You become what you love. We either love God, and with loving God love the truth and love our neighbor; or we have something else we love. And whatever else that something is, it isn’t enough, not to be the primary love that forms our souls. The biblical text is Jesus’ encounter with what is typically called the rich young ruler. The man – the individual soul – knows something is wrong. He is actually quite sharp, sharper than we tend to be these days. This sermon meditates upon this encounter of love, and what questions our souls should be asking? Into what are we forming our eternal life?
In my reading one of the biggest shifts from the church fathers to the kids of stuff written and preached today is the concentration on the person of God. The church fathers would preach and write constantly about what we might call metaphysical or philosophical points – like the goodness of God. When you read modern works there is rarely if ever any words on the person or attributes of God. Everything for the modern is about the human experience. When I reflect on that the human experience is quite varied, and we have a giant ability to lie to ourselves. Generalizing from human experience is tough. The church Fathers through some sturdy logic, rhetoric and understanding of the sacred text come to a solid understanding of what God has revealed about himself. And when you have a solid understanding of who God is, both a general application and specific applications to our varied situations are possible.
The text today is a perfect example. The church Fathers all were interested in the goodness of God. In my experience this text, combined with next weeks, are typically turned into stewardship items. The difference I think is between the gospel in the text and the law. The gospel is that God is good, and he invites us to share in that goodness. In no other way can we or anything be good, other that a participation in the divine.
This sermon is in part an invitation to that goodness. It is also an examination about what that goodness means to how Christians then prioritize actions in light of that goodness. It is a pondering of the call of the first commandment.
Worship Note: I moved out hymn of the day to the end of the recording. LSB 753, All For Christ I Have Forsaken, is one of my favorite hymns. It never fails to just kill me. If you do a little research on it and it author Calvin Chao you’ll be torn up more. They’ve set a very Chinese text to the Southern Harmony tune “Restoration”, and it works wonderfully. I usually don’t do this, primarily because it is illegal, but I’m doing it here because this hymn is so good. Most of us will never live a life as dedicated as Calvin Chao, but here are the words of many who heard the invitation clearly.
One of theses days I’m going to write a novel with that title. It’s an allusion to Gen 31:19,32 and as with so much else from that Ur-Book, its a powerful story that we play out again and again like a musical fugue.
The Gospel text for this day is one of those repeats and an appropriate horror story as we get to Halloween. The contrasting character to Jesus is a man who knows he’s trapped by his household gods but can’t leave them. The task of discipleship is to learn to leave them behind. This man’s question is every man’s question or should be. That novel, amongst the characters, the protagonist is the one who in the eyes of the other characters has failed miserably but who is actually the only one who is free.
The big struggle this week was the question have I let the gospel predominate. I went back and forth in my pondering about that call to deep discipleship and how it might be taken. It could be a law proclamation of the second kind. All one might hear is the refrain to give up the idols and the application to do more and feel convicted. We know the responses when told to do something we really don’t want to do before we are ready to break the fugue. It could also be a law proclamation of the third kind. What must I do? Look at the commandments. That is how God intended us to live. Actually putting requirements back on people seems like a reversal of the gospel. If you are proclaiming the captives free, how then can you put the chains back on?
But Jesus didn’t seem to have any such qualms about being explicit. And that gets to a core recognition of the gospel. We can talk about the gospel in those freedom metaphors, but the call to “follow me” is every bit as much the call of the gospel. We can get deep in the Lutheran weeds and get all worried about passive righteousness. We can piously mumble true words about “I cannot by my own reason of strength follow Jesus”. But in the midst of the Christian life there are moments where it certainly feels like a choice. Like the one Jesus put to the rich man. The choice is really do we hear the gospel and walk in the way Jesus has laid out for us, or do we go our own way. So what I hoped the sermon opened up was not a list of preacher saying you must do x – which would all be great things for the preacher – but a space for the hearer to ask that question – “what must I do?” – and hear Jesus’ answer. These are your household gods and need to be left behind. Whatever they might be.