Sermon from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, California, published via the power of IFTTT.
Proper 18c, (September 4, 2016)
TITLE: “The Martyrdom of Life"
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter Fourteen. We look at the following words from Jesus: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27 ESV)
It is hard for me to wrap my brain around persecution and martyrdom. We hear stories of Christians being killed for confessing the faith now and again. A priest is murdered in France. Christians are beheaded in Egypt. Pastors rounded up in the old Soviet Union or in Nazi Germany, or even today in Africa or elsewhere. They seem a bit surreal, like you’re watching a movie and expect there to be some great escape or Chuck Norris to come out of the trees and save the day.
But is that what Jesus is talking about when He says take up the cross and follow me? Does that mean be ready to die for Jesus at any moment and if that doesn’t happen, then you’re off the hook?
We have a tendency here in the land of the free and home of the brave to think that there is either fighting in the war in far off lands, or living off the fat of the land. Either you get a Purple Heart for bravery, or you are a nobody and have nothing to contribute. If you don’t die for your cause, then you haven’t really given it your all.
But what if the harder task isn’t to die for Jesus, but to actually live for him? Now I don’t mean this in a cheesy, Hallmark poster sort of way. What I mean is that today, here and now is as hard a time and place to be a Christian as there has ever been. Why? Because the temptations to fall away are much, much more sneaky.
Here in Rocklin it is unlikely someone will point a gun at your head and ask you if you believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. But it is very likely you will be asked to compromise your faith in many, little ways. It is the spiritual death of a thousand cuts. These little choices, little compromises for the sake of something else, they all add up. A cut here. A slice there. A nick. A prick. Whatever they are, all of them add up together to a life that is under constant attack by the Evil One.
Now I don't know what your temptations are to abandon the path of Christ in favor of other, easier roads. But you know the commandments. You know the Law. What is it that tempts you away from this place and the mercies of God? Is it your family? Your friends? Your work? Is it your temper and anger, or is it lust and desire? These sins, the ones that plague you, they cut at you because they don't belong. but they are not who you are. Not anymore.
When Jesus talks about hating father and mother and all the rest, what He is getting that is that your love for them cannot be greater than your faith in Him. Even your own life must be drown and die with all sins and evil desires. Christ our Lord calls us to live a life of faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another. He calls us to love our enemies as much as we love our friends and family. He calls us to deny ourselves and to find our identity in Him and not in the people and things of this world.
In other words, beloved, He calls you back to your Baptism. Jesus does not order you around and wait to see how you fail. He is your Redeemer, not your arm-chair quarterback. He is the one who leads you on the path of self-denial by denying Himself and going to death on the cross for you.
These things that tempt you with the death of a thousand cuts? Jesus Christ takes them away from you, washes you clean once again in holy forgiveness, and sets you on the path of righteousness. He does this because He loves you, and because He has counted the cost for your salvation and eternal life in Him. He has counted the cost, and said that you are worth it. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way:
"Self-denial means knowing only Christ, no longer knowing oneself. It means no longer seeing oneself, only him who is going ahead, no longer seeing the way which is too difficult for us. Self-denial says: he is going on ahead; hold fast to him." –Bonhoeffer D.B.W Vol. 4:86
So take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Him. The price has been paid. Your life is in His hands, and you are forever safe in His path through death to life.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn