Just so we know where we’re headed in this sermon, I’d like to submit a little reminder of who we are and what we’re all about:
Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.
It’s been fifteen years since the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York City, and on the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and since the terrorist attack was thwarted by the passengers on United Airlines flight 93 that crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Some of us were not even born yet. Some of us were, like three years old. Some were ten years old. Some of us can tell you exactly where we were and what we were doing that day.
How do you feel about the last fifteen years? What do you think we have learned?
I would like to mention one thing I think we have learned, and one thing we know already.
We have learned is that the world is small. What happens way over there is not just way over there any more. It is right here. There is no such thing as way over there like there used to seem to be. It’s all close.
That’s scary, because we do not control what happens way over there. We can influence it. What we say and do can push it toward the good or the bad. But we cannot control it. And even though we can’t control it, what happens over there still reverberates all the way back here. The world is small. That’s scary.
One thing I thing we knew already, is that we are not going to make it on our own, we human beings, we creatures of creation. Without the grace of God, the power and bauty and integrity and love that moves beyond what we can see, the healing of the world that came through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that still comes, that God sends to the world through us, without the power of the cross, we are lost.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells two parables about being lost: the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus says that God is like a shepherd who goes after a lost sheep and brings it home. Jesus says that God is like a woman who searches for a lost coin until she finds it.
I thing there have been times in the last fifteen years, also in the last fifty years, in the last fifty-thousand years, when we have felt like God has not found us yet. There may have been times when we felt like God had given up searching. After all, wouldn’t you?
Those are the times that scare me. Because then we begin to think that we are on our own. That there is no power for beauty or life or hope or safety or justice or mercy beyond ourselves. When we forget the grace of God, that’s when things begin to twist.
The necessity of defense pulls away from its moorings, its anchor in the justice and mercy of God, and twistes itself into the impulse to dominate, to seek revenge, to make ourselves superior by destroying our enemy, rather than honoring the goodness with which God made everyone, by stopping our enemy.
The natural experience of fear pulls away from its moorings, its anchor in the justice and mercy of God, and twists itself into cowardice, the impulse to do anything, anything at all to keep our selves safe, rather than working for the safety of everyone.
That’s what I think we need to be afraid of: forgetting the grace of God. That’s what should cause us true terror.
Now, here is good news. Look at how active and energetic God is in Jesus parables. God is like the shepherd goes after the sheep and finds it and lays it on his shoulders and rejoices and comes home and calls his friends and neighbors, and celebrates. God is like the woman, who lights a lamp (Often a peasant’s cottage had one room, a dirt floor, one door and no windows, so you had to light a lamp. Lights this lamp, sweeps the house, searches carefully, finds, calls together her friends, which, in the Greek are all female. I guess it’s a lady’s night, and celebrates.
God is active and energetic, and crazy. What shepherd actually would leave ninety nine sheep in the wilderness to go off and search for one? Wouldn’t he just let the one go to keep the ninety nine? What woman would actually put out the expense of celebrating with her friends and neighbors. Could easily have spent that coin on the party alone.
But that’s the way God is. No matter how lost we are, as individuals, as a species, God will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up searching for you.
This is why we do not give up on each other. We do not give up on the human race. We do not give up on ourselves. We do not give up on the people way far over there. We do not give up on the people around us here.
Not because we think it’s going to be okay. Sometimes we don’t. But rather because God does not give up.
That’s why some people continue to volunteer to serve in the military. That’s why some people continue to volunteer to serve with Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Doctors without Borders and other organizations. That’s why Salaam Arabic Lutheran Church in Brooklyn continues work with the mosques, synagogues and churches of its neighborhood to bring together the many Christians, Muslims and Jews who live there. That’s why of its neighborhood together, just as it did after 9-11. That’s why Lutheran disaster response is working in Louisiana dealing with the floods there, and in the Middle East, dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis there. That’s why St. Matthews Area Ministries works with people in this neighborhood on food assistance, clothing, counseling, baby supplies, back to school, and birthday cakes.
Why? Because there is a power in this world, deeper than we are, beyond the overwhelming weighto fo opposition that we see, a power of love and beauty and hope and healing, that is bigger than we are, that comes to us in the cross, and carries us to the resurrection. There really is.
We are who we are and we do what we do because Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed, alleluia.
Okay, right. So Jesus says, anyone who does not hate mother and father, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself, the Greek word there is psukhay, which means the self or inner being, anyone who does not hate their inner being, who does not give up all of their possessions, cannot be my disciple.
One of the most difficult of Jesus’s teachings.
I guess I would like to start out by saying that Jesus is employing a form of speaking called hyperbole. This is a fifty cent word that means he is making his point by overstating his point.
Jesus does the same elsewhere when he says “If you eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Jesus does not mean that we should gouge out our eyes. He does mean, that we are done playing games. If we are addicted to alcohol or drugs or gambling or pornography, we don’t sit around saying stupid things like, “I can quit any time I want, I’m just not ready yet, and I am the one who has to say when I am ready.” No you’re not. God is the one who says when you are ready and God says you’re ready right now.” or, “I wouldn’t drink so much if it weren’t for her or him nagging all the time.” No. We check our egos at the door. We get into a program, and we work the program. If the program isn’t right for us, we either suck it in or find another program. If we fall off the wagon, that’s too bad. It happens. Get back on the wagon. Done playing games.
