Sermon for the 8th September 2019.
Jeremiah 18.1-11, Philemon 1.1-21, Luke 14. 25-33
May I speak in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have some wonderful scriptures here, Jeremiah and the Potter and the Clay, the plea to Philemon from Paul to take back his runaway slave, two dream sermons and then these difficult words from Jesus. So, are we ready for some meat this morning? Let’s tackle this passage from Luke, as these words of Jesus are probably some of the most challenging of His teaching. They have given rise to so many different ways of Christian living and we need to understand where we fit into this strong teaching.
Jesus loved to use hyperbole, over exaggerating within a teaching to make the impact more powerful. Think of the camel going through the eye of a needle, it must have made His listeners chuckle, even given the deep importance of what He was saying; they would remember that even if they forgot the message itself. And He uses hyperbole here.
Jesus had a large crowd around Him, so many who followed Him, to hear His wisdom, to see His miracles and also, because being near Him was such a wonderful thing; He was charismatic, different, compassionate, His presence was an experience that warmed people’s hearts with love and hope, or enraged them with murderous fire, either way, He was not a Man to be indifferent towards.
Jesus knew what was going on only too well. Because of most of our ages, I am assuming that some of us went to the wonderful charismatic rallies, like Spring Harvest, during the 70’s and 80’s when new music by Graham Kendrick and Matt Redman was taking worship to giddy heights, where whole gatherings experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. People would sing in tongues, perfect harmonies would rise up spontaneously, such beautiful music, healings were expected and experienced and people would fall under the power of God moving amongst us. We didn’t want them to end, and we didn’t want to go home, we didn’t want to lose that high! Some of the evangelical free churches which arose during this time, carried this experience into their Sunday worship and Bible Study and Prayer groups. Worship became very experiential and theology went out of the window for awhile. Jesus was so aware of this impact on His followers. And today, for me personally, I feel that although these experiences are wonderful, to be treasured, and still to be enjoyed in worship, they are like milk with which new Christians grow.
But Jesus wants us to mature beyond the emotional experiences which can be felt when we feel the Spirit among us and to count the cost. Discipleship is costly and moves beyond feelings, it would involve the cross for Jesus and as His followers, we must be ready for the same. His love shouldn’t dull our senses to what discipleship means, because it’s not always easy.
So what does Jesus do to make this huge crowd think about more than the joy of being near Him, moving from milk to meat and the true cost of following Him? He talks about our families, our personal safety and comfort and our possessions. A triple whammy which hits right at the heart of our being. Everything dear to us!
We must remember that what those 1st century followers heard and understood has been tempered by many different interpretations over the centuries.
I like to go back to the original Hebrew and scriptural intent of Jesus. When Luke translates Jesus’ words into Greek, he uses the word “hate”, concerning our families, Matthew, speaking to a Jewish fellowship uses, “ love more than”. And we find the scriptural explanation of the words Jesus used in the Old Testament. In Genesis, Jacob is said to hate Leah and love Rachel, his first choice. It means he preferred Rachel not that he hated Leah, Rachel was his first and greater love. In Deuteronomy we find the word again, where God instructs a man not to show preference to the younger son of more popular wife above the customary inheritance for the older son of a first, but less preferred wife. Jesus was saying that our allegiance must be firstly to Him and then our families and community, both of which are required in the laws of God. “Love one another as I have loved you”.
So maybe these words are not as harsh as we first thought. Jesus was reinforcing what the people already knew well. But once away from His presence, would He take second place or even fade from importance altogether. This allegiance is total and it carries on from what Jesus said about bringing division, not peace. Our families and friends may reject us because we follow Jesus, but we are called to love them and pray for them unceasingly.
OK second of the triple whammy....carry our cross. Jesus’ followers were very aware of the horror of the cross. They saw crucifixions every day under the harsh Roman overlords, they knew that non allegiance to Roman Law meant death in agonising ways, and some would deny their own families if there was any hint that sticking up for them would bring the same suffering on themselves. A very stark, real message to 1st century followers, but for us, diluted maybe to mean giving up self interest and competing loyalties. I think it is more than that. I think it is trusting in God even when everything seems to be going wrong and the question, “why” rises in our hearts. It is a deeper acceptance that if things are going wrong, God knows and there is a reason which one day we might understand. It is a real test of faith when pain overwhelms trust. We have all been there.
Jesus gives two stories to help illustrate His teaching, this isn’t just about a pleasant afternoon of fellowship on the mountainside, food for the hungry or healing for the sick, this is a life decision with lasting consequences, not just personally, but for the community we live in. They see what we do, hear what we say and judge our commitment and therefore the One to whom we are committed.
So to the last sentence, the “Oh no” part, “none of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.” Oh dear! OK we are on meat today, so let’s grasp this nettle! It is perhaps easy to say this was for the immediate disciple group, who did give up everything to follow Jesus. But let’s think about this; They left their nets, their homes and livelihoods to follow Him. All Jesus asked of His original disciples was to follow Him, they were to be fishers of men. Later we read of Jesus eating at Peter’s home, healing his mother in law, and other examples of the disciples’ homes and families. They followed knowing the cost with open hearts. They didn’t need to be asked to give everything up because they put Jesus first quite naturally. He knew their hearts. But this is not what Jesus said to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. He told the young man, “if you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me.” Two quite different callings, depending on the heart of the one called.
Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people with different feelings of commitment. If a family member needed them, would they just leave Jesus without a second thought, if they felt threatened and unsure, would they deny God’s power, if they were wealthy, would they depend on their wealth or God? There is always the danger of applying what Jesus says without looking at the original context and wording used, and other examples of say, family or possessions, in the Scriptures. It might be right for some to choose a life of poverty, owning nothing because Jesus sees that the love of possessions will always be greater than the love of God, for others, great prosperity may be given, like the founding Fathers but for most followers, we need to understand realistically what our Lord meant.
So? Could this teaching regarding discipleship be of a single calling. Surely it is about putting Jesus first in all things? In Hebrew the word used is translated, “surrender”. I understand it to mean that all that we own and all that we have and are, is firstly at the disposal of our Lord. Discipleship calls us to surrender everything to Him, loved ones, personal well being and possessions, trusting in Him totally to care for us. Jesus was aware that His followers needed homes and a means of living, but He wanted them to be totally dependent on God to provide, just as Jesus was. This is the “poor in spirit” which Jesus often talks about and which He demonstrated during the whole of His life. God provides for us in all things, what He asks is that we depend on Him and acknowledge that He comes first in our loyalties and ways of living. Poor in spirit does not mean poverty stricken but dependant on God for everything. There is a huge difference. Having possessions in itself is not bad, it is how we view them and how important they are, are they more important than God, like the rich young man, or are they at His disposal, like the first disciples? Are we selfish with what we have or willing to help others and share what we have for God’s glory?
Alot to think about! In Jesus’ triple whammy, if everything we are and have, including loved ones, personal safety and possessions is surrendered to God for His care and grace, we can mature and become sculpted into really Christ like people: but we are asked to put everything in His hands to take us through our lives.