Tell Me the Same Old Story

September 4, 2016
1 Comment

Deut. 13.15-20, Luke 14.25-33

‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life or death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God’.

I remember – when I was a priest in England – a very fine priest who had been made vicar of a parish in North Oxfordshire where I worked as the diocesan youth officer – it was a long time ago! He was as I remember a very fine preacher, but sadly within about a couple of months he’d fallen out severely with his new parishioners. What happened is that on his first Sunday he preached a superb sermon about the cost of discipleship. The parishioners were delighted and thanked him profusely after the service and told him how much they had been inspired by his words and passion.

Next Sunday more people were in church including virtually all those who had been there the week before, and they settled down to listen to another inspiring sermon. They were not-to be disappointed. Though as some of them left the church, they began to ask themselves. "Wasn't that the sermon we heard last week? It was very good and worth hearing again. What a good idea!"

Next Sunday more people as well as the regulars. And lo and behold the same sermon. Well it appears you can have too much of a good thing. Because after the fourth and fifth Sunday, parishioners were getting restless, and began to think that their new vicar must be a lazy man, in that he obviously couldn't be bothered to settle down and do the hard yards in writing a new sermon. In fact they began to wonder whether he had pinched this sermon from someone else. Their grumbling was passed on to the wardens of the parish, the Bishop received an anonymous letter of complaint and then finally the new vicar was challenged in the middle of the same sermon as he passionately delivered it by a very ardent and angry person in the pew.

The vicar's response was quite simple. He said to them 'some weeks ago you welcomed me as your new vicar and you complimented me hugely on my sermon about the cost of discipleship. You said that you found the sermon inspirational. And yet I have to say, that nothing has changed. Nothing I have said, though you told me it had really hit home and had been a powerful expression of the gospel, nothing has changed. So it seems to me I need to keep preaching you the same message until you take notice and act on these words of mine which you have found so inspirational.'

You see my friends, Sunday by Sunday preachers are essentially preaching the same message though most of us try different ways of dressing it up in order to get your attention and to make the point. Some of us are better than others, and I certainly don’t rank myself. Sunday by Sunday as the preacher climbs up into the pulpit and countless pulpits in myriads of churches and as the Victorian hymn puts he or she is there to –‘ tell me the old old story of Jesus and his love’

‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life or death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God’.

The readings we have today put it very succinctly and sharply. I offer you a choice says God between life and death. Choose life so that you and your children shall live! And what does that life look like – well you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. There is no greater love than this. And the cost of this love is that it comes before any other love or need or passion or desire. So anyone who does not hate father or mother or child for my sake cannot be a disciple of mine. I want to know what this "hate" thing is about. In the time of Jesus family/tribal affiliation was everything.. Everyone was "son of" or "daughter of." Entire families converted, or didn't. Families provided access, security, inheritance rights, a way to make a living.

And there were those who had no family connections to enable them to be part of their societies. Who were they? Of course, widows and orphans and aliens in a foreign land - marginalized. All these people were in such desperate disenfranchised straits because they did not have a family by which they were provided access to the means of survival.

Some scholars say this term translated as "hate" in this story was not a rejection but a different understanding of priorities. To hate one's family was a way of saying that family would not be the primary affiliation or the only choice. When we surrender to the empowering love of God and commit to discipleship, when we chose life over death, then we are re-framing our commitments to reach beyond our family to the whole of humanity. Who is my neighbour asks the young lawyer of Jesus? And we know his answer. Your neighbour is not simply someone from your own family or tribe. It is anyone who needs your care, love and protection.

Love of God is the core of what it means to be alive, what it means to be human, and it is only, only as we surrender to this empowering love, that we can reach out to others in love and learn to love as Jesus loved us. Then mother, father, child, the other take on a deeper significance because our love for them grows out of this love at the core of our being for Love itself, the God who is the ground of all that we are and all that we can aspire to, the love which shapes and makes us the people we were created to be, if we will allow it.

When Jesus sees the crowds, his instinct is not to wow them. His instinct is to make each person aware of the cost of being his disciple. It is this awareness of the journey of discipleship that brings about transformation. He tells the crowd that unless they can detach completely from everything they are holding onto emotionally and physically, they can never really be his disciples. He tells them – and us – that we have to detach from our family systems, from our very lives as we know them. We have to be ready to take up a cross.

‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life or death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God’.

We see in our own lives and in the patterns of behaviour around the world the cost of not surrendering to this primary love before all else. We see it in the greed and avarice and fear and power over that we see exerted over others.And I confess my own sin in this regard.

We see it in the 'it’s all about me' syndrome. Jesus lamented that in seeing we don't see, hearing we don't really hear, for else there would be a metamorphosis, a true turning around to live in the way that he challenges us to, a way that finds our true selves through our service of others for the sake of the risen Christ, becoming people who cannot see any other purpose in life other than making a difference for good which looks beyond ourselves to the well being of all others and the whole creation.

O that my love of God was less fickle than it is, then I know that I would learn what true happiness and peace is all about for in the midst of all the traumas and challenges of life, in its pain and desolation as well as those times of delight and joy, I would know a peace and a presence of love which is beyond and deeper than all this superficial emotional turmoil, but holds me in powerful embrace and gives me courage to defy all that separates and injures and destroys because I know that all that unites and heals and creates is stronger than anything, anything else. Life is stronger than death. Love is stronger than hate.

‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life or death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God’.

God, I surrender myself to you and I ask you, put an end to my restlessness.

I give you my will,
I do not believe any longer that I can answer myself,
What I am doing, and what is happening through me.,
Lead me and show me your will.

I give you my thoughts,
I do not believe that I am so intelligent that I can answer myself,,
My whole life or other people.,
Teach me to think your thoughts.

I give you my plans.,
I do not believe any longer that my life finds meaning,
In what I reach through my plans.,
I entrust myself to your plan for you know me.

My anxiety about other people I give to you.,
I do not believe any longer,
That with my anxiety I can improve anything.,
That remains with you. Why should I be anxious?

My anxiety about the power of others I give to you.,
You were powerless before the mighty.,
The mighty have fallen. You live.

My fear of my own failures I give to you.,
I do not have to be a successful person,
If I wish to be one blessed according to your will.

All insoluble questions, all discontent with myself,
All my crammed hopes I give to you.,
I give up running into locked doors and wait for you.,
You will open them.

I give you my self. I belong to you, God.,
You have me in your hand. I thank you.

^ top
Filed under Sermons

Add a comment1 Comment

Reply Mele Prescott | September 30th, 2016 at 2:26am
Greetings Dean Peter and the Taranaki Cathedral,

I am not one to leave comments so this is very rare for me to do this however, I was so moved by this sermon as it spoke volumes for me that I had to share what has been on my heart this season... The line that stood out for me in particular was:

"When Jesus sees the crowds, his instinct is not to wow them. His instinct is to make each person aware of the cost of being his disciple. It is this awareness of the journey of discipleship that brings about transformation."

'The Cost' of being Jesus' disciple I feel is something that students here at St John's College forget or I would not be surprise if they do not realise yet. I encountered God with this cost before my decision into priesthood. It was an experience that left me weeping on the floor of my room, prostrated and vulnerable before God. I realised right then in that moment what it was going to cost me - my broken and entire life! The question for me was, was I willing to give it all to God... ? A year and a half later, I am 2 months away from being ordained to the Diaconate, and eventually to Priesthood. God made me aware of the cost that day. I believe it does transform. For me it transformed how I saw and did life from that moment onwards! Especially how I see my Tongan culture, more specifically with family obligations and values. It is hard! It will bring you to your knees or flat on your face before God! And you will mourn your loss - Good! Then you'll truly know what Jesus meant by the cost of being his disciple.

Kororia ki te Atua!

I am so looking forward to seeing you all very soon... God bless!

Leave a comment

Fields marked * are required