St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-04-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-04-2016

Jeremiah 18:1-11, Philemon 1:1-21, Luke 14:25-33

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Here at St. Matthew’s we follow the Common Lectionary for our Sunday Scripture readings. I’m glad for this, I may have mentioned before that I like to follow those readings, rather than choose my own; I like the challenge of preaching on the assigned readings, rather than the easy route of picking my own; I like the diversity it brings into my sermons rather than my own focus points; it assures that I am covering most of the Bible without neglecting certain books; and it keeps me constantly aware of the differences in the message from book to book, especially in the four Gospels.

Sometimes, when I read the text for a particular Sunday, something in it will jump right out at me and I quickly know what my focus will be. Other times I’m not that quick to find my focus and I will dig harder, looking at various translations, translation problems, or refer to other commentaries until I find what I feel needs to be said about the reading at hand.

And then sometimes, like for today, I read something like “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” and I think to myself, “what in the world am I supposed to do with this”?! It seems so harsh; it doesn’t even sound like the Jesus I know and love, full of grace and assurance; and it doesn’t lend to the joy of discipleship that I live in and like to talk to others about!

I looked hard, I dug deep: Translation problems? No, there are none here, it really does read “…hate father and mother, wife and children…” No other reliable translations can vary the language found. The only other Gospel that contains something close to this is Matthew where we read, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matt. 10:37). But, of course, there’s a big difference between loving one more or less than another and “hating” the other. Then I looked to one of my trusted lectionary commentators and found that, even though they usually offer commentary on the Gospel reading with an alternative on the Epistle, for this week they oddly elected to address the Epistle reading from Philemon with an alternate take on… Philemon.

Then, I looked at the all important context of the reading; what came before it and what follows. Just before this is the story of a man who planned a big banquet and, when the time came and all was ready, every one of the invited guests had an excuse for not attending and didn’t come. (Luke 14:16-23) And following is the story of a man who lost a sheep and searches until he finds it and a woman who lost a coin and does likewise; both stories ending with Jesus saying “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7).

Both of these are happy, hopeful stories! They tell us how God invites the downtrodden into the feast of the kingdom and how joyful God is when a sinner turns his or her life around and moves toward his will rather than continuing away from it.

Yet, here in between them we are told that we must “…hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters …even life itself”!

Of all the reading I did to try to find a way to deal with this passage, the best (or at least most comfortable) suggestion I could find was to read it as hyperbole; that is to take it as an exaggeration; something Jesus said, not intended to be taken literally, but to place extreme emphasis on the personal cost of discipleship and the seriousness with which deciding to be his follower must be weighed.

I guess that may be so, thinking of hyperbole certainly makes the verse easier to swallow. But even if that’s truth, it shouldn’t allow us to breathe a sigh of relief because if the extreme emphasis remains; if Jesus was so concerned about us getting the message of the cost of discipleship to use the word “hate” in his statement, then we must still take it just as seriously as if he meant it literally! We still need to determine if we can complete our towers before we begin to build them; we must calculate whether or not we can win the fight before we engage in it.

When we think of God as the one inviting us to a great banquet, even if we aren’t able to repay our host, we receive the message of God’s Grace. When we think of God and Christ searching for us like lost sheep, and rejoicing over us as we are returned to the fold, we receive the message of God’s love for each and every one of us. Yet, even though we cannot earn what God offers, (otherwise it wouldn’t be Grace), it doesn’t mean that we have no responsibility when receiving any and all of God’s gifts.

Through Moses, God entered into covenantal relationship with ancient Israel saying, “I will be your God and you will be my people”. He didn’t say “if” at either end of that statement. It wasn’t conditional; “I will be your God and you will be my people.

God made that offer free of charge; the only payment due in that covenant was Israel’s loyalty!

Through Christ, God entered into a new covenant with all the world! Christ paid all charges for that with his life; the only thing required of us is… our loyalty!

Today’s reading is sandwiched between a story of the redemption and freedom Jesus brings to us and the story of his seeking the lost and rejoicing when they are found. These are joyful, comforting thoughts. But, here, in between comes the reminder that, even though they are offered as Gifts (along with everything else we freely receive) they do not come without obligation.


When I write the sermons you hear I often show you how I found my way to the conclusions I make. I do not do this to justify my findings, nor to show-off my exegetical skills. Rather, as I do so I hope that you may learn some skills yourself to use in your private Bible reading and reflection.

Today I put even more time and ink into this explanation than usual and added the difficulty I had with this challenging piece of scripture. But I didn’t do this to show you how hard it is to do my job, rather, to demonstrate how serious this reading is to our understanding of God’s covenantal relationship with us.

God called me into ministry. And, through the Holy Spirit, he graciously gave me the strength, knowledge, and wisdom to carry out that ministry. Even though these gifts were given freely (just like redemption and forgiveness) I have an obligation within our covenant; I am obligated to do the hard work of putting those God given gifts to good use, to not shy away from the challenges, to not take the easy road when the most need is along the hard road.

You are also called! Perhaps not in the capacity that I am, but called none-the-less. You have received gift after gift, freely given but not without obligation. It is up to you to uphold your end of the covenant; to take those gifts, dig deep to find their best use, step out of your comfort zone, and  do the hard work of becoming true disciples of Christ; facing the challenges, making the sacrifices, following Christ where he leads you, and doing what he calls you to do.


We are all invited to a great feast; we cannot be making excuses for not joining our host. At the same time we are called to service and service requires sacrifice; our loyalty is required, we must be willing to accept the responsibility. Amen



Jeremiah 18:1-11
18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
18:2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”
18:3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.
18:4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
18:5 Then the word of the LORD came to me:
18:6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
18:7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,
18:8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.
18:9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,
18:10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
18:11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.


Philemon 1:1-21
1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker,
1:2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1:4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God
1:5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.
1:6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.
1:7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
1:8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty,
1:9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love–and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.
1:10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.
1:11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.
1:12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
1:13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel;
1:14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.
1:15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever,
1:16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother–especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
1:17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.
1:18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.
1:19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.
1:20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.
1:21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Luke 14:25-33
14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,
14:26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
14:27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?
14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,
14:30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
14:31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?
14:32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
14:33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.