God Chose Us First
The following sermon was preached by Craig A. Satterlee, Axel Jacob and Gerda Maria (Swanson) Carlson Chair of Homiletics; Dean, ACTS D.Min. in Preaching Program, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Wednesday, September 12, 2007.
Luke 14: 25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse 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. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether there is enough to complete it? Otherwise, when a foundation has been laid and the builder is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule the builder, saying, 'This person began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
It seems we have some choices to make. Scientists say that we have ten years to choose what we're going to do about the planet. Politicians say we have a year to choose who will be our next president. This year at LSTC, we get to choose three new faculty members. It won't be long before seniors have to choose whether to fret over the choices bishops will make or middlers have to choose whether to fret over the choices the field education committee will make or juniors will have to choose whether to fret over the fact that it often feels like they don't have any choice. And with all this going on, God chooses now to tell us that we have to make some choices about faith and following.
Moses makes it sound so easy. Life and prosperity or death and adversity? Life or death, blessings or curses? Put that way, it sounds so simple: choose life. Choose life. So how come we don't? Why do I choose the burger over the salad? Why do we choose to waste rather than save, to tear down rather than build up? Why do we choose to remain silent rather than to speak? Why do we choose to withdraw rather than to engage, to distrust rather than to accept, to guard rather than to open our hearts?
Choosing life is hard. And Jesus knows it. So often choosing life is not as simple as Yes or No, Right or Wrong, Up or Down. Jesus cautions that choosing life can catch us between a rock and a hard place, between God on the one hand and father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even what we understand to be life on the other. Embracing God's new future means letting go of much of the past. Sometimes following Jesus means following Jesus–humiliation, rejection, willingly bearing the cross for others, embracing death as part of life and death at the end of life. On Monday, my friend Barbara took all the good stuff about counting costs, building towers, and waging wars without an exit strategy. But that's okay. We're pretty good at naming what's wrong, what we've given up, all that we've sacrificed.
In this room, we name something different. The lectionary did us a disservice today. It's as if the compilers of the lectionary knew that Wednesday Eucharist should never go longer than an hour. So they only gave us the conclusion of Moses' sermon, which begins back in chapter 27. Moses was about to send Israel across the Jordan into the land of promise. Before giving them the choice, Moses reminded the people of the choice God already made. Moses recalls all that God had done for them–brought them out of slavery, led them through the wilderness, provided for them so that the clothes on their backs and the sandals on their feet did not wear out. God also chose for us.
We, too, have crossed the water into the land of promise that is God's coming reign. We have been buried with Christ in death. We have been raised with Christ to new life. We have been called not to do ourselves but to share in what Christ is doing, bringing life and light to the world. You see, before we ever made our choice, God in Christ chose us. That's what God reminds us when we come into this room.
The reason crowds were following Jesus, so that Jesus could turn and talk about the cost of discipleship, is that Jesus makes clear that God chooses us. Jesus brings healing. Jesus embodies humility and hospitality. Jesus promises a banquet at which those who are poor, crippled, lame and blind are welcome. Jesus promises a banquet, where God compels people. God chooses with force. God compels people to come and sit at table.
In this room God declares that God chose us first. In this room, God reminds us that the banquet is not our choice. The banquet is not our mission. The banquet is our future and God's desire. It's God's choice. We eat the bread and drink the cup and know that we have a place at God's table, because we are God's chosen ones.
Now that we have matriculated, retreated, oriented, convocated, and started class, we have some choices to make. Life and death, blessings and curses. Here's the choice we make today. Choose to be in this room regularly this year. Choose to be regularly reminded that God in Christ made a choice for us, that God in Christ chose us first. It will make the choosing we need to do a little easier, a bit clearer, a lot more hopeful. Oh, and when it's your turn to be up here, choose to speak to us about Jesus, about how Christ chose us, about what Christ has done, about what God is doing and will do. When you make that choice, you empower us to choose life.