The place where Jesus gets the roughest, at least to modern ears, especially modern protestant ears, is anytime the idea of discipleship or faithfulness or sanctification comes up. When Jesus turns the crowd and says something offensive or obnoxious or just strange, you can bet he’s talking about walking the Christian way. And that is what today’s text is about.
As this sermon lays out, following Jesus’ pictures, the financing of the tower is secure. Jesus has already paid it. Likewise Jesus has already won the victory over the enemy. We need not fear. But the tower needs to be built. The war needs to be fought. And we are called to do that. Yet many will turn away from it. And they will make peace with the world simply because they wish to avoid the cross.
I had to re-record this, sorry. I forgot to hit start.
The theme here is the mission and work of Jesus accomplished when he “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. All of that gets applied to us by grace, through faith. But it is a graceious and faithful call. A call not simply to a mental activity, like those sly foxes, nor a call to simply industriousness, like the bird. It is a call to follow Jesus. To set our faces for Jerusalem. We often walk toward and earthly Jerusalem that does to us that same thing it did to Jesus, rejects us. But we are always walking toward the New Jerusalem. By faith we can see that city, whose builder is God.
Living the Christian life isn’t always easy. I’m not talking about easy choices like things coded into the 10 commandments or lines of the creed. Those things are easy. I’m also not talking about those times of clear persecution. Those are easy in the way I’m talking about, but hard in reality. What this sermon addresses is what the text addresses which is the normal life of discipleship. Jesus’ words put a couple of things in tension. On the one side discipleship is a serious thing. I call it the discipleship of commitment. We are to be committed to each other in that we are responsible for our brother’s faith. Likewise we are to be committed to holiness for the sake of our own faith. Jesus is serious as a literal hell. On the other side, this commitment never excuses a lack of openness or grace. The disciple, as long as who they are interacting with in not against Christ, is to act as if they are with you. What that will lead you into sometimes is getting burned. But that is to be expected as Jesus says “we will all be salted with fire.” We are to be living sacrifices. Salted in ourselves. Ready to be at peace. This sermon expands on that and explores what that might mean in concrete situations.
I’ve always been fascinated by the synoptic gospel accounts of the disciples juts leaving, dropping their nets and following Jesus. For a long time I thought it doesn’t make any literal sense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t history, but that there had to be a lot more behind those stories. John’s gospel I believe gives us some of that more. John and probably Andrew had been watching this Jesus for a while because of the Baptist. So when he comes by the Sea calling, they drop their nets and follow. But there is more psychological depth to these stories. They are stories of longing, and stories of opportunity. God passes by, the moment moves quickly on, do you live, or go on with life? Do you embark on something original, or stay in well worn ways?
These stories are important to moderns because we have a twofold problem. We are surrounded by origin stories and new beginnings, but then none of ours satisfy, because we don’t actually live them. The call of Christ is the call to true life. It is not something we can live at a remove. We can stay in the boat, or get go toward the shore. We can leave the nets, or hold on, but not both. This sermon attempts to explore that area of necessity and longing.
In the text I find two themes that follow each other. The first is that the way of grace in this world is the way of meekness. Then the way of meekness leads to the cross. God chose grace and meekness, not the artillery of heaven to deal with sinful man. What that means for the disciple whose life is conformed to Christ and not the other way around is that in living lives of grace we expect the cross.
The tough sayings of the second part of the text are directed as warnings at the disciple, the person whose life has been re-oriented away from the self and towards God. There are more palatable ways to say the same things. I would take the parable of the soils to be that more palatable way, but in the context Jesus is after the shock value. No disciple should be able to say “you fooled me”.
The way of the cross is only made possible first by the fact that Jesus walked it already. Second it is enabled by the promises of God. Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. We set our faces to the New Jerusalem. That is how we stay on the straight path.
Worship note: I’ve left in the recording Lutheran Service Book 856, O Christ Who Called the Twelve. The tune should be familiar, It is My Father’s World is probably what you might hear. But that is the magic of hymn tunes. They are often repurposed. It is a good prayer hymn to end a service on. I didn’t include it in the recording, but the text also allowed us to sing a wonderful hymn, LSB 753, All For Christ I Have Forsaken. I linked up another congregation singing it because copyright. It has that haunting Southern Harmony melody. This is an example of a song that would never be sung in most “contemporary” churches. The text reflects Jesus’ words which are not exactly “stay on the sunny side”. But when the theme is the thorns of discipleship, it is beautiful. Something that he gospel allows that therapeutic Christianity doesn’t. “Though my cross shaped path grows steeper, with the Lord I am secure.”
…To want to admire instead of to follow Christ is not necessarily an invention by bad people. No, it is more an invention by those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, who keep themselves at a safe distance. Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination. To them he is like an actor on the stage except, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm. Admirers are only too willing to serve Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally come in contact with danger. They refuse to accept that Christ’s life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended by him. His radical, bizarre character so offends them that when they honestly see Christ for who he is, they are no longer able to experience the tranquility they so much seek after. They know full well that to associate with him too closely amount to being up for examination. Even though he says nothing against them personally, they know that his life tacitly judges theirs…”
For a secular buffered existence age that demands no judgement, even admiring Christ is getting tough.
