Start Here and Now, Old First Sermon 09.08.13

Start Here and Now, Old First Sermon 09.08.13

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Luke 14:25-33

Our Scripture lessons today are both a bit stringent.

In our Deuteronomy passage,
Moses finishes his sermonizing to the people of Israel on the plains of Moab
before they enter into the Promised Land.

He has reheated and served up the Law to the people again,
and he’s hardly mincing words about the stark choice this puts before them.

Choose this day– either live right and have life.
Or turn away,
allow yourselves to be led astray,
and perish.
Not a lot of wiggle room in there for “close but no cigar.”

Likewise, Jesus in our second reading
he isn’t much more accommodating.
It’s either full commitment, sacrifice it all, follow and be a disciple,
or don’t fool yourself (because you can’t fool God).

And he’s not just clear, he’s tough:
detailing the standards for what discipleship looks like:
Hate your loved ones.
Give up your possessions.
Deny the life you have known.
Take up your cross.

But what strikes me
when I read these two passages together
is not their unbending similarities,
but how they differ.

(An aside,
our “holy ghost-write who pens the intro.s each week as a personal ministry
and I were having an interesting discussion this week,
about whether or not the interpretation in the intro.s and the sermon can differ.

I think it’s fine;
I even like the dissonance.
After all, we’re a UCC church,
a community of many different voices.
Unity here never means conformity.
Instead, it means we look to each other and our differences as one of our blessings, part of our strength.

And as the preacher, I’m not always right
as if from on high.
Instead, my job is to try and make you take the Scriptures seriously and wrestle with them,
for the good they can do in your life.

Which all to say,
if you listened to the intro.s clearly,
you’re going to hear a different interpretation in the sermon!)

Moses formula is pretty straightforward:
Do right and you will be rewarded.
In fact, if you behave,
you’ll enjoy everything God has promised you–
long life…
your people will multiply…
you’ll enter, AND take possession of promised land,
where your residency will be blessed.

But Jesus’ challenge, because it’s about crosses and crucifixions,
it’s never any simple equation for worldly reward.

We aren’t called to walk right
because that’s the way to get us where we want to go.
There’s not such a tempting carrot at the end of the stick Jesus is holding out.

Instead, Jesus asks us to walk a certain way,
not because of what it will get us,
but because it’s a better way to walk,
that kind of walking is the right thing to do,
regardless of the outcome,
the journey with Jesus becomes the end in itself.

Or maybe the outcome Jesus is interested in,
maybe it’s the journey rather than the destination…

Ok, many of us probably accept that there is in doing right
something that is self-fulfilling.
Or at least that in the crap shoot that is life,
the odds are better on getting rewarded for the good deed
than forever getting away with the evil.

But we all can think of too many examples
when evil goes unpunished,
when crime has paid,
when the saints lose again.

I think the black and white character of the Moses offer
is hard for us moderns to take.
Perhaps, it’s just the degree to which even the faithful are also skeptics these days,
but when we hear such simple promises,
don’t we think to ourselves,
“I might wish that were so, but the world’s not quite that simple, and such an outlook rings a bit naive.”

Almost immediately the cases to the contrary come to mind:
The righteous, but suffering Jobs we have known.
The good who have died young.
Good deeds that have not gone unpunished.

Karma, with the uncertainties of our “next lives” —
ok, that might be ambiguous enough to entertain.
That to good or evil I do now will somehow in the furture
in the next life or so,
somehow play itself out to my benefit or detriment.

But can we really accept the suggestion
that righteousness guarantees reward…
directly,
in the short term,
immediately,
in this life?

Jesus’ challenge, like I said, is different.
It’s about crosses and crucifixions.
Not any simple formula for worldly success or material prospering.

Jesus doesn’t call us to walk right
because that’s the way to get to some concrete destination or
where we’ll get rewarded for our righteousness.

Remember, “not my will, but thy will be done.”

Instead, Jesus teaches us to walk a certain way,
because so doing is an end in itself.

He’s not backing down:
we have to let go of the hold our possessions have on us if we want to follow him.
Leave our families and friends.
Deny the lives we have known.

But in estimating the costs to build a tower,
maybe his way is to risk the ridicule in order to begin building,
to chance putting one brick on another.

Or to go to the cross despite the shame.

Likewise, we are to go forth,
like David against Goliath,
against the odds, or even the possibility of winning,
hope against hope,
because God is to be found
on the way we are setting out
(not where we might or might not end up)?

Yes, Jesus suggests, God could even be on the side of the loser, rather than the winner of life’s battles.

What I’m saying is that the Jesus’ words this morning
remind me of the Rabbi Tarfon quote at the top of our order of service:

“It is not yours to finish the task; neither are you free to desist from it.”

Beloved, Jesus focuses you on the effort, not the outcome.
The main concern is the project, not its completion.

