September 4th, 2016: "A Full House!"

Text: Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18:   23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time        Sandy Nuernberg

Philemon 1-21; Luke 14: 25-33                16th Sunday after Pentecost                Pastor

Title: “A Full House!”                           Season of Peace Begins, Labor Day, Communion

First Presbyterian Church                    Sunday, September 4th, 2016               Pardeeville, WI

 

Please pray with me, Lord, as we listen to you and hear your Word, help us to see ourselves as you see us. Allow us now to humble ourselves before you, as your Son did, putting aside our pride, and following as your disciples, by your example. Help us to know the power of your reign in our lives. AMEN.

 

            Enjoyably, I travel quite a bit and I listen to Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) often in my adventures to places for my work, and play. Last Thursday, driving from home to my prison ministry in Fond du Lac at Taycheedah Correctional Institution, I listened to ‘The Ideas Network’ program (1-3pm) on “The Kathleen Dunn Show”; this one being appropriate concerning laboring, the work force, jobs. She promotes balanced discussions on issues of present day times. I’m not sure these were available to hear in Jesus’ day!

 

            Her guests (Thursday, 9-1-16) were a Latino man who owned a barbershop, a woman bus-driver, and a male teacher. They were asked about their professions, how they got them, the hours they worked, but importantly, do they like what they’ve done in the working force over the years? All liked where they were in their lives, especially where they are now in their lives. To a person all the callers’ in (from WI—Rice Lake, Milwaukee, Madison, Oregon, etc.) also admitted how grateful they were in making a living for their families. Even Dunn admitted she was surprised at the cumulative positive-ness of the various labor forces in our communities.

 

Jesus says to the crowds gathered ‘round:

 

“Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

                                                                                                            Luke 14:27

 

              In this light, when I read our text in Luke, it sounds a bit negative in pattern, sometimes misunderstood as far as our reflection and discernment of the core values and personal decisions we make as we live our lives in true Christian discipleship. I like present day (21st century!) examples, ideas for graceful discipleship. I’ll tell you why. Let’s ask ourselves what work God does for/with us? When did we feel ‘our’ foundation was constructed and completed through God’s work in us? Then, how does it affect our lives? 

 

            Like many of us, I’ve started many things I can’t seem to finish---from early on as a small child. I used to paint-by-number, have a box with the colors, canvas and pattern still ready to complete! Now I paint our home items: walls, furniture, patio wood-flooring. I have read for years, but lately keep the unfinished ones handy to get the urge to return to them! I have at least five knitting projects that I loved initially (mittens, sox, blanket, neck-scarf, vest), but they await my return for completion. I’ve even renewed making relationships with friends/family I’ve not seen for a long time, and I still can’t keep up with contacting and being with them. The list goes on, doesn’t it? Yet somehow, in all of it, I do feel that I’ve learned so much. Hopefully, I’ve made wise decisions, reached attended goals. And yes, I have completed some, a good share of those tasks.

 

I don’t think we can minimize that as Presbyterians, we’ve been educated soundly for our professions, we’ve missed family gatherings, special events (weddings, graduations, funerals, BIG celebrations) in order to meet our personal goals. I have been patient, lucky, and fortunate to accomplish my academic goals over the years. I’ve enjoyed every job (3 different areas) I’ve held in my lifetime—I’m so lucky! I hope many of you have too. OK, so what does it mean for Jesus to say, ‘carry the cross’ and follow me?

 

Jesus tells the crowds on his travels about not being with family---to give up our most important family values ( the English is ‘hate’, NRSV,CEB) in order to carry our cross and come along with him. He is not talking about leaving our families, being hostile, or having hatred; Jesus says discipleship is costly over human relationships---that’s tough for us to grasp, I think!

 

Jesus is talking about placing it all in perspective as we live our lives. He talks about the truth of God’s reign in our lives—and following it. That’s the cross we carry! He is stating the power and wisdom in God asking us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus is telling us we are to love our God with all our heart, soul, mind, body, and spirit. We need to take God seriously enough to realize the impact of the cheap grace we can make out of discipleship, thinking in our confession that we can stay as we are and not following Jesus’ commands. We need to know of God’s costly grace in being disciples.

 

A book by German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“The Cost of Discipleship,” published in 1937, German title, Nachfolge) is quoted often by conservative and liberal Christians on the topic of cheap vs. costly grace. It is considered a classic in Christian thought (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?), and is centered on what Bonhoeffer believes it means to follow Christ. He states, “…cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.” He contrasts that with costly grace that is, “a gracious call for us to follow Jesus, a grace because Jesus says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden light.’ He has a wonderful section on Onesimus, Philemon, and Paul, about master and slave as both being members of the body of Christ (p. 256-7—read it aloud!).

 

I met and heard Bonhoeffer’s niece, Dr. Renate Bethge (wife of Dr. Eberhard Bethge) speak to us at seminary (MTS, Nov.13th, 2001) about D. Bonhoeffer’s family and how they influenced his theology, and how Bonhoeffer influenced his family. She was quiet gracious, and gave us family-life situations they lived through. Ultimately, his costly discipleship cost Dietrich his life, as it was at the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany.  

 

God is comforting to us, as we hear the Psalmist (139th) tell us that God is acquainted with our ways, and anywhere we go, God is near. We will include this psalm in our prayers of the people today. The labors of God in/for our lives are not fathomable; God has work to do in us as God’s full house!

 

By the works of our Lord, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and how vast

are the thoughts of our God! God never lets us stay the same; God continuously works on us to change in becoming God’s disciples. When you and I ask about all the important things in our lives, what we can never ever let go of, might we ask ourselves, where God in Jesus Christ is in our lives?      

 

            The good news for us as we come to the table together, you and I, is that God’s work and ways and will for us are in building us into God’s design, God’s full house and in God’s plan alone. We need not worry, yet we need to recognize that God’s plan is not supplanted in exactness for us to determine at any one time. God’s plan encompasses our obedience and our disobedience, following and being led. Let us allow God to build and plant and mold and change us, as God’s people, individually, as a nation and as a kingdom, as ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.’ Let’s be part of God’s full house!

 

                                                            Thanks be to God.                        AMEN. 

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

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