Christ Lutheran Community Church
Christ Lutheran Community Church
September 8, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Life and Possessions"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 1, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33
Large crowds were following Jesus. In our eyes, that sounds like a sign of success. Popularity and fame are things that we often aspire to. But in the Bible, that old adage holds true: the masses are always wrong. Whenever large crowds start to follow Jesus, Jesus becomes wary and distrustful, perhaps because they are following him for the wrong reasons. The crowds see all of Jesus’ miracles… they see how he is sticking it to the man… so they follow Jesus in order to align themselves with a winner. But Jesus wants his followers to be clear-eyed about what they are getting themselves into. Winning is not his goal. He is journeying toward Jerusalem, not to win an election or to win control of the levers of power. He is journeying toward Jerusalem to lose his life on a cross. So Jesus uses strong language to warn the crowds about the cost of being a disciple: “If you don’t hate your mother and father, wife and children, sister and brother, you cannot be my disciple… if you don’t carry your cross, you cannot be my disciple… if you don’t give up all your possessions, you cannot be my disciple.”
Today is National Grandparents Day, so as Godly Play begins again for the school year, we have invited grandparents to bring their grandchildren to church and Sunday School… which makes me very glad that Jesus didn’t include grandparents in the list of family members that we are supposed to hate. That would be really embarrassing to invite a room-full of grandparents here and tell them that Jesus wants them to hate their grandchildren. Actually, as someone who loved his parents, I find Jesus’ words about hating father and mother pretty distressing and my guess is most of you do as well. What are we to say about this teaching?
Well, it’s worth noting that what Jesus says here about hating father and mother, wife and children, sister and brother seems to contradict what Jesus says elsewhere about love. Elsewhere, Jesus tells his disciples to love their enemies. And he tells a would-be follower to “love your neighbor as yourself.” So, I don’t think Jesus means we should love our enemies and hate our families. I think what Jesus says at the end of our reading about giving up our possessions informs what he says about hating our families. What Jesus seems to be saying is that we need to be willing to let go of all those things that we cling to for life. A possessive attitude toward things or people is not a life-giving attitude. Life comes from being in a right relationship with God and with others. Possessiveness, ownership, a desire to control… that’s not a life-giving relationship; that’s a death-inducing relationship.
We human beings don’t actually own anything. We come into this world empty-handed and we leave empty handed. This idea that we own things is a lie that we tell ourselves, and it’s one of the most destructive of all lies because it deludes us into thinking that we can do whatever we want with the things we claim to own. We’ve all seen instances of parents who try to control their children and children who try to control their parents. We’ve seen the consequences of humanity trying to control nature. That desire to control and possess leads to death… it kills our relationships with the things we try to possess.
In Paul’s letter to Philemon, Paul challenges Philemon to give up his delusion of ownership. We don’t know the exact relationship between Philemon and Onesimus. Many scholars believe that Onesimus was a run-away slave. But there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that that’s the case. Some scholars believe that Onesimus was Philemon’s brother and that Onesimus was in debt to Philemon. In any case, Philemon seems to think that he is entitled to something from Onesimus, something that would put Onesimus in a subordinate relationship to Philemon. Paul encourages Philemon to let go of that possessive mindset. Paul reminds Philemon that in Christ we are all brothers and sisters. In Christ, we are no longer slaves to anyone but God.
Just as an aside, if you ever want an example of how NOT to interpret the Bible, look at how people throughout history have interpreted Paul’s letter to Philemon. Instead of seeing this letter as a radical protest against the idea of ownership, people have used the letter to justify slavery. There is nothing in this letter to indicate that Paul is okay with the idea of one person owning another person. Rather, Paul seems to be saying the exact opposite. Slavery is wrong. That’s the overarching message of the entire Bible.
Jesus says, “None of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Giving up our possessions is not really an option for us. It happens whether we like it or not. That’s what death is all about. Death takes away the things we claim to own. So, if you are planning a life for yourself, you need to take death into account. Otherwise, you’ll be like the builder who ran out of money before his tower was completed, or the king who waged war without knowing the size of the army he was up against.
Death takes away our possessions, but death is not the end of the story. Life is the end of the story. Jesus is going to Jerusalem not only to die on the cross, but to show that life is stronger than death. Jesus gives up his life on a cross in order to rise again into a life that death cannot destroy.
In the coming year, each one of us will be asked to give up our possessions. It’s impossible to say right now which ones we will have to let go of. We may lose a family member, we may lose our independence, we may lose our job, we may lose our youth, our health. It can be scary. Who knows what lies ahead? WE do! What know that life lies ahead of us… life with God and life with a beloved family whose numbers exceed the stars in heaven.
Accepting this truth is the key to a life of freedom and joy. Loss is as inevitable as it is painful, but in Christ the seeds of new life are planted in each loss. As we begin a new school year, may the freedom and joy that we have in Christ give us courage to follow him each step of our journey.