The Sunday Sermon – June 29, 2016 – Do you have what it takes?
+ In Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What does it take to be a Christian?
Have you ever thought about the answer to that question? How often have you ever thought about what it takes to be a Christian?
IT’s probably more likely for someone to ask if they have what it takes to be a soldier, or an airline pilot, a professional entertainer, or a even a parent. For those sorts of things, given some time, we could probably come up with an objective list of attributes that someone should or must to step into those roles in life.
We might say that physical fitness is something one needs to be a soldier; or we might say that the ability to sing and to do it in front of others is what we need in order to be a professional entertainer.
But what does it take to be a Christian disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ? Have you ever thought about that?
I want to suggest to you that the list of attributes which we need to “have what it takes” to be a Christian is short, yet nonetheless, that short list sets a high bar for us to achieve.
The list, I would suggest, is perhaps even just one item in length. And that one item is, I would suggest is this – like Jesus, we must set our Face toward Jerusalem, and all that that means for you and for me.
When our Lord set his face toward Jerusalem, it was a sure sign to his disciples and all those around him, even to a whole village of Samaritans, that something significant was a foot, that there was something profound about this attitude and direction which he had assumed.
For us, too, that setting of his face toward Jerusalem is significant. For Jesus, it meant that he entered that final phase of his earthly life and public ministry. In Jerusalem, the final conflict with the authorities would take place, and he would face his cross and passion.
Setting our Face for Jerusalem, that one thing needed to be a Christian Disciple, means for you and for me the same thing – taking up our cross and following Jesus in the way that leads to eternal life.
The Gospel this morning recounts an incident not long after Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem. He sent out messengers to prepare for his arrival. In at least one town, a Samaritan village, Jesus was not welcomed, indeed, he would not be received.
Why? Because he had set his face for Jerusalem, and it seems that everyone knew it.
For these Samaritans, their rejection based on this reason, stemmed perhaps from two motives. First, they were Samaritans who didn’t believe that Jerusalem was the place of that God was to be worshipped. They had their own Holy Place – Mount Gerazim.
Secondly, perhaps they knew the consequences of accepting or receiving Jesus. For if they were to receive him, to gain any benefit from his presence, they too would have to set their faces toward Jerusalem. For them that mean they had to change the a very fundamental and core doctrine of their understanding of God. For Jesus’ direction to Jerusalem, and not to the holy place of their choice, meant that Jerusalem was indeed the place where God was to be worshipped, at least for now. IT was a vindication of the Jews over and agains their own teaching regarding God.
In short, they wouldn’t receive Jesus because the Cost of following him was too high. Turning our faces towards Jerusalem means the same thing.
It means that the cost of discipleship is high – very high – indeed, the cost of discipleship is our very lives as we know them. IT means turning this life I now live, this life I try to live but my own strength, my own might, and my own will, over to God – in order follow Jesus to the Cross, that I might die and be raised by him to new life.
It also means, like it meant for the Samaritans, accepting God on God’s terms, rather than on our own.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this ridiculous statement: “God and I have an agreement” or “God and I have an understanding” as though God, the Creator of the universe, the one who is no respecter of persons, And who gave up his only Son to the shame and ridicule of the cross would negotiate salvation and allow you to have his free Gift of Grace on your own terms. Give me a break.
God has set the terms for our salvation – we are free to accept the gift of salvation by faith in Christ by Grace, alone, or face judgment.
Indeed, James and John knew the coming judgment of God, and when the Samaritan village refused to welcome or receive our Lord, they asked him if they should pray that fire come from heaven to destroy this little town.
Of course, Jesus rebuked them. Judgement was not at this time and the call to the Kingdom is not meant to be compulsory.. There would be judgement for all, but for now, what was being offered was not the immediate judgment against those who reject him and his message, but rather the free gift of the Gospel And the life which that brings.
And that really brings us to the question – why should we accept the free gift of the gospel at all? What kind of life does Jesus offer us? The cost is high – what are the benefits?
Simply put, Paul tells us of the kind of life that Jesus invites and brings us to – and that is the life of the Spirit. To reject the Gospel call to new life is to accept a life for ourselves which is, in paul’s way of putting it “in the flesh”. Those are lives of sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkeness, orgies and things like these.
But the law is summed up, as we heard this morning, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And when we choose to live life in the flesh, we not only choose to live it for ourselves, but we live in for others, too.
That is to say, if we wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of things like strife, jealousy, fits of anger, and the like, then we too, must choose not to live according to the way of life that embodies those characteristics.
We must choose to live a life in and according to the Spirit of God. And the fruits of a life like that are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
If we would like others to treat us like that, then we must love them, and treat them like that, being an example to them of what a life in the Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God, as Christian Disciples, is like.
The cost of choosing this life is high – Do you have what it takes to be a Christian Disciple? Plainly, no – you don’t and neither do i. None of us possess the will power, the courage, or the endurance to be a Christian disciple. It is only by the Grace of God that we “Have what it takes.” John the Baptist reminds us that “he must decrease” so that Jesus “May increase”. Indeed, it is the same for us – if we truly shall be called discples of our Lord – for he and he alone gives us the grace, the strength, and the courage to be Christian disciples.
May we pray for that grace in abundance today, as we gather to worship with him has called us to the new life in the spirit – a life of love, joy, and peace.