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Sermon for September 4, 2022 – Proper 18

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4041 | Refresh the Hearts of the Saints
Greg Williams

Have you ever had friends who have hurt one another deeply and who are unable or unwilling to work together to heal the rift? Perhaps you have a deep desire for them to reconcile, and it hurts that it has not happened.

That’s what the Apostle Paul faced in his shortest letter, which he wrote to his friend, Philemon. Philemon was the previous master of Onesimus, who had been recently converted, and who now worked with Paul. Paul wanted slave and master to reconcile, so he sent Onesimus on a perilous journey to return to Philemon. Paul’s message of reconciliation is there for us to read, where he condenses his desire for their relationship to be restored by a simple phrase:

 “Refresh my heart in Christ.”

Paul’s heart, along with others who loved both Philemon and Onesimus, longed for healing. Paul’s appeal to Philemon was not something that could be easily ignored because, as Paul had pointed out earlier in the letter, Philemon enjoyed refreshing the hearts of others. Note Paul’s words to his friend:

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…
Philemon 1: 7-9 (ESV)

For the apostle Paul, the healing of relational rifts was a core part of the Gospel ministry – so much so that he reminded Philemon that he could be “bold enough in Christ to demand it.”  Paul knew Christ had given everything to enact reconciliation between God and man, and he often emphasized that we too ought to make every effort to bring reconciliation wherever we go. Yet here Paul chooses a path of loving guidance, knowing full well what was at stake for each person.

As a runaway slave, Onesimus put himself in great peril by returning to Philemon. Under Roman law he had no protection against Philemon’s wrath should Philemon not heed Paul’s plea. For Philemon, accepting Onesimus back and relinquishing his ownership of him would have had social ramifications that might lead to a loss of status and influence in his community. What Paul wanted from each was contrary to their own self-interest. Why risk it?

Because it would refresh the heart of Paul, and certainly the heart of God. That’s what reconciliation does; it refreshes the heart.

Sometimes our friends who need reconciliation might be like Onesimus and Philemon, and they need a prod. Sometimes it’s not our friends, and we need a prod. The road to reconciliation is fraught with challenges and calls for a depth of humility that we often struggle to muster. It often seems easier to simply cut a relationship loose and play the tired game of pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

Yet, for those on the outside, their hearts are grieved by the lack of restoration, and they eagerly wait for us as their friends to walk the often painful path of reconciliation that Jesus has laid out for us.

Through the great reconciler, we can have the courage and wisdom to take such a bold step. Do not shy away from the pain and struggle this will bring, for in so doing we refresh the heart of God, our hearts within, and the hearts of those around us.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 • Jeremiah 18:1-11 • Philemon 1-25 • Luke 14:25-33

As we enter our 18th week of Ordinary Time, we are brought to consider the implications of following God. Our theme this week is the often painful path to perfection. The Psalmist declares his amazement at the wonders of the life God has created for him to live. In Philemon we have a plea for reconciliation between two people who have had a painful rift in relationship. Jeremiah warns us that the process of being molded by God will at times be disruptive and uncomfortable. In our sermon passage, we are told that Jesus expects us to be willing to give up everything, including family, for his sake.

Spiritual Risk Assessments

Luke 14:25-33 (ESV)

“An untenable risk.” This is the term used to define the point at which a given course of action should no longer be pursued, or perhaps actively worked against. Companies performing risk assessments are expected to define untenable risks to their operations. For a powerplant, those risks might define the point of balance between operating safely and operating efficiently. For an investor, it’s when the risk of failure for a given project is too high to justify the cost of investing. For an individual, it could be when an exciting job opportunity is eclipsed by the upheaval the move would cause.

These risk assessments are examples of why it’s important to consider the implications of your actions and choices. They are perceived in Western culture as examples of prudence and responsibility. And they are reflections of a challenge that Jesus gave to his disciples 2000 years ago.

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus warns that complacently following Jesus is not enough—we need to think through the implications of that course of action. Let’s read what Jesus said to them.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33 ESV)

It is hard to read this passage of Scripture and not think of your siblings, parents, or spouse. It references those we love and asks a heart-piercing question, are you ready to place Jesus above all of them? In the risk assessment of our spiritual lives, is the cost of following Jesus more than we could bear? If you feel yourself thinking that it might be, it might reassure you to realize you’re not alone.