Virtue is its own reward,
rather than an instrumental strategy to some end we want.

Living and doing can be very difficult.
Much is out of our control.
Sometimes we’re going to come up short.
We’ll lose sometimes, not because we’re being punishing.
But because that’s life.
And the blessing is in attempting the hard work.

We spend so much time trying to get some place else,
that we often miss the opportunities before us.
real living,
abundant life,
— at all the interim places in between.

“When I finish high school.”
“After I turn 21.”
“When I have a family of my own.”
“After I achieve the success I desire in my career.”
“When the kids are grown up.”
“After things settle down.”
“When I retire…”

But, church,
tomorrow is never assured,
and today is when you can —
when you have to begin living your real life.

But, we say,
“I’ll get to that later.
…Only later can I do something about that.”

Like Augustine, we think,
“Give me faith, but not now.
Later.
Not yet; later.”

“Right now my hands are too full.
My life is crowded.
I just got to get through these days.
But after the pressure is off.
When I have more time.
When I’m more comfortable.
Then I’ll learn how to live.
Then I’ll wrestle some control over,
or instill some discipline in my life.
Then I’ll get my act together.”

But do you hear Jesus’ insistence?
both more compassionate and sever than all our delay?

Now.
Now is the time of our salvation.
Grace is always ‘grace under pressure.”

Today,
rather than letting our friends and family own us,
we must dedicate ourselves to God.

Right now, rather than letting our possessions
— or possessions we hope to get —
define us,
right now, we are to give away our lives.

We are to give up all hope of reward,
all plans for gain,
and, instead, count Jesus our loss
and take up the cross and follow.

Church and faith,
they are not — perhaps surprisingly —
something primarily to help you get through these days.

Instead, the daily living of our faith…
our partaking in the common life of this church…
they are about helping us become something different right now.

“Where your treasure is,
there will be your hearts too,” says Jesus.

Well, should our hearts be always looking ahead towards some imagined future,
Don’t we need them now,
if we really want to love and to follow God today?

I remember telling someone who asked me in Seminary,
“Aren’t you looking forward to being finished with school,
and getting on with your ministry?”
I responded, “Actually, my life is right where it’s supposed to be right now.”
I’m ministering now working at a church a few hours a week as a seminarian,
being the primary care taker for my sons,
even being a student at Union.”

Beloved, where is your heart this morning?
You don’t have to share your answer to that question with anyone.
But it’s the real question nonetheless.
And whether or not you mean to, you’ll end up answering it.

Where is your heart this morning?

Is it in the here and now?
Is it in God?
Is your heart already sharing what you already have to offer?

What is important to you?
Where is your treasure?

Paraphrasing the quote from Pope,
at the beginning of the order of service,
“If you looked back from death on to these days,
are you living now as you will want to remember living them then?

Look around.
This beautiful new day.
An opportunity that will never pass this way again.

Where’s the heart of God in your life today?
Where’s the cross that you might look to,
might find yourself by,
might follow?

What’s your calling?
Not what do you imagine you should get done before the end of your life,
But what can you hear God calling you to right now?

Shouldn’t we use today to begin to practice
wherever we are to do now because God is near?
…just as we would practice a new dance,
or a new language.

Of course, it’s not where you’ll end up.
Church, that’s more God’s business,
More God’s graceful possibility,
than our best effort anyway.

How then will I live in Christ today?
How will I begin this day my new life?

Do you hear what I’m saying, church?
We want,
we plan to live life on our own terms.

But it turns out that real living
is about the here and now,
about the real love and service,
the responsibility and giving,
the sacrificing yourself for God
that are only possible in the present.

You can ask the bigger question,
“How will I spend the rest of my life?”

But, beloved, the immediate question is spiritually more apropos, on target–
today, Jesus said, has enough trouble of its own.

“One day at a time,” many of us might say
having learned that insight the hard way,
in our own inability and failure,
and in the rooms where we’re taught to receive help from a higher power.

Because we can only begin to live right now.
Not tomorrow.
Or yesterday.
Not at any last minute.
Not with the rest of our lives.
Or at the end of our lives.

Only now can you give up
the attachments you’re hiding behind.

Only now can you
let go of the plans or the past with which you are ducking the present.

Only now can you relinquish control.

Only now can you look that cross passing by.

Only now confess that on your own, by yourself, you can’t do much.

Only now can you discover that with God all things are possible.

Afterall, what is important?
Where does your heart lie?
What does your life have to do with God right now?

This is our choice,
every day,
almost every hour.

Will we go with the fears that threaten us that we have no choice?
Or will we give ourselves to God in the immediacy of every graceful moment?

Begin to live your true life in the real world of right now.
Begin now to be free.
To choose God.
To follow Christ.
Don’t wait.
Begin now and continue on,
new each day,
forever more.

Amen.