Luke tells us a couple of things at the start of his gospel. One is the format, he’s telling a specific type of history, a diagasis which the dictionary defines as an orderly narrative. The second thing he tells us is that the eyewitnesses have delivered these stories to him and he’s compiling them. (Luke 1:1-4). It is not provable, but it has long been the supposition that Mary herself was the source for Luke’s first four chapters. (If you look closely at Acts there is probably even a time when Luke with Paul is in Jerusalem at the same time as Mary with John.) The repetition of the phrase “and his mother treasured up these things in her heart” is often taken as the textual signal of the source.
As with most saints, their reality is more interesting and human that the sanitized stories the church often tells. I think that goes in spades with Mary. Mary often gets transformed, like Jesus, into this meek and mild creature. That isn’t the story she tells, or the psalm she sings. These are full throated paeans of joy from someone who has had their dreams of conventional happiness shattered, but replaced with joy in the presence of God and his plan. And that is what this sermon attempts to explore, the source of joy in contrast to happiness. It winds through Dickens as an example of a surprising juxtaposition, but keeps Mary front and center. Joy in the presence of God.
Music Note: I’ve left in our opening hymn, Hark the Glad Sound LSB 349. This is one of the hymns I want at my funeral. The gates of brass before him burst, the iron fetters yield. Sin, death and the power of the devil give way before Christ. I’ve also left in one of the Magnificats or Songs of Mary that we sang today. Mary’s psalm has inspired some of the great hymns of the church as well as the standard chants in Vespers (West) or Matins (East). My Soul Rejoices LSB 933 is a modern text dating from 1991 paired with an older beautiful tune reflecting a little of the plain chant tradition. (I understand the need of publishing houses and hymn writers to have copyright, but it sure makes the sharing of the hymn experience difficult. I almost makes one favor older songs just because they are public domain.) I think both of these reflect the joy of the day even in the midst of Advent waiting and watchfulness.
There are certain biblical images that are ingrained in our heads just from cultural osmosis. Even at this late date, the Good Shepherd is one of those images in the larger culture. I feel okay saying that because even Hollywood called a CIA movie staring Matt Damon The Good Shepherd recently. The movie didn’t do so hot and I can’t recommend it, but they expected the Biblical allusion to have enough currency to use the name. But what I am always amazed at when the lectionary throws up one of these common images (one portion of John 10 with shepherd images is always on Easter 4) is that the common gloss on the text is at best half the story. In the case of the Good Shepherd we jump straight to Calvary. In theologically squishy places the Good Shepherd is the perfect image to pitch Jesus the great teacher or a Unitarian all loving spirit. But the text itself is intensely Trinitarian as it is about the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son is the Good Shepherd and not the hired man because he shares the love of the father for these sinful oblivious sheep.
But the metaphor goes beyond that gospel image. Love is defined as aligning yourself with the Father’s commands. Love is defined as putting yourself between the sheep and the wolves. It is defined contrary to the hired man who does what it natural. When you see the good shepherd, when you comprehend in a meaningful way the gospel, at that point you are no longer a sheep. You have a choice – hired man or good shepherd. It is the first real choice in your life, and it is also one that the sheep are oblivious to. Don’t expect applause. Except from Father and Son. This sermon attempts to proclaim that love of the Good Shepherd and give it some form of what it really looks like in the Christian life.
The text is the emergence of Jesus after the arrest of John the Baptist and his calling of disciples. This sermon looks at three sets of comparisons encouraged in the text by their juxtaposition: Jesus and John the Baptist, Andrew/Peter and James/John, and Jesus and his disciples. Each comparison increases our knowledge of God and the path of discipleship. The sermon explores those especially the role of courage in the life of discipleship.
A note on the recording: I’ve included a couple of musical pieces. Our Choir sang an infectious newer hymn, LSB 833 Listen, God is Calling. It has a dramatic African Call/Response structure. I’ve been looking for about three years for a chance to get it into the service. It is just not something that a congregation can take on cold, but the choir sounded great. The second hymn is LSB 856 O Christ, Who Called the Twelve. It also is a newer hymn with some amazing depth paired with probably a familiar tune, Terra Beata formally, but I know it as This is Our Father’s World. (And I am still convinced that the theme song running throughout the Lord of the Rings movies is inspired by this hymn tune. At every moment of near despair, Frodo or Sam remember the shire and this theme plays in the background.) Both of these hymns are great additions to a Lutheran Congregation’s Hymnbook.
This is the season of Epiphany, after Christmas but before Lent. It has been my experience that the Epiphany lessons for each year have a separate theme. Some years focus on the light aspect. This year is discipleship. We get a steady stream of conversion and following Jesus accounts. The text for this week is Philip and Nathanael. What this sermon explores are the doctrines and attitudes contained in Philip’s assertion to Nathanael, “We have found him”. The idea of who finds who is taken up in the Christological section. The text and Christian doctrine asserts that Christ finds us, yet we tend to talk like Philip in the active voice. Call it the paradox of the election and conversion. The second doctrine is the order of the titles: Kind of Israel, Son of God and Son of Man. The son of Man, the new Adam, is the one of greatest theological importance. That is the one that defines the others and that angels attend.
The attitudes examined are contained in what Jesus praises in Nathanael – one without guile.
We conclude with the idea of discipleship as a continual coming to see. One day we will see clearly.