Even after decades of Christian living, this question will continue to lead passionate followers of Christ to a place of doubt. The cost seems too great, yet the reward is incalculable. The scale of our spiritual risk assessment teeters back and forth wildly. We know it will land on the side of our eternal relationship with God (Jesus has shown us that), but this doesn’t reduce the anguish caused at the thought of the sacrifices he is calling for.

So, let’s take a moment to break the text down a little further. What is it that Jesus is asking of his disciples in this passage?

Setting the bar high

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27 ESV)

Jesus does not mince words when he presents the disciples with his expectations. Jesus wants everything from us. He is presenting us with a core biblical teaching, the primacy of God. The Ten Commandments declared that we were to have no other God before him, and Jesus teaches us the heart of that law – there should be nothing in our lives set before God. When Jesus tells us to hate our family, he does not mean literally. We know this from looking elsewhere in Scripture. For example, he shows love for his mother and provides for her on the cross by charging John with her care. Furthermore, 1 John 4:20 tells us that the person who hates his brother cannot love God! So where does this leave us?

Jesus has shown us he desires love not hate, so we can say with confidence that here he is using exaggeration to stress the importance of a teaching. The extreme reaction we feel at the idea of hating our family is the intent behind Jesus’ teaching here, that aversion to hating them, should be reflected by an even greater love for God.

By setting his bar so high as to be unattainable, Jesus is setting out for us a lifelong goal of loving God more and more. The Christian walk is a constant struggle to put God in the proper place at the center of our lives. As long as he’s not there yet, we haven’t achieved the goal of loving him so much as to hate everything else.

Jesus does set within his example an achievable goal. Contrasted with the call to reject our family is a call to reject ourselves, take up our own cross and follow Jesus. Jesus has demonstrated we can follow through on this call. And that call to a sacrificial love that endures much is core to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus has called us to an often- painful path to perfection and he wants us to be aware of all that could come with it.

Doing the assessment

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:28-30 ESV)

For anyone who has done some renovations or overseen construction, the fear of unknown costs and setbacks is an ever-present reality. Common advice is to take the quote given to you and add at least twenty percent to determine your budget for the project. Falling short of the financial needs of such a project can have far-reaching consequences. A botched renovation can put the whole home at risk, and a half-finished building is a danger to those who enter it.

And it’s not a process that ends once the project begins. Progress reports, inflation costs, and fluctuation in markets are all things that seem irrelevant until they affect the things one must purchase. A change in the cost of lumber can have dire consequences when you’re building a wooden house!

It is an equally agonizing process for our spiritual lives. And it is appropriate to point out that while many of the would-be disciples Jesus was speaking to in this passage were new, some had been with him throughout his ministry. But that doesn’t reduce the need for these moments of introspective spiritual self-assessment. No doubt Judas did not always intend to betray Jesus, but at some point, he began to value something more than God. Perhaps it was money, or as portrayed in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, perhaps it was the ideal of a Jewish nation that did not jive with who Jesus was revealing himself to be. Regardless, something led him to conclude that the cost of discipleship was too great.

This call from Jesus to carefully assess the cost of following him is not completed the moment we declare him to be Lord. Rather, it should become a regular practice to think about the depth of the call God has made to us.

A forecast less dire than it might seem

Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:31-33 ESV)

Everything that we’ve discussed so far could lead us to the conclusion that the Christian life is one of joyless introspection and confessions of inadequacy. Indeed, taken alone, this passage could lead us to the conclusion that since we fall short of perfection, perhaps we should just give up. Thankfully this passage does not sit alone. Luke takes pains to emphasise to us that the calling of Christ is one that requires complete and utter devotion, a devotion we are unable to provide.

Our passage today comes before the parables of the lost sheep, coin, and son. All these parables speak of the incredible love of God that is present amid the failures of his children. Where there is a gap in our ability to relate to God, Jesus steps in and fills that gap. An allusion to this can be seen in the final example Jesus gives in this passage: the king who is not capable of fighting the enemy coming toward him. In this example, a cost is going to be paid regardless – the other king is coming to wage war on him. While the man thinking about building his tower can simply decide not to build it, the king cannot simply decide to ignore the army that is approaching his lands.

