Saturday, September 7, 2013

Christ is our Salt

Sermon on Luke 14:25-35

For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI

September 8, 2013 (Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Do you think you have what it takes to be a Christ-follower? Do you think you have what it takes to be a soldier in God’s army? Do you think you have what it takes to be one whose life and ministry is devoted to serving Him? Do you think you have what it takes to be . . . a Christian? Well, if so, you’ve got a problem. A huge problem. You haven’t counted the cost. You haven’t realized how big your sin is, if you think you in any sense can do what God commands and desires from His people. That’s the problem with most of what passes for Christianity today. That’s the problem with much of what passes for Christianity even in conservative churches. That’s the problem with most of what passes for youth ministry in the vast majority of churches in our nation. That’s the problem with what passes for Christianity even among those who wish to make a career out of serving God by being employed by the Church in one capacity or another. In fact, that latter category, in which I include myself, by the way, is in the worst danger of all here. It is those who are constantly doing something that is obviously and openly “for God” that are in the greatest danger of thinking that they’re actually contributing something to their relationship with Him. It is especially easy for those whose daily work is done in relation to the Church to get their faith in God mixed up in their own work for Him. And that’s why (and by the way I’m still speaking autobiographically here) it is so easy for those who have been trained for such work to fall into anger and even despair when things happen which take that career that is supposedly devoted to God away from them. See? I’ve left everyone behind, gone to a Church college when I could have been going to a party school, studied theology and lived among people who are also desiring to “serve God,” and done all this stuff that proves I put Him first, and then it all gets taken away from me, and I end up working at Walmart. How could God do that to me after everything I’ve done for Him? How could God despise and ignore how much and how well I’ve devoted my heart to Him?
Well, here’s the problem. Someone who talks that way is not loving God above all things. He’s not hating even his own life for the sake of Jesus. Yes, one can say that he puts God before father, mother, wife, children, and so on. And much harm has been done to pastors’ and church workers’ families because they misunderstood this text as if putting their own church career before their family were what God demanded here. But who is the subject of the verbs? Who is the one doing the doing, if you really think you’re doing what Jesus says here? It’s not God. The subject of all those verbs is the Christian, not the Christ. The one who thinks he can do what Jesus is talking about here, is the one who has the least understanding of what Jesus is talking about.
You see, hating your own life doesn’t mean that you act like some medieval monk, thinking you’re more holy because you’ve supposedly devoted yourself (and even your entire career) to serving the external institution we often think of as the Church. Hating your own life means that you realize that there’s nothing you can do to improve your relationship to God. Hating your own life means that even those life choices you have made that are supposedly sanctified, supposedly more Godly than the vast majority of your peers and your neighbors, is not worth a single thing before God. Hating your own life means realizing that even your best good works, even your most fervent consecration to Him, even your most pious desire to devote yourself to Him, is nothing. In fact, those things are even worse than nothing, because it is precisely those things that get in the way of our true relationship with Him.
You see, before we can approach Him at all, we need to count the cost. But what is the cost of approaching God? What do we need to have in order to come and meet Him with our own resources and our own piety and our own holiness? Perfection. And not just outward moral perfection, but perfect humility, too, because pride itself is nothing but idolatry. And that includes especially pride in one’s own good works, and one’s supposed consecration to Him. That pride, that idea that you think you can please God on your own terms, is itself idolatry. It is nothing less than worship of yourself.
So, do you have what it takes to come to God on your terms? Do you have enough good works banked up to build a tower from here to God’s throne in heaven? Do you have enough of those we have brought to the church by our own witness and our own example of living a Godly life, to storm the gates of heaven? Do you? If you think you do, then you’re a fool. You haven’t given up father or mother or wife or children, let alone your own self, if you think that anything you’ve been or done in this world is going to help you in the slightest before Him. In fact, instead of giving up on yourself, you’re treating yourself as if you are God. You’re actually destroying in yourself the salt that you claim to have. You’re actually proving yourself to be unsalty salt, worthless salt, if you think that anything you do can change God’s heart in the slightest.
Which is why it is only the One who made Himself nothing who can save us. It is only the One who gave up everything, and quite literally hated his own life (to the point of willingly allowing it to be taken from Him on the cross) who can conquer heaven for us. It is only the One whose greatest work of carpentry was wooden fixture He didn’t even build but from which He was hung, who can build us a dwelling in His Father’s house. It is only the one who really did give it all up who can truly accomplish anything before God, precisely because He is God of God, light of light, very God of very God.
And so, because we know that we can’t do anything for Him, that we can relax in everything He has done for us. We can make all sorts of decisions about our life. We don’t have to do something to prove ourselves to God, because He’s the one that has made us salty and useful in His kingdom. We don’t have to turn ourselves into monks by spending all our time and energy at Church to the detriment of our own families, because our families are also gifts of God who also stand in need of our loving service. My job at Walmart is just as much a service to God and my neighbor as is my job standing here and preaching His Word on Sunday mornings. It’s not about me or what I do for Him. It’s about Him, and what He has done for me and continues to do through me. That’s what being salt for the world is about. It is He who is the salt and the light of the world. When we try to be the salt and light by what we do, we dilute and ultimately destroy the true salt and the true light, which is Jesus Christ Himself. But because He is the true salt and the true light, we go through our lives and even come to heaven itself, knowing that the cost has already been counted, the victory has already been won, and we don’t need to worry about it. Heaven is already ours. We have no need to prove ourselves. We simply get to live the life He has given to us to live, both now and in eternity. Amen.
+Soli Deo Gloria+

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