Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sermon; Proper 18C; Deut. 30:15-20, Luke 14:25-33

What connections do you hear today between the first reading and the gospel?  What connections can you make between this portion of Moses’ long sermon we call Deuteronomy with its focus on blessings and curses, and that of Luke’s’ gospel with Jesus telling us to hate both family and life as well as asking us to give up all our possessions?

As you might imagine, this is one of the more difficult Sundays in which to make a connection.  The first time I read through the lessons, I’m sure I made some comment wondering what the committee was thinking when they paired these two readings together.

The Israelites are about to cross over into the Promised Land and Moses comes down on them with benedictions and maledictions, blessings and curses, warning them that they will perish if they stray.  Moses advises his people to choose God so that they and their descendants may live long in the land God is giving them.  And in the gospel lesson, we get Jesus telling a group of followers that they must hate family members and life, they must count the cost of discipleship, and they must be willing to give up all they have for the sake of the gospel.

And therein lays the connection – counting the cost and making a daily choice to follow God.

In the lesson from Deuteronomy we hear the word “today” four times.  In Deuteronomy as a whole, we hear that word 59 times; that’s just under twice as many times as its next closest competitor.  That’s significant.  It’s significant because Moses (or whoever wrote this) is reiterating God’s covenant with his people.  He is reminding them that this is doable – God’s commands are not beyond the people’s ability to understand and act on them.  Before crossing into the Promised Land, they must decide who they will follow – God or self.  They, and all readers of Deuteronomy, are called to make that decision every day.  Today choose God.

Some scholars believe that these later parts of Deuteronomy were written after the Exile.  I mention this because, if true, we have a book that lays out a choice for those people standing on the border of the Promised Land, as well as laying out a reminder of how previous generations could have chosen better.  These later audiences were left to wonder, “Can we succeed when our parents failed?”

But for everyone who reads Deuteronomy – the original audience, a later post-exilic audience, or ourselves – these words stand out: This commandment today is not too hard nor too far away.  And that choice to follow God’s commandment is made every day.

In today’s gospel we are also asked to make choices.  At this point in Luke’s gospel we are past the point of no return.  In other words, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and can’t, or won’t, be turned aside.  In today’s passage we hear that large crowds have gathered around and are now traveling with him.  It is to these newly formed followers that Jesus addresses his comments.

It seems these followers making up the crowds are new to the mission.  They have heard of his miraculous works and his debates with the Pharisees and other leaders, and they decide this is who they want to side with.  They see Jesus as a winner and they want to be on the winning side.  The problem is, though, that they have no idea what being on the winning side entails.  In this case, being on the winning side ultimately means death by crucifixion.

When Jesus addresses the crowd, he is putting forth extreme, but realistic, expectations on his would-be followers.  “You think you want to follow me?  This is what you must be prepared for.”

You must be prepared to tell your family that I am more important than them.  You must be prepared to stand in the face of intense opposition.  You must be prepared to give up your very life for my sake. 

At last Wednesday’s Eucharist we commemorated Paul Jones, Episcopal bishop to the missionary district of Utah.  His understanding of the gospel led him to oppose WWI and publically claim that war is unchristian.  Because of his anti-war stance in the face of a pro-war majority, the House of Bishops forced him to resign as bishop of Utah.  He was prepared to give up everything for the sake of a gospel that commands us to love our neighbors and enemies.

If you want to follow Jesus, you must be willing to carry the cross to Jerusalem.

Like the man who wanted to build a tower, or a king faced with invaders, we must count the cost and make a decision to follow Christ every day.  What will it take to be a disciple?  What must I give up?  Am I willing to pay the price, make the sacrifice or meet the demands of discipleship?

This is what we must do every day, because every day presents us with new challenges and new distractions.  Every day we are confronted with competing loyalties – family, friends, work, hobbies, or other distractions.  Every day we choose which of these take precedence.  And every day we must realize that the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ must not only take precedence, it must redefine all other aspects of our life.

With that in mind, the connection and mandate of these two passages is clear: count the cost of discipleship; redefine your priorities in light of the gospel; choose this day to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul, and to love you neighbor as yourself.

Today the gospel is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.  And as always, the choice is yours.



Patience | 5:54 PM, September 08, 2013  

Amen indeed. A different direction than the sermon here, but still a solid angle. (That's one of the awesome things about Episcopalians - there's so many different angles and approaches to Scripture, and none of them are seen as lesser. It's awesome.)

Mostly though I'm commenting because I just noticed something, and was wondering if you could clear it up. You title your sermon here "Proper 18C," which I assume means the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, because the bulletins here for today were titled "The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (18th Proper)," or something very like that, I may be misremembering slightly. We had two weeks that the rector was on vacation and we had a lay preacher rather than an ordained priest to give the homily, and therefore no Eucharist - is that why the count would be different?

(Er, sorry for the long-winded thing. Just curious.)

Reverend Ref + | 10:38 PM, September 08, 2013  

Thanks for your comment.

Let me see if I can give a succinct answer to your question (which is never certain when dealing with the calendar).

Your bulletins were titled correctly: today is the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, and the 18th Proper. We are in Year C, so today is Proper 18C.

The Sundays after Pentecost are numbered consecutively from, well, the first Sunday after Pentecost (which is also Trinity Sunday). Because Easter moves from year to year, Pentecost also moves from year to year, so the actual dates of the Sundays after Pentecost change.

The Sunday Propers, though, are always fixed around a particular day. So Proper 18 is the Sunday closest to September 7.

Regardless of what Sunday after Pentecost today would have been (14, 16, 15, 13), the Sunday closest to September 7 will always be Proper 18.

Hope that clears it up for you.

Patience | 3:18 AM, September 09, 2013  

Ah! That does make sense - thank you muchly for the explanation. (I'm still a bit fuzzy on Sunday Propers, but I suspect looking at a pen-and-ink calendar will fix that one.), follow-up question, though, sorry. Why is this Year C?

Reverend Ref + | 12:21 PM, September 09, 2013  

To answer your second question, the Sunday Lectionary is divided up into a three-year cycle: A, B & C. Page 888 of the BCP tells you how to figure out which year, but I always found that to be complicated. So here's how I do it:

With the exception of Advent (and basically Christmas), take the year and divide it by three. If there is a remainder of 1, it's Year A; a remainder of 2, it's Year B; no remainder is Year C.

2013 is evenly divisible by 3, so we are in Year C. We will change to Year A on 1 Advent (Dec. 1 this year).

On a related note, the Daily Lectionary is a two-year cycle, Years 1 & 2. Again, except for Advent, if the year is odd, use Year 1; if the year is even, use Year 2.

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