Same thing with society. If we see evil in society, we don’t just sit there yelling at the television. We choose what we’re called to address, then we get up and do something about it. Human trafficking, for example, people being used as sex slaves right here in good ole’ Louisville Kentucky. Women of the ELCA will be engaging this issue on their retreat in October. Stay tuned. We’re going to hear more about what we can do.
People with disabilities are taking a greater role in society. That’s a good thing. Our youth are a part of it. September 24, they are helping with Downs Syndrome Louisville walk. Stay tuned.
Done playing games.
In the same way, Jesus is not calling us to scream, purple faced at our brothers or sisters or children or parents, appealing as that idea might be upon occasion. Jesus is not calling us to hate. He is, however, pointing out God is more important than our possessions. God is more important than we are. God is more important than our families.
Thiws passage takes place on Jesu’s journey to Jerusalem. Large crowds are following Jesus. They think this is the way to success. They are going to get in on the ground floor of a major company. It’s going to be easy street from now on.
Jesus wants to make sure everybody understands that this is not easy street. He knows he is going to be executed as a revolutionary. Everyone associated with him is going to be in danger too. You know what Romans did to revolutionaries. They crucified them.
In Jesus’ day, being a Christian did not make your family look good. It made your family look bad. Your brother would lose business in the village because you ate dinner with a Samaritan. People would throw rocks at your house, maybe hit your niece or nephew because you had sheltered a refugee from the wrong country.
Being a Christian was dangerous then. It is dangerous now in some countries. And for us, I need to let you know that for us it is not easy street either. It’s a blessed street, but not easy.
There will come a time, sooner or later, when going to have to do things that make our parents or our children really mad. We will have to do them, not to assert our own autonomy or independence, to show somebody “you can’t tell me what to do,” nor to assert our own authority, to let everybody know who’s boss. But rather we will have to do them as a part of Jesus’ love at work in the world.
We live in a crazy, mixed up world. Our eyes are dim and our reality is distorted. So what we do out of Jesus’ love for people, might make our families angry.
There will come a time when we are required by the love of Christ, who cherishes us and all people, to give up ourselves. It’s going to feel like we are dying. If we are climbing out of addiction there will be days when we will feel like we are going to die if we don’t get that drink. Getting out of an abusive relationship, there are days when we feel so bad, we think we are going to die without that partner, even though they used to beat us or scream at us all the time, because sometimes that person was nice. We think we will die without that little bit of niceness.
There will come times on the job when we have to say no to a customer or client, or to our boss, for the sake of integrity. We may have to say “no” to a co-worker for the purpose of doing a good job. We might look bad to our co-workers. We might lose our job.
This is the journey of the cross. These choices do not come all the time. For some people they come more often than for others; for some people, they come more intensely than for others. For all of us, at some point or another, it will happen at some point or other. Not all the time.
What does happen all the time on the journey of the cross is this: We always give up our families, every day, so that we can receive them back, not as our family, but as God’s family.
We constantly give up ourselves, our inner being, every day, in order to receive ourselves back not as ourselves, but as emissaries of God’s hope and God’s life in the world.
We constantly give up our possessions, our food, our shelter, our safety, our security, so that we receive our possessions back again, not as our possessions any more, but as God’s possessions, tools we use to bless people and creation, and to celebrate life.
In our second lesson for today, Paul asks Philemon and Onesimus to walk the journey of the cross. The book of Philemon was used for centuries as a justification for slavery, because Paul sends a slave, Onesimus, back to his master, Philemon. Slave masters said that this proved slavery to be okay.
Nowadays, some people say that the book of Philemon should be thrown out because it does not explicitly condemn slavery, indeed, that the whole the Bible should be thrown out, because it fails to condemn slavery; fails to condemn spouse abuse and genocide and so on. They say we need a more enlightened guide.
I wonder what people will say about us in two hundred years. Because there are plenty of things happening now that are just as bad as slavery, that we don’t see, quite. That we don’t condemn. Our eyes are blurry, our reality distorted.
So is Paul’s. He does not support slavery. He does not condemn slavery. He insists that Philemon and Onesimus take the next step on their journey of the cross. Philemon must accept Onesimus, no longer as a slave, cowering and subservient. Philemon must give up his privilege, his illusion of superiority, his money—Onesimus was valuable as a slave—and meet him as a human being, a man, a brother. Paul also insists that Onesimus return to Philemon and regard Philemon not as a master, dominating and overpowering. Onesimus must even risk his safety in returning, because in Roman society, an escaped slave can be killed if recaptured. , but as a human being, a brother. Why? Because that is what they are in the eyes of God, no matter what society says. Paul insists that both men take a step on the journey of the cross.
So, now, the question comes to us, as we give up our families to receive them back not as our families but as God’s family, as we give go of ourselves to receive them back as not ourselves, but as emissaries of God’s life, we give up our possessions to receive them back as God’s possessions: what is the next step on the journey of the cross for us?