Pastor Todd Buegler
September 3 & 4, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God who chooses us in our baptism! Amen.
It’s a conversation that happens fairly regularly in the Buegler home: It’s usually late afternoon, and either Lori or I will look at the other and will speak these seven words: What. Do. You. Wanna. Do. For. Dinner?
You see, when it comes to things like this, both Lori and I can become pretty indecisive. “What do you want for dinner?” “I dunno, what do you want?” “I dunno, what do you want?”
Early in our marriage, when we lived in North Minneapolis, a “decision tree” sort of developed to help us make these decisions. You know a decision tree, right? There is a question, with lines pointing to two possible answers. If you choose one of them, then it leads to more options that keep branching out. For Lori and I, this wasn’t done intentionally, it just sort of evolved over time.
It went something like this:
Should we eat at home? Or out?
If at home, should we cook, or eat something someone else has cooked?
If it’s what someone else has cooked, do we do take out, or delivery?
If take out, then is it Papa Murphy’s, or Chow Express, the local Chinese restaurant with mediocre food but cheap prices? If delivery, well then what form of pizza will it be? Real? Or Domino’s?
Circling back, if it’s eating our own cooking at home, is it kitchen cooking, or grilling, or leftovers? If we’re cooking, what do we have the ingredients to make…and so on…
Anybody else know what I’m talking about here? Anyone else experience this? Well, eventually our hunger would drive Lori and I to a decision.
In our lives, we have to make a ton of decisions, and there are just some times, and some topics, where making decisions is hard. And it’s not surprising. Social scientists tell us that the number of decisions the average person has to make on a daily basis have more quadrupled in the last 50 years. In his book, Essentialism, (a great book, by the way, about simplifying one’s life) Greg Mckeouwn writes that “…the preponderance of choice has overwhelmed our ability to manage decisions. We have lost our ability to filter what is important, and what isn’t. Psychologists call this “decision fatigue.” And the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.”
Making decisions can be overwhelming and paralyzing. And I hear that in the conversations I have with you. I hear about the decisions you have to make…about marriages, family, careers, money, health. I know that there are difficult choices and decisions that you have to make every single day.
Today’s Gospel lesson challenges us. It is all about choices and decisions.
It also makes us feel pretty uncomfortable. After all, according to our Gospel reading in St. Luke, Jesus says that to be disciples, we’re supposed to “hate” our fathers and mothers, our wives and husbands, our children, our sisters and brothers? Even life itself? “Hate?” “Gee, great recruiting pitch Jesus! Where do I sign up for that?”
But there’s a problem here with the translation. Reading this story in the original language, the word that Jesus uses doesn’t really mean to “hate.” Rather, it means to “love something less than something else.” But there really isn’t an English word that means that, so it got translated as “hate.” But Jesus is actually saying that we have the capacity to love…and we have the capacity to love less. This is a choice, a decision. For example, I love the Vikings. I don’t hate the Packers. I just love them less. Much less.
Jesus is saying that a disciple is one who loves God more than other things in life.
In the Gospel story, Jesus is continuing his journey towards Jerusalem. And as he’s traveled, he’s picked up a crowd. Because word of what he is capable of has spread, many people are now physically following Jesus in his journey towards the cross, eager to hear and understand his teachings.
Jesus stops his journey here, and turns and faces the crowd. He is going to take this opportunity to help them understand what he’s really up to, to help them understand that there is a difference between just physically following him around, and spiritually following him with their whole hearts, and to remind them that discipleship is not easy. It comes with a cost. Basically, he’s telling them that they have a decision to make: Are they in, or are they all in?
I think of decisions like books on a shelf. I have shelves in my office full of different books. Theology, philosophy, devotionals, comic books, you name it. And when I pick a book off of the shelf, I’m totally “in” to that book, until either I finish it, or I lose interest in it. And then I look at my shelf and make a decision on the next book to read.
I fear, in the world in which we live, where we might experience decision fatigue, there are so many metaphorical books on our shelf…so many decisions to make, and we are all so busy and pulled in so many different decisions, that our faith merely becomes another of those decisions, sitting on the shelf, that we can choose from…or not.
- Do we worship, or stay home?
- Do we serve, or play?
- Do we give, or keep?
- Do we pray, or not?
But here’s the thing: In our Gospel, Jesus is calling us to be all in. 100%. We are to love other things in our lives less than we are to love God. But that also doesn’t necessarily mean that we are to jettison those other things. Jesus isn’t saying “There should only be one thing on the shelf, and that’s me.”
No, Jesus is saying “faith in me is not just another choice on the shelf. Faith in me is the shelf.” Faith in me is the shelf.
It is our faith in Christ, and even more importantly, Christ’s love, and faith in us, that is the shelf upon which the whole of our lives are built. Everything. Everything comes from God. We play sports because of the gifts of God. We have family because of the gifts of God. We work because of the gifts of God. And it’s when we reduce our relationship with God to just another of these choices, another book on the shelf, that we are merely “in,” instead of “all in.”
Jesus is not asking us to give up everything else. Rather Jesus is asking us to recognize that everything else is dependent…completely dependent on God. These other things are important, but they are not our identity. These other things, we should love them…less.
Our identity is given in our baptism: child of God, loved beyond measure. This is the shelf that the rest of our lives, all the decisions we make, are built.
We can understand this in a cognitive, head way. We hear that and say “yes, it makes sense.” But why is it so hard for us to live this way?
Well, it’s because there is a cost to it. To be “all in,” is to recognize that everything comes from and is built on our relationship with God. And that means that there is sacrifice involved.
- To be “all-in” is to live a full-bodied Christian faith that resists the notion that our relationship with God is somehow in competition with other things in our lives for our time and energy.
- To be “all-in” is to recognize that our faith is the thread that runs through our lives that ties everything else together.
- To be “all-in” is to recognize that our lives are to focus not on us and the choices that benefit ourselves, but rather on others.
- To be “all-in” is to love, even when the other person is hard to love.
Indeed, Jesus asks us to be “all-in,” and to live the kind of abundant life that is discovered only as you give yourself away. The kingdom of God Jesus proclaims is about life and love. And just as love is one thing that only grows when it’s given away, so also is genuine and abundant life.
Sacrifice isn’t easy. Some around us may not understand why we spend less on ourselves in order to give more to others or why we’d invest our time and resources on a person or effort the culture considers a lost cause. When you’re “all in,” the choices we make, the relationships we decide to pursue, the way we spend this life we’ve been given, may puzzle, disappoint or even upset those we care about.
The challenge, of course, is that seeing the shelf in the midst of all of the books…seeing our faith, in the midst of all of the choices and decisions we have to make is not always as clear as we’d like. It’s just not.
Sometimes we get