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LSB Proper 18C Sermon – Luke 14:25-35

September 7, 2016

September 4, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Those words are Jesus’ last rhetorical flourish in His sermon about discipleship. His point is clear. Jesus hammers it home all throughout the Gospel Reading that you heard this morning. He wants His followers to understand is the difficulty that discipleship has. It is a long, hard road that Jesus’ followers are called to travel. And everyone who would be His disciple must know that.

Jesus is not selling a bill of goods to anyone in the “great crowds that accompanied Him.” There is no hiding what He has to offer. Just as Jesus explicitly lays out the gift He has to grant to those who follow Him, He also details what is required of His disciples. Jesus’ words also reveal aspects of the future lives that His disciples will face. Jesus’ list of expectations is severe: His disciples must be able to forsake family, life, self-preservation, and earthly possessions for His sake. Jesus’ religion is not one of self-improvement and success, but a path of sacrifice.

Yet, before there is complete shock and disappointment at what Jesus says, all of His disciples need to understand what they are forsaking these things for. Jesus’ statements about forsaking things are not spoken for the purpose of testing. He isn’t thinking to Himself, “Let’s see how much I can make people give up.” Rather, it is for the purpose of pruning and endurance. Jesus wants His disciples to remove whatever impediments might be in the way to everlasting life. His goal is to have all His followers continue in His teaching here on earth, so that they will be welcomed into Paradise above.

That is the purpose of Jesus’ discourse on discipleship. That is why He includes the sermon illustrations about the builder, the king, and salt. All three of them show what lack of resources and endurance brings. In all three of the illustrations, the inability of something being able to fulfill its goal or purpose ultimately makes it worthless. An unfinished building is useless. Going into battle without enough soldiers and being routed is pointless. Spices that have lost their flavor have no culinary value.

Jesus’ talk about these worthless things are comparisons to the life of discipleship. He wants His hearers to understand the purpose of being His disciple, what the goal of following Him truly is. It isn’t to be part of a society or club for a time. Rather, the purpose of being a disciple of Jesus is to receive what He has earned for His believers: forgiveness, life, and salvation. But reception of these good things is dependent upon faithfulness: being correct in belief of who Jesus is and what He has done, as well as living consistently with His commands. And this is not a one-time event, some sort of action done one day. No, discipleship is a way of life that is meant to span from the call to belief to the day that one’s time on earth comes to an end.

Because this is true, Jesus’ disciples are called to endure. That’s what Jesus’ statements in the Gospel Reading informed His audience—both then and now. You are called to keep going in your discipleship until its goal is reached. You are called to faithfulness in belief and life. That will make you finished buildings, a victorious kingdom, seasoned salt. You will be the opposite of the things in Jesus’ illustrations; you will not be worthless, but will achieve your goal.

But what hangs over all of this discussion about discipleship that Jesus gives is that some of the people who hear Him will end up being incomplete structures, defeated armies, tasteless spices. People will attach themselves to the Church, learn the story of Jesus and His life, participate in Christian rites, but won’t endure. They will follow, but then fall away. This has been seen throughout the history of Christendom. In fact, it was seen among the LORD’s people in the Old Testament. There are examples in the New Testament, as well, including Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, and other incidents recorded in the Book of Acts and the epistles.

Jesus’ statement truly applies to such people: “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.” Following Jesus halfway doesn’t accomplish anything. It is ultimately pointless. No goal is achieved. There is no everlasting life for them. Like an uncompleted building, they are torn down. Like a defeated king, they are deposed. Like flavorless salt, they are discarded. That is what Jesus wants His hearers to know and understand. It is a miserable fate that He warns them against.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus says this to you. He wants you to open your ears and heed the warning. He wants you to know and calculate the cost of discipleship. You have been called to that way of life. You are meant to receive what Christ has earned for the world. But that reception requires faithfulness: true belief about Jesus and following Him through thick and thin. It is a life of progress and endurance.

But something else must be said about this call to discipleship. Your Lord Jesus does not leave you to your own devices of how to faithfully follow Him. He doesn’t say to you: “Build yourself. Recruit your own army and fight for yourself. Keep yourself fresh and flavorful.” No, work is being done in you. Jesus provides the empowerment and strength. He establishes and builds up, fights and conquers, seasons and preserves. Jesus does more than just give orders and directions, He equips His saints to fulfill them.

This seen in the Old Testament Reading for today. Moses says to the Israelites: “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.” But even this wasn’t a choice that they earned; neither was the reward. No, the LORD had brought them out of Egypt. He had chosen them. Possession of Canaan would not be left up to the Israelites to take. The LORD would give them the Promised Land, by routing their enemies. Even the book of Joshua tells us that when the Israelites calculated what effort it would be to defeat the Canaanites, they were ready to abandon the mission. But it was precisely then that the LORD achieved victory for them.

The same is true for you and all of the LORD’s people today. You are constantly tempted to abandon the journey. By yourself, you are too weak to fight off your enemies. And you have all sorts of things that can be sinfully prioritized over Jesus’ teachings and His way of life. Your abilities, your lack of faithfulness to the way of discipleship would make you flavorless and worthless. You would be ready for the eternal trash heap.

But this is exactly when Jesus draws you back to Himself. He calls you to rely on Him. For He is the One who forsook family, even His siblings who did not believe Him, in order to achieve salvation. Jesus bore the cross, not for Himself, but to redeem you. He is the Temple which was torn down, but three days later was raised up again. Jesus did not seek peace with Satan, but marshaled all His divine power and ability to defeat him and death and sin, so that you may live.

The challenge of discipleship is still here, but none should dare turn to themselves to meet it, for that leads only to disaster. No, the only route to success is to go where Jesus is and lay hold of His merits, what He has done for mankind’s salvation. Only that will bring us through to the end. Clinging to Jesus as your Redeemer, as the only source of salvation is how you will maintain faithfulness as disciples. Turn to Him whenever you falter. But also turn to Him even when everything seems to be going well. Being in Jesus’ presence, being in communion with Him and His gifts—the Holy Spirit, His teaching, His forgiving power in all its forms—is how you will keep going, endure to the end, even forsake all the things of this world for Jesus’ sake.

What that means is that all of you must be found where Jesus and His gifts are. Outside of that, no life of discipleship is possible. There will be nothing but failure and abandonment. But the Holy Spirit continues to call, gather, and keep you with Jesus in the one true faith. So the task of following doesn’t become impossible. It is the road that Jesus leads each of you down. So He tells you again on this day: “Salt is good. I have made you the salt of the earth. I’ve made you My disciples; I’ve established your goal of everlasting life. I will not abandon you; I’ve made all My gifts present for you, so that you will achieve that goal. Come receive them. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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