Counting his cost, he realizes he comes up short. But that is not the end of his narrative; the parable does not conclude with his defeat and death. Instead, the king realizes his need to seek the mercy of his opponent. Like this king, we found ourselves in conflict with a foe impossibly beyond us. But this foe is not Satan, or sin, but rather God himself. In our past rebellion, we found ourselves aligned against the Creator of all things. Jesus refers to this when he tells the apostle Paul in a vision “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14b). Opposition to God is an exercise in futility, much the same as this king’s war.

If the king had insisted on his own rule and way, he would have found himself not just without crown or country but also without his life. Instead, he must sue for peace, he must give up the crown and country, he must “renounce all he has.”

On the path to salvation, destruction is found in every direction except the narrow path that leads to Jesus. The cost of discipleship is not just about counting what we must give up to follow Jesus, it is also about recognizing how much greater is the loss of not following him. This is the point of Jesus’ lesson. Without him there is no life, no resurrection, no hope, and no future. Without him you would have no mother, father, brother, or sister. Without him there is no narrow path to keep to.

When we count the cost of discipleship, we will consistently find we are incapable of providing what is required. We too need to realize our need for mercy and grace. Counting the cost does not lead us to the conclusion that we will pay and sacrifice what is needed—it leads us to the conclusion that we cannot pay or sacrifice enough. But we do not despair. Our inability is contrasted by the Holy Spirit’s ability and desire to take hold of us and lead us back to the foot of the cross. It recalls the costly price that has been paid for us by Jesus, and the horrific cost we would endure if it had not been paid. And it is in light of his loving sacrifice that we once more commit to acknowledging him as the center of our lives.

Let’s conclude with the powerful words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “Ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W1

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September 4 – Proper 18
Luke 14:25-33 “Gospel Priorities”

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Program Transcript


Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W1

Anthony: I’ll read our first pericope, Luke 14:25-33. It’s from the New International Version. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 18, in Ordinary Time, on September 4.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Now Rex, Jesus here has a very interesting way of recruiting disciples by telling them the ways they cannot be his disciple. What do you make of this high calling Jesus gives us as disciples?

Rex: It’s very different from how our leaders would recruit people to follow them. Whereas here, if Jesus is recruiting people and he’s laying down all these qualifications or criteria, the immediate response of people may be – perhaps people who are reading this now, they’re like, man, he’s making it really difficult for me to follow him! Especially, he says, if anyone comes to me and does not hate. A lot of people would need to understand why it was worded that way. It says if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife, children; it’s hate everybody including yourself.

But no, but we can understand that this is not about your emotion. It’s about your attitude. It’s about your mode of action toward the people you care most about. It doesn’t mean that you hate them. We read in Matthew 10:37 – Well, Matthew 10:37 softened that line. And for us, we understand it now as to love them less, that Jesus is your number one priority.

Of course, you love your parents, your brothers, your family, but that relationship, all of the relationships we have, they take second priority. Jesus is going to be our all in all.

And this is a very challenging criteria because come to think of it, many times we are torn between what we need to take care of – our priorities, our plans, our goals, but Jesus Christ here is telling us that we need to make that choice.

We need to make that commitment. That part of it is counting the cost and it cost that much to follow Jesus. Remember here, large crowds were traveling or following him. And then Jesus turned around and said, “Hey, if anyone wants to follow me, do this. Or unless you do this, you cannot be my disciple.”

And I’m just wondering, how did they react? What! You’re making it more difficult for us to follow you.

But now we can understand that when we consider being a follower of Jesus, we really need to count the cost. What are we doing? What are we going to prioritize? What are the things in our lives that we need to sacrifice or to let go?

Anthony: It’s interesting to me, Rex, that as we think about this passage, Christologically, Christ-centered, Jesus is never asking us to do something that we don’t see inherent in him. In other words, in his own journey on earth, we see him doing these very things he’s saying with his own family. Many of his own family members didn’t believe him in terms of who he was, but he, in obedience to the Father, went to his death, even death on a cross. And that had to be painful for his own family, but his priority was the Father’s priorities for his life.

And I think we see what he’s saying, in reality in Jesus, don’t we?

Rex: Yeah. And whoever does not carry their cross… just like what you said, Jesus did not say these things as if it was something that he wasn’t going to do. He did. He carried that cross, and he’s calling us to do the same to consider the spiritual sacrifice.

It’s like marriage, you don’t approach it haphazardly. You really think about it. What can I give? How can I really follow through with my commitments? What do I need to realign or reorder in my life or reenter in my life so that I can do this?

And the example here of building a tower, estimating how much money it would cost to complete it, or even a king going to war – it’s just us being mindfully aware of the cost. Because we really need to understand that we need to count the cause in the light of who Jesus is as well. That he is the God who never gives up, despite all the challenges we may face, despite the discouragement we may face. We can count all those things, but we can be encouraged knowing that we are not alone, that Jesus Christ is the one who’s leading us, is taking care of us. He’s our victory in all of these things. And that’s why we cannot follow him on our own. He’s the one who strengthen us, who is strengthening us to follow him and to even follow through in those commitments.

Anthony: You’ve mentioned counting the cost several times now. And I’m curious – we know that all Scripture points to Jesus. He said so himself as he was walking with the brothers on the Emmaus road. I’m curious, how can we interpret counting the cost in light of the God revealed in Jesus Christ?

Rex: If we can understand or even just reflect on what Jesus did, how much sacrifice he offered so that we can totally understand the depth of his love.

And his sacrifices will always point to us the victory has been won for us. It’s a done deal. We just need to appropriate in our lives all the things that have been promised for us and walk with courage that we’re not doing this out of our own strength. It’s him. It’s Jesus Christ sustaining us.

We count the cost. In other studies about this word, I heard a pastor said counting the cost would also mean bringing along our unlikeness, how far we are from the image of Jesus, bringing all of these things, our imperfections, all our brokenness, bring them all as we follow Jesus Christ. Because in the process of following, in the process of obeying and surrendering, we become transformed into his image.

Anthony: Yeah. Bring our whole self; that is what courage is. Wholeheartedness – our whole self. So, as I think about this per Rex: following Jesus is walking as he walks by the Spirit and sometimes, we call that discipleship. And I’m just curious as you exegete this passage, what really is discipleship about?

Rex: For me, discipleship is following Jesus. It’s about surrendering our relationships to him. Discipleship means giving up anything that takes precedence over Jesus Christ in my life. That means anything that gives me identity or security because he is to be my all in all.

And, this is not predicated upon my ability to do all those things, but I’m reminded of Philippians 1:6. It’s the deeper realization that Jesus has already started to work in us. And he will be faithful to complete it.

It’s about walking a daily walk with Jesus, asking Jesus, what do you want me to do today? Or where do you want me to join you? What are you telling me today? Or what do I need to surrender to you? What do I have to give? And it’s a real intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and it’s not … Discipleship, sometimes people get a little triggered with the word discipleship, because it can mean for many people a very structured program.

It’s about following Jesus. It’s about knowing him. It’s about experiencing him. When we pastor say, the Lord loves you, that for us is an experiential reality for us, rather than a theological concept.

So yeah, it’s a daily walk: Jesus, lead me today. Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do? Use me in according to your divine pleasure. Use me. Make me a vessel or whatever you can do.

Anthony: Yeah. There is a big gap, is there not, between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus, relationally?

And we think about the triune persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. They’re persons – as in they’re personal, so of course the walk is going to be personal, is it not?

And I appreciated what you said. Sometimes we can be so structured. And structure matters; don’t get me wrong. But we can be so structured that it almost squeezes the life out of just walking with him in the cool of the evening, harkening back to Genesis and just talking with the Lord in that way. So yeah, that’s good. Thank you, Rex.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Were you reminded of a relationship in your life in need of reconciliation by that message? If so, how might you go about participating in that reconciliation?
  • How might you go about “refreshing the hearts of the saints” this week?

From the Sermon

  • Have you ever found Jesus’ call for complete and utter devotion intimidating? What might you fear losing in your commitment to him?
  • Do you take the time to “count the cost” of your faith as part of your spiritual disciplines? Share how you’d go about doing it.
  • Bonhoeffer pointed out that the cost of discipleship is ultimately paid by Jesus, and that it is for this reason that we should be faithful in our following of his calling. How does the costly grace freely given by Jesus encourage you in how you live your life?

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