The road, the path, the way—Sep. 8, 2019

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
Psalm 1
Luke 14: 25-33

Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Perkasie, PA

These are hard and heavy words we hear from Scripture this morning. Jesus’ words seem not only impossible—to give up all our possessions, but to hate—literally to “love-less”—our beloved family members, this is completely counter-cultural. As individuals and a culture we stand accused by these words. How can we ever be disciples then? How can we ever walk the road Jesus laid out before us?

Well, the Book of Deuteronomy tells of a road as well. Here are Moses and the people, having been journeying for 40 years in their wilderness. This new generation is about to enter into their promised land, promised to their ancestors hundreds of years before, and this is the final clause of their new covenant with God.

Though many of the rules and laws in Deuteronomy are harsh or cruel, or just plain wrong to our modern ears—it’s important to acknowledge that these are ancient laws, devised for a very ancient people to appear special. The rules and regulations were designed to ensure justice between all people, to ensure that God’s people were pure and clean, that they would be a chosen nation, admired from afar. In these laws God had laid out a culturally specific road to life and peace, and not laws meant to be observed in our own time!

This was a road that would lead to a place where relationships would never fall apart, where no one would kill or take away life, where foreigners were always treated with dignity, where all people were invited to worship God together and remember their common history. And a place even where all debts were forgiven every 7 years!

This is the road of life and prosperity that God laid out. And through Moses, God says this should be an easy choice! Choose life! 

Now, the Bible is first and foremost a story, a narrative, with characters and plots, and a beginning and a middle and an end. Deuteronomy is the beginning of the story. The Israelites do cross the Jordan, yes, but as they set up shop in the new land that was promised to Abraham, things went from good to bad to worse quickly.

With folk-leaders (what we call “judges” from the book of Judges) that couldn’t lead or keep peace, the people begged for a king. Soon the kings locked up all the wealth, building big armies and oppressing the poor, widowed and orphans…

Prophets came and went, and pleaded with the people to return to the old road of life—the road of kindness and justice, and reject wealth and selfishness. These prophets were themselves rejected and often killed, and eventually the Israelites did lose this land of theirs. They were conquered and invaded by the Babylonians, and all that they built and strove for was lost.

The road of life became only a footpath, and then eventually only an overgrown trail, and a path apparently both hard to find or to follow.

So, not much was different when Jesus the miracle worker comes. This prophet and teacher from Israel, from Judea, our Jesus the incarnate Word of God, “the way” we even hear him called in the Gospel of John, was a hard path to follow. His invitation to return to the path of life is rejected again of course. A few chapters before this one in Luke today, Jesus had predicted his death, his rejection.

Back in chapter 9 in Luke’s story it goes like this: Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah, [the Christ,] of God.”

The Messiah is what the Israelites used to call their king, like King David—the anointed one, it means literally. Here, maybe Peter and the disciples saw Jesus as a road to glory, as a 4 lane highway back to the power and military might of the kings of the past.

But Luke’s Gospel goes on: He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Somehow, over the twists of time, the road of life and prosperity that God laid out, now looks like a path that leads to torture and death.

In today’s reading from Luke we’ve heard the same words to a larger audience. Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

If you ask most political philosophers or sociologists, I imagine they would tell you that the root of most societies, the foundation of most governments, is family. Here, Jesus turns the foundation of most cultures upside down. He says, in so many words, whoever comes to me and does not love their family less than they love me, can never walk the path of life I have laid out.

As you know, as we’ve been following Jesus and his teachings and actions in the Gospel of Luke this year his care is directed toward the sick, the bent over, and the outcast. No one is begrudging you the love you have for your families—the 4th of the 10 commandments of course is to honor your parents. But Jesus is showing what all the laws of Deuteronomy were meant to do in the first place, what the path of life really was to look like.

What it means to be disciples of Christ is to be moved with care for all of God’s creation—not just your own group.

What it means to walk this precarious path is to truly believe that we live in a Christ-soaked world. Every detained migrant child is the Christ-child. Every hungry belly is Christ tested in the wilderness. All bruised and broken bodies are the crucified Christ. All human beings, the ones you love and the ones you love to hate, all everything from atoms and molecules to energy—all was created in and through Christ.

And all service, all the giving, all the springs of compassion in our church are indeed Christ’s own healing service in the world as well. “God’s work, Our hands” is exactly the way to say it. We live in a Christ-soaked Church, too.

And yet, Jesus says in no uncertain terms our culture is blinded by sin. We value what we ought not value. We are lost. God pleads with you to see all the universe as your own flesh and blood. God wants so badly for you to be full of God’s own love for creation. And becoming human was how God chose to reveal this. Becoming weak for others. Becoming full of death, so we could be full of life.

Walking the dusty streets of Judea and Galilee Jesus of Nazareth shrewdly warns us today—this path of life really is a road of self-giving, of carrying the cross, of emptying ourselves out, not just for our families, but for all. It is a road that can often hurt, and definitely will bring bewilderment.

But the Psalmist writes we can trust this road will lead to the springs of eternity. Where we become like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in their season, and our leaves do not wither. In all that we do for others, we prosper. The path of life—Scripture tells us this morning—brings us to a place where we become like trees—the food, and the shelter, and even the air to breathe, for the whole world.

Amen.