June 25, 2017 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Traditional Sermon- a dialogue between Sister Dottie Almoney and Janelle Almoney
Why do you come to worship? Is it really worth your time?
D: Janelle, did I ever tell you the story about a preacher who served a small country church. Unfortunately his sermons were always very long and boring. He lacked any enthusiasm as he led worship. If he had any passion for ministry, his congregation didn’t see it. One Sunday he announced that he had been transferred to another church and that it was Jesus’ wish that he leave that week.
J: I’ll bet his congregation proceeded to get up and sing: “What a Friend we have in Jesus!”
Speaking of church, have you ever asked yourself, is coming to church really worth my time?
D: Funny you should ask that because recently I did some research on why people attend church.
According to a gallop poll done this past March, the top reasons people site for attending worship are as follows:
76% come to hear Sermons that teach about scripture
75% attend to hear Sermons that help you connect religion to their life
In fact, all of the research I found stated that the sermon was the top reason people went to worship. Seems like this should be good news for preachers, right?
J: Or if we look at the decline of the church, maybe not such good news.
Now I am certainly not blaming the decline of the church on bad preaching –however, there must be some disconnect. If it is true that people come to hear what the Gospel proclaims and want to know how that affects them the rest of the week, something is missing. Is the Gospel being lived outside of Sunday morning?
D: Good point; what about those who maybe attend once or twice a year? I often ask myself Is it enough for some to come on Christmas to hear that God came down to us in human form and on Easter to hear about good news of the Resurrection? Now we know that a lot happened in-between those two events. In fact, I would conclude that what Jesus said and did during his ministry is an illustration on how to live as His Disciples.
J: Oh, you are talking about the Creasters. They miss out on all of the excitement of Jesus’ dash.
D: The Who? The what?
J: The Creasters, you know – people who only attend at Christmas and Easter. They attend for the birth and resurrection stories, and both are great stories, don’t get me wrong. But you know that how on a tombstone they show the birth date and the death date with a dash in the middle? They miss out on the dash, all of the in between of Jesus’ ministry. I believe they come to hear only about good news.
D: Yes it is true, we are good news Christians, people who know the Good news of Jesus Christ –that through his life, death and resurrection he saved us from sin and death. And as Lutheran Christians we can boast that through God’s grace we have been saved and whether I go to worship or Bible Study or Sunday school really makes no difference as it pertains to my salvation.
J: Today’s reading certainly doesn’t seem to contain much good news. Matthew’s Gospel gives us some stern words from Jesus. If you deny me, I will deny you; I haven’t come to bring peace, but a sword. I come to divide family members and whoever doesn’t take up their cross is not worthy before Jesus. These are probably not the comforting or uplifting words people want to hear from their Lord and Savior.
D: In all honesty, as a preacher, I could choose not to focus on these words – ignore this part of the Gospel lesson. Maybe Jesus was just having a bad day when he spoke these harsh words. This was written so long ago, maybe this is one of those times that scripture can’t be taken at face value – it really doesn’t pertain to the 21st century.
J: If as the gallop poll indicates that most of us come to worship to be fed and led by the sermon and want to know how it pertains to living out our call as Disciples of Christ, than these words of Jesus should not and cannot be ignored.
It’s easy to be a cherry picker when it comes to the Bible –
D: A What?
J: You know – cherry pick the parts of the Gospel that is easy to follow or makes us feel good. Face it mom, I am sure it is easier to listen to Jesus when he says Do not be afraid because we are of more value than many sparrows. And most of us can say we will at least acknowledge Jesus. But do people really want to hear about Jesus bringing a sword, family division and taking up his cross?
D: I see what you mean, but Jesus is calling us to a life of discipleship that includes persecution, possibly the loss of family and friends. It may even include division within the church itself.
J: So what you are saying is that Discipleship involves total devotion to Jesus and the Gospel. Living out the Christian life may be like that awkward family dinner where you don’t want to discuss religion or politics. It’s just easier to keep quiet than to create conflict. Remember that thanksgiving dinner with Uncle John???
D: You’re never gonna let that go are you? Unfortunately that is exactly what Jesus is calling us to –
J: Fight with our relatives?
D: Only when they are wrong! All kidding aside, it does include standing up for the teachings of the Gospel; calling out those who oppress others, loving our enemies regardless of personal backlash, living to please Christ instead of our family members or close friends and in some cases that may include giving up your life for the sake of the Gospel.
J: I can see why people want to ignore some of these commands. I am not sure I really want to live a life that is totally counter cultural and in some cases unpopular. And besides, we have grace – shouldn’t that cover us? At least that is what Pastor Ross taught us in confirmation. (both turn and look at PR)
D: You are right on one hand, but on the other we want cheap grace, not costly grace. According to theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Cost of Discipleship, he has this to say about Grace:
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheap wares. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….
In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus… Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him.
J: Ok, now I get it. Many of us believe that since we are saved by grace and that no amount of works will inhibit or increase our salvation, we need not do anything. And while that is correct, it is not what Jesus is asking of us.
D: It is easy to acknowledge Jesus here in the comfort of our sanctuary surrounded by fellow believers. It’s easy to serve others together in a group from church. It’s easier to discuss your faith in a Sunday school class than outside the church doors.
J: I wonder, if Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John and the rest of them had heard Jesus’ instructions and declined his invitation to go out and share the good news of the gospel, wouldn’t everything that they’d been through with Jesus to that point be a waste?
D: Kind of like learning how to tie your shoe but choosing to wear Velcro sneakers instead – there wasn’t an immediate need to learn how to tie laces, especially if you had no inclination of actually wearing them.
J: So let me get this straight – the top reasons people come to worship is to hear about scripture in sermons and how scripture can be used in their daily faith walk. But many are not putting the second reason into practice.
D: In Church, we claim ourselves to be disciples of Jesus, sing hymns such as we are called, and Let us ever walk with Jesus, wear T-shirts that proclaim, God’s work, our hands.
J: It’s in worship that we pray for wisdom to love our enemies and to forgive others, and for justice to rein over the oppressed.
D: But many times when worship ends, and we leave the church, and if a situation that presents itself to us involves risk, how quickly we are tempted to dismiss what we heard and experienced about Jesus in Church.
J: Well it certainly doesn’t sound good for the future of the church, does it? I mean, if what we hear and learn in worship or Christian education doesn’t make a difference in our own lives, what about those outside our doors?
D: Well, I know that says a lot about us inside the church. We are comfortable inside our own walls; there is not much risk here.
J: Maybe it’s time to take our faith outside the building, in fact, while the building is a great vehicle for which to do ministry, it’s really about God’s people working in his kingdom here on earth. Jesus didn’t wait inside the synagogue for people to come to him, he went out – out among the Jews and Gentiles alike, out among the lepers, the poor and the outcast to bring healing, hope and everlasting life.
D: We are given a great opportunity as the church; Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow him, because in taking on the cost and joy of discipleship, we lose our fearful lives in Christ and save them in the process. If we who claim to follow Jesus would confirm this truth outside the sanctuary, then the world might start to see those churches we attend as not so much of a waste of time after all.
J: Maybe in honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant reformation, we can begin a mini reformation ourselves; a sort of radical re-orientation of what it means to devote our lives to Christ and The Gospel.
D: Great idea- you’re not just another math whiz! Rather than focusing on the decline of the mainline church, let’s focus on how we can live out the Gospel so that others want to be part of this community of believers.
J: And remember the stand that Luther took, almost cost him his life, but he stood firm; now 500 years later, here we are in a church created by Luther living out his call as a disciple of Christ.
D: Theologian Phyllis Tickle said about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. We are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales.” Let’s get rid of those things that keep us from living as disciples of Christ – greed, self-interest, being exclusive and fear….fear of losing friends or family members because we are living for Christ.
J: Too many of us allow culture, not scripture to determine and influence how we live. We need to reverse that so that together by living out God’s word, scripture determines current culture and ideals.
It reminds me of a simple thought by Steve Maraboli once said: ” Don’t tell me about your God with your words. Show me about your God with your actions.
D: To that I say, Amen.