It’s challenging to be a follower of Jesus. He doesn’t hide that fact from us, although many preachers do. We’re in the middle of a whole series of tough talks by Jesus about the reality of living for God in this world. He taught us that the last will be first, then that the lowly would be exalted and the exalted brought low. And now, in our Gospel Lesson this Sunday, Jesus tells us to make really tough choices. In fact, He uses the words love and hate to highlight the starkness of the choices we have to make as His disciples. Discipleship has costs. It may cost us family and friends. It may cost us suffering. Do we have what it takes? Or, rather, will God give us what it takes? He will! And the payoff is eternal.
In our Old Testament Lesson Moses put the very same choice before the Israelites as they were preparing to enter the promised land. Were they willing to make the commitment that would result in lasting reward? Or would they take the seemingly easy way out and wind up paying the awful price for their folly in eternity? The spirit is willing, but, of course, the flesh is weak. “I call the heavens and the earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, a blessing and a curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live by loving the Lord your God, by listening to his voice, and by clinging to him, because that means life for you….”
Our Epistle Lesson comes from Paul’s short letter to Philemon. As a personal favor—that will also bless the one granting it—Paul asks Philemon to make a big sacrifice. Philemon’s personal slave, Onesimus, had run away. He had then met Paul and had now become a Christian. As fruits of faith, Paul told Onesimus he should return to his owner. As a fruit of faith, Paul now asks his owner Philemon not only to forgive him for running away, but to officially declare him a freedman and regard him from now on as a brother in the faith and not a slave. That’s the kind of sacrifice we make as followers of Jesus, just as James asked us last week not to show any favoritism.
Our Psalm summarizes the difference these choices make in our lives. “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
It’s not an easy life being a Christian. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not teaching what Jesus says. Our sermon will focus on the Gospel lesson under the theme: “Is It Worth It to Follow Jesus?”
This Week’s Lessons:
Philemon 1, 7–21