Old Testament Lesson Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Second Lesson Philemon 1-21
Gospel Lesson Luke 14:25-35
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the gospel lesson just read. [Luke 14:25-35]
What a month we’ve had! Not that long ago we heard Jesus say: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” And today he tells us to hate our father? Hate our mother? Hate our wife and children and brothers and sisters? Hate yourself? This can’t be the Jesus we know. Would Jesus really say this? How do we reconcile Jesus who quotes his Father in the Old Testament saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” with this Jesus who tells us to hate our families and even ourselves?
And why does our lectionary offer these hard sayings to meditate on anyway? It’s hard to believe that he said it; hard to understand what he meant by it; and definitely hard to fulfill it. And he follows these hard words with even more confusing words; words about building towers and fighting off armies; words about salt losing its saltiness, whatever that means.
Oh, and I missed one: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Imagine being in the crowd as Jesus spoke those words. In our day we think about cross bearing a little differently than this crowd would have. We associate cross bearing with having to put up with some unpleasant person or event in life, at least for a while; we use the phrase a lot more selectively than this crowd would have understood.
The cross was known all too well by these people. It was a figure associated with condemned men. When a man was to be crucified, he was forced to bear the very cross on which he would be crucified, all the way from the place of judgment to the place of his execution. It was a sight hard to forget.
We’d like to think that Jesus was exaggerating to make a point; we don’t like to think that he was telling the crowd, and us, that conversion to Christianity was that harsh; and that following our Savior was like facing a ‘life ending’ event. That doesn’t sound like Jesus either. In fact, it seems to be in direct opposition to his other teachings. He always spoke of his followers having eternal life, of living forever, not suffering and dying.
There are several teachings of Jesus labeled ‘hard sayings’; and this is one of them; but what makes them hard? Well, frankly, they’re hard because we decipher them use our reason, our methods of logic instead of looking to God’s holy word to explain them. Let’s look at these ‘hard sayings’ through the lens of scripture; scripture our lectionary placed before us today.
There’s a good reason why Paul’s letter to Philemon is our Epistle reading today. In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the Holy Spirit reveals to us what it means to bear one’s cross. Philemon was a Christian, but he owned slaves. Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves, and he ran away, looking for a new life in this world; a life committed to his personal freedom and the pursuit of his own personal happiness. In his travels, he met Paul, who proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to him. It was a life changing experience; and now, in today’s epistle, we see Onesimus heading back to Philemon; willing to return to a life of slavery, willing to give up his new found freedom, willing to give up the possibility of raising a family as a free man.
Talk about committed! He was fully committed, totally committed; as committed as someone who forsakes his whole family to follow his Lord and Master; hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, even self.
His life now belonged to Christ, totally and completely, and that was all that mattered. He was returning to a life condemned to slavery, a life seemingly without hope, and he was doing it willingly. It was as if none of this really mattered…. and living in Christ, none of this did matter to him.
This life changing experience had shown him that there is a totality to cross bearing. Cross bearing isn’t about some specific person, place or time, it’s about your entire life; every minute of every day, from now until the end of your time on this earth. It’s a total and complete commitment.
Without Christ our total commitment is to self. We strive for possessions. We strive for self-satisfaction. We strive for self-glory; everything in life being motivated by self-interest, … and what looks to be in our best interest isn’t to bear our cross but to throw it down and run from all its pain.
But when the Holy Spirit calls us through the Gospel, our life is totally and completely changed. In that moment, when our salvation is revealed to us, we do have a life changing experience; in fact it’s a life ending experience. Our sinful self is buried along with our sin, as the Holy Spirit makes room for himself in our hearts; and dwelling in us, he recreates us; he totally and completely changes us; he fills us with the grace and mercy that are ours for the sake of Jesus.
We no longer see our cross so narrowly. It’s no longer our boring job, or an unkind relative we have to put up with. Our cross is no longer defined as living the humble life, a life lacking in possessions, or a thorn we carry in our side. Our cross is now total and complete; and yet, unlike those old narrowly defined crosses the world tells us we’re bearing; now, this cross is easy to bear; … because we don’t bear this cross by our own power. This life of repentance and servitude, given over to our Lord and Savior, this cross, is on His shoulders, not ours.
And even though we continue to live in this world of sin, its trials and challenges no longer burden us. In fact as we journey with Christ we’re refreshed and strengthened by His Word and Sacraments. We walk with the same confidence as Onesimus on his journey back to Philemon.
The cross he bore, and the cross we bear, is life in Christ and the proclamation of his Gospel; and because we’re in Christ, we’re useful, like salt that seasons and even preserves. When we’re in Christ, his Spirit works through us, sharing God’s love with our neighbors; helping them to understand the suffering and the joy that cross bearing brings.
In the Gospel lesson today Christ is telling us that bearing this cross is a total commitment, a commitment that supersedes everything else in life: family commitments, career commitments, financial commitments; everything we hold onto in this world must be set aside in this one total commitment to God. I know; it sounds extreme. It’s something we could never do; but through the means of grace, the Holy Spirit works faith in us, and that changes everything. It gives us the strength we need to bear our cross; so that just like Onesimus, our whole world view changes. We no longer see as the world sees. We no longer look to the world for satisfaction; because in Christ we know complete satisfaction, complete peace; despite the persecution, despite the suffering, that comes as we follow him. And, because we’re in Christ, we endure.
We’re following the one whose suffering was much greater than ours, one who’s suffering ended in death, but whose death conquered death for all time. The Holy Spirit has revealed him to us, and made us totally committed to following our Savior, Jesus Christ; who understood the totality of cross bearing; our Savior whose commitment to us was total and complete.
In His cross we see ‘this Jesus’, who commands us to love our neighbor, reconciled with ‘this Jesus’ who tells us to let nothing stand in the way of our commitment to him; not family, not self, nothing. In His cross we see our salvation revealed. In His cross we see that there are no “hard” sayings, but only His love that speaks clearly and softly to us all, saying “You are my brother, my sister; and for my sake; all your sins are forgiven.”
In Christ’s service,