I’m not usually a fan of bumper sticker theology but here’s one that’s pretty close to today’s gospel lesson. It goes, He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.
In the gospel lesson we see three people that Jesus encounters. The last two of which have a ‘good excuse’ for not following Jesus. With these two there’s the idea of “I’ll follow you, but first…” That ‘but first’ is where things fall apart. Like in that bumper sticker, He who is good at ‘making excuses’ is seldom good for anything else.
Now, that jumps us over to the epistle lesson for a moment. There St. Paul talks about the sinful nature in us, the nature that’s at war with the spirit of God that lives in us through baptism into Jesus. We too know, because of our warring sinful nature, we too know what it is to tell God, “but first…”
When we put anything before following after Christ, when we tell God, “but first…” we’re elevating those ‘things’ to the status of ‘god’ in our lives and so we break the first commandment to have no other gods, before the God of heaven. And, as seen in the gospel lesson today, that other ‘god-thing’ can be our family or friends. It can also be the things we crave or indulge ourselves in, like money or gossip, or fill-in-the-blank. Or it can be the desire to promote the ‘cause of the month’ or a political agenda.
And again that puts us back in the epistle lesson. Because what does St. Paul say is the sum of all the commandments? That’s right; love your neighbor as yourself.
We don’t use our freedom in the Holy Spirit selfishly. Here’s more good bumper sticker theology: Don’t be so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good. St. Paul speaks of loving your neighbor, not just tolerating him and not trying to ‘hoodwink’ him into heaven. Love them, as Christ has first loved you. Sacrificially.
Christ gave up His life to death on the cross so you and I and the whole world would know that by God’s love we have been forgiven: totally and freely forgiven. That sacrifice is what shows us what love is. There’s no greater intimacy with God than the love that He has shown us by the death of Christ for our sins. We have ‘intimacy issues’ with God when we make any other relationship more intimate or personal than our relationship with God in heaven.
When we use those words like the 2 men in the gospel lesson, “I’ll follow you ‘but first’” that’s a telltale sign for us. And that’s because we can’t follow Jesus on our own. We, on our own strength or will, can’t choose to follow Jesus without a ‘but first’.
Jesus shows us in the gospel lesson, by means of these negative examples, that following Him is only good – so long as it’s perfect. And we can’t do that! Only He’s been perfectly obedient. Only He has not ever said to God The Father, ‘but first’. He accomplished His Father’s holy will perfectly. Without Jesus being that perfect follower of God’s will, we are utterly lost. But since He has accomplished that, He can then gift that perfect obedience to us. And we’re right back to the epistle.
When Paul speaks of our human nature being in conflict with the nature of the Holy Spirit in us, we realize that we cannot be obedient in our flesh or by our own will or choice. No it’s only in the gift of living ‘by the Spirit’ that we’re free of the law. Again that’s not by choice but by gift. That gift of God is what makes us, not just children of God, but also perfectly obedient children of God.
Now, you may object to that idea. Well, that’s because you know yourself and your sins. But you also know as well that you are perfectly forgiven those sins! You are perfectly forgiven of sins and, and of your sinful nature. Your natural sinful state has been covered and clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone. That’s what comes to you by the gift of the Holy Spirit alone. You are set free and you now walk in The Spirit. Again, not by choice but by gift.
That’s why Paul says, keep in step with the Spirit. We do that. Not in our own strength or will, but by the power of the same Holy Spirit in us. He makes that clear when he writes, in vs 16, So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
In the Greek that St. Paul uses, that last phrase can be understood as, we do not allow our sinful nature to be completed. That’s another way, another angle, of thinking about the indulging of our sinful nature. Yes, we can indulge ourselves, but doing that does not complete why Christ died. And completing the work of Christ is what we are called to do.
But first know the truth that we’ve been set free from the binding power of sin that rises naturally from our disobedience to the law from our birth. The result of that freedom in Christ for us is that the law does not bind us any longer, but rather, now, it guides us. That’s because we no longer live under the fear of punishment. We’re free from that by Jesus’ bloody crucifixion and resurrection. So what’re we to do with our freedom?
Yes, as we said, we can indulge ourselves, but that’s not worthy of what Christ has done for us. He would then simply become our cosmic ‘get out jail free card’ wouldn’t He? St Paul’s telling us that that is not the whole of why Christ died. Rather Christ died so that we may be free to serve one another in love. In that way we keep
in step with the Holy Spirit.
Was it necessary for Christ to die for you? Are you worth the sacrifice of the life of Jesus? He thought so. And here’s more bumper sticker theology. Jesus loves you this much – then there’s a picture of Jesus on the cross with His arms spread wide. And in that love He sets us free.
We’re now set free in Him from bondage to sin. Sin grips us tightly and we oftentimes grip sin pretty tightly ourselves. But Christ breaks the grip of sin and He covers us with the robe of His righteousness, freeing us from being slaves to our indulgences.
In the Old Testament lesson, Elijah threw his mantle, his coat, over Elisha and so gave to him the permission to follow him. That covering gave Elisha the right to take up the calling of being a spokesman for God. Elisha did not make that happen for himself. That was freely done for him and that gift gave him all the authority he needed. He was given the covering of the mantle of Elijah as his own.
That’s what Christ has done for us as well. We’ve been given the covering of His robe of righteousness… as… our… own. And by His righteousness, we are set free to complete His work in our lives on earth. Like I said, we’d come back to this point. That sounds bold doesn’t it? Being free to complete the work of Christ on earth.
But that is what we’re called to do. We’re called to live the Gospel and we’re granted the authority and power to do the will of God. We did not take that on ourselves nor did we make some sort of decision for ourselves that we’re now good enough to do that. o, completing the work of Christ, walking in the Spirit, is the gift of God to His people.
Our salvation, our righteousness is given to us by the blood of Christ from the cross, just as Elisha received the mantle from Elijah. That gift of righteousness is what sets us free and that is what releases us from the grip self-indulgence. Picture this.
I once found the ruins of a latticed window. A strong vine several inches thick had completely wrecked that once beautiful window and still held a few remnants of the latticework in a viselike grip. At some time, when the window still had its original beauty, a tiny, tender vine worked its way into the latticework. Had it been removed at that time, the window could have been saved. But it wasn’t. It was allowed to stay, and to grow, and to bind itself to the lattice. How well this describes the binding of our old sinful nature that day in the garden of Eden!
The point is that that ‘binding grip’ of sin has been released for us by the freedom God provides through His Word alone. By His word, sin has lost its deadly hold. However, if we choose to use our freedom for self-indulgence, we prevent the words and works of God going forward in us.
Remaining in the cloak of the righteousness of Christ is what sets us free as St. Paul spoke of today. And in that freedom is how we sacrificially live the gospel for the sake of our neighbor.
We are set free to show Christ’s love to neighbor, friend and relative alike so that they too can know the righteousness of Christ that’s theirs by gift. Let us not be ‘so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good’ to our neighbor. Let the righteousness of Christ set us free to be Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel. In that way we live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. This for the sake of our neighbor, in the love of Jesus. In His name, amen.
Sermon #833 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading 1 Kings 19:9b-21
…And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.
Epistle Galatians 5:1, 13-25
5 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Holy Gospel Luke 9:51-62
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”