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September 4, 2022 Speaker: Guest Preacher Series: Belonging

Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 14:24–35

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

 September 4, 2022

Luke 14:25-35


(Written by Pastor Jack Meehan, but preached by Pastor Gary Rueter when Pastor Meehan tested positive for COVID on 9/2/22)

When I was growing up, there were two syndicated advice columnists who appeared in just about every newspaper there was: Dear Abby and Ann Landers. Remember them? They’re not around anymore, but there are still columnists who dispense advice to people who reach out to them. In one recent column, the following appeared:

Dear Carolyn: What if you just don’t have any people? I never felt like I belonged in my family of origin. I’m married, and feel like I sort of belong with spouse’s family. Even though I have interests and hobbies, I don’t have people. An old colleague just passed. The amount of people who have come out of the woodwork for him is heartwarming, and yet I’m a little sad because I know if I passed, they wouldn’t for me. From any of my previous jobs, from my hobbies, etc. My family is not a connecting family – when family members have passed, their funerals were sad, poorly attended affairs. What happens if you just don’t have people? – A Little Sad

(The Washington Post – August 23, 2022, p. C-8)

What would you say to this person? What’s it like to feel like “you just don’t have people?” That can be a very lonely place to be, and this is the question we are dealing with this month in a preaching series. As we look at Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson and consider the cost of discipleship, we want to look at this through the lens of “Belonging” That becomes the theme for today’s message. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

In today’s Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), Moses has a big review session with God’s chosen people before they enter into the Promised Land. The very name “Deuteronomy” means “the second Law,” which is what Moses is reiterating to the people. He reminds them how they belong to the Lord, who delivered them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and affirmed his covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. And because they belong to the Lord, they are called to walk in his ways and keep his commandments, statutes and rules. “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:19b-20). There was and is both a vertical dimension as well as a horizontal dimension to this belonging. Belonging to the Lord is the vertical dimension which leads to belonging to God’s people and having a place among them, which is the horizontal dimension. This is a both/and, not an either/or, arrangement. To have the one is to have the other. Belonging matters.

We see belonging redefined in today’s Epistle lesson (Philemon 1-21). Paul the apostle writes to a fellow believer named Philemon who lived in the city of Colossae. Philemon had an enslaved person, Onesimus, whose name means “useful,” and who had stolen from him and run away. In this situation, the whole question of belonging would be seen through a very different lens – the lens of slavery. Somehow, Onesimus came into contact with Paul while Paul was under arrest, and Onesimus became a Christian. Paul then wrote this short epistle, or letter, to Philemon, which Onesimus was to carry back and deliver to him in person. The question of belonging in this instance, between the one who is enslaved and the one who is the enslaver, is redefined by Paul. He encourages Onesimus to see this relationship in a new way, as he writes: “For this perhaps is why he [Onesimus] was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant [slave] but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me” (Philemon 15-17). Wow – we might think that was a pretty big ask on Paul’s part. But is it really? The love of Jesus changes things. In light of all that God in Christ has done for us, can we see our own relationships today in a new light – the light of God’s redeeming love that has set us free, making us brothers and sisters in the same family of faith? This is the horizontal dimension of Christian belonging.

That brings us to our Gospel lesson for today where we learn the high cost of our belonging. A couple of chapters earlier in Luke, Jesus says what has become my favorite passage from this Gospel, “Fear not, little flock. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Being in the kingdom is one way of talking about belonging to God, about the place of belonging in faith which we are privileged to have has come at a very high price – a price which we did not pay, but Jesus did. In obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus shed his blood and gave his life on the cross as full payment for the price of our salvation. This is a gift which we cannot purchase and which we do not deserve. It is given by God’s grace alone and received by faith alone. Having taken up his cross for us, Jesus now calls us to take up our cross for him. What does this mean? This is what Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 14:25-35). His words sound ominous; even frightening. Though our salvation is solely a gift from God, the cost of discipleship does indeed mean sacrifice. Belonging to Jesus and following him will involve sacrifice for the believer. We see our life and everything in it through the lens of our calling in Christ, who loves us and laid down his life for us. This means that the life of the believer is not necessarily going to be easy. It wasn’t for Jesus, so why would we think it should be for us? Jesus encountered resistance and rejection as he lived out the Father’s will, and we can expect that also. Belonging to Jesus and following him makes us vulnerable to the violence of the world. Just as the violence of humanity put Jesus on the cross, so as we stand with him for peace and love and caring, we may expect the more violent among our species to oppose us, resist us and make us pay a price. This is what Jesus means when he says, Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). This is what Luther calls the theology of the cross; being Jesus’ disciple means taking up our own cross and following him. It’s not a theology of glory where we’re promised prosperity; where life will be easy and things will go our way. Jesus never promises this. And so we are to be prepared and ready for what may come, like building a tower or going into battle. Don’t start unless you know what’s involved and how much it’s going to cost. A sense of belonging within the Body of Christ, flowing out of our Baptismal calling, helps us to grasp this truth and live by it. That belonging is fed and nourished here at the Lord’s table. Week by week, the Lord Jesus who gave his life on the cross for us strengthens us in faith through his very Body and Blood in this holy Supper to take up our own cross and follow him. Belonging matters.

Fifty-six years ago on Aug. 27, 1966, Nancy Niehaus and I were married in Black Jack, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. Two month’s later we came to Fort Belvoir to begin my two year active duty commitment as a lieutenant in the US Army Corps of Engineers. That brought us to St. John’s on a Sunday morning in October. Two ladies came the following week from St. John’s to greet Nancy in our basement apartment while I was doing my training. We kept coming back to St. John’s most Sundays, while your ancestors were meeting for worship in the Fellowship Hall, and we were here in December when this building was dedicated those 56 years ago. I won’t belabor you with the rest of our story, but to make the point that we arrived here those many years ago without many people. We could have been sad and lonely during those days, but St. John’s helped us belong to Christ’s Church and that led to some exciting changes over the years that now have me preaching here these fifty-six years later. I urge you to continue the belonging which we experienced those years ago. The Holy Spirit through Baptism has made us all part of the family of God. We belong to God on the vertical level and we belong to each other on the horizontal level. In those cross-shaped dimensions we now live out our faith in these times

In the month ahead, we will continue to focus on this theme of “Belonging,” which as we learned has both a vertical as well as a horizontal dimension. Jesus invites us to come, follow him, and be his disciples. As we return from summer travel and a new year of learning begins, this is a great time to strengthen that belonging within the Body of Christ through small groups, huddles, and missional communities. More to come on this. May the Lord who has begun this good work among us bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Amen.




More in Belonging

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The Great Divide

September 18, 2022

Be the Bridge

September 11, 2022

The Outsiders