And then, going back to last week's Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 13, verse 24 Jesus says, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” This is telling us that heaven is an exclusive place for believers, and not everyone will be able to enter in.
And finally, in Luke chapter 14, verse 11 Jesus says, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is telling us that the Christian’s life is to be one of humble service, and not of earthly glory.
Now today, Jesus is telling us that in order to be one of his followers, he has to hate his family, and renounce everything. And yes, that's a type of a guilt trip.
I don’t think that any of these lessons are easy ones, but yet they are important ones. Sometimes it takes strong words and a rather forceful delivery to make a point. Jesus does this in Luke’s Gospel, as well as other places in Scripture. This is what we have in today’s Gospel lesson: strong words and a forceful delivery.
“Hate” seems like such a strong word to use. Jesus says that we are to hate father and mother and wife (or husband) and children, and brothers and sisters and even our own lives if we want to be a disciple, or follower of him.
This seems so different than the earlier command of Jesus back in Luke 6, where he tells us to love others, even our enemies. And when we consider the commandment to “honor father and mother,” it makes us wonder where Jesus is coming from.
One thing we need to realize, is that Jesus is speaking in front of a large crowd of people. Jesus seemed to always attract quite a following. Perhaps they were waiting for another miracle. As crowds go, there is usually a sense of “group enthusiasm” that builds, and often this type of enthusiasm is quite shallow. When a person is a part of a group, it’s easy to go along with the crowd, so to speak; but when it’s a one-on-one type of thing, that enthusiasm can quickly wane. Jesus needed to teach a lesson that would sort of shock them back into reality, a type of "guilt trip" we might say. And so he teaches the lesson in our text for today, which actually contains three requirements for discipleship.
The first requirement, like we have already determined is to “hate father and mother,” etc. Jesus needed them to realize that absolutely nothing could come before him or instead of him in the life of a disciple.
The second requirement is to carry the cross. By carrying the cross, this doesn’t refer to the various trials and hardships that the average person experiences. Rather, it means a complete self-denial and a sacrifice of one’s own human will for the sake of Christ. It also means that we might have to accept some sort of suffering resulting from our sincere commitment to Christ and his kingdom. This happened with the early disciples, who even experienced death because of their commitment to Christ.
The third requirement is to be willing to give up our earthly possessions. This isn’t as easy as it might sound either. When a rich young ruler approached Jesus in Luke 18, Jesus told him this fact. But the ruler couldn’t accept that, because he had many possessions and didn’t want to think about parting with them. So he went away sad.
Jesus gives these conditions of discipleship for a very good reason. There needed to be a mature, prior self-examination before joining the crowd of people who were tagging along after Jesus. For one to be a follower of Jesus, this meant renouncing family, self, and possessions. Unless this happens, the disciple will be like that builder who can’t finish his tower, or like that king who can’t win his war. Because when the going would get tough, the half-hearted followers would start dropping like flies. A half-hearted follower with a tenuous commitment just would not do.
The “hating mother and father” bit had to be the biggest shocker though. What kind of a Christian would want to hate his own family, let alone his own life?
Let me tell you what Jesus is NOT saying by this comment. He is NOT telling us to be cruel, or unkind, or uncaring, or unloving to our families and those people we love. He is NOT giving the teenager cause to scream, “I hate you” to his or her parents when the parents refuse to do things the way the teen wants them. Jesus in no way is endorsing any form of disrespect.
What Jesus wants is to be first in our lives, over and above everything else. He uses the word “hate” because it is a strong word, which takes things to the extreme. It might be well to put it, that we are to put Jesus first, EVEN TO THE POINT of having to hate our family in order to give Jesus top position in our lives. Like I said though, that’s taking things to the extreme.
So what happens when we put Jesus and his will first? First of all, we will be able to love our family to a degree that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. We will love others in a Christ-like way. Jesus is the very definition of love. So when we put Jesus first, all of our other relationships will be strengthened. When we act according to God’s will, we will be good parents, good children, good husbands and wives, good brothers and sisters and cousins, etc. All of our earthly relationships will flourish when Christ is the center of our lives. And this does not mean that we are on a continual guilt trip to make this happen.
This all sounds so good. So why are there problems in our relationships on earth? Why are there divorces? Why do kids act up and even run away sometimes? Why are there arguments and fighting? Why do families feud and don’t get along?
I think if you examine those things, you’ll find that Christ is not the center of their lives. Jesus is someplace else, and people become more focused upon themselves.
And of course, all of this is an effect of sin. Sin is in the world and all around us. Sin affects each and every person on this earth. Sin ruins relationships, and creates discord and yes, even hatred where love and harmony should prevail.
It doesn’t take much to see the position Jesus has in our own lives sometimes. It’s so easy to give him the back burner. It’s so easy to forget what his will is, especially when we are more concerned about our will. It is so easy to fall away from him when the going gets tough. It is so painfully easy to do the wrong thing.
So what’s the answer? Once again, it is Jesus. Jesus, who wants to be the Lord of our life, is also our Saviour. Jesus knows our faults and weaknesses, and still he wants to be our Saviour. Jesus knows how often we have crowded him out of our lives.
Thankfully, we are saved by grace through faith. Regardless of what we’ve done, or not done, or thought, we find mercy and love and acceptance in the arms of our Saviour. We know that God doesn’t see our errors or faults or failings when Jesus is our Saviour. All God sees is Christ’s righteousness. With Christ as the center of our lives, he has a place as both our Saviour and Lord.
Jesus wants to be first in our lives, even to the point of dying because of him, even to the point of losing all of our possessions, and even to the point of having to hate our relatives. These are strong illustrations; but they are necessary to make a strong point.
So why is it so important to have Jesus as the center of our lives? First of all, we will see heaven when we die. When we take our last breath, we won’t need to worry about the sins and imperfections of our earthly life. We know that, through faith in Christ, all will be forgiven and forgotten.
Second, Christ will bless our lives on earth. When we seek to put into practice what he has taught us, all of our earthly relationships will benefit.
I used our sermon hymn today as an illustration. You may have heard the Latin term, "quid pro quo," which translated means "something for something." A good example of quid pro quo would be the plumber who installs a sink for a mechanic in exchange for the mechanic working on the plumber's truck. This hymn attempts to put our relationship with Jesus in this same light. Because Jesus did all this for you, you are made to feel that you now "owe" him something in return.
Thankfully most current hymnals don't include this hymn. It's in our old Lutheran Hymnal and also the Service Book and Hymnal. The Ambassador Hymnal still has it, and Christian Worship from WELS made an attempt to revise it, although I don't think it actually fixed it. But you won't find it in the Lutheran Book of Worship, or Lutheran Worship, or Lutheran Service Book, and that's for the best. And I can assure you that this is the last time we'll be singing it here, at least while I'm around.
Our discipleship isn't a quid pro quo, nor is it a guilt trip. We have what Jesus did through faith alone, and it is without any cost or trade. We don't "owe him one" as the popular saying goes. Our response is one out of love and gratitude, and not guilt.
But remember, the cost of discipleship isn’t cheap. This is the message Jesus was giving in such strong words to the crowd that day, and it is the message he gives us today. Of course Satan will continue to hack away at us. Certainly we won’t be perfect disciples, but we are disciples none the less.
We are disciples because we are Christians, true believers in Christ. He continually forgives us when we do wrong, and builds us up in our faith. When we count the cost of discipleship, I know that we will always come to the conclusion that it is indeed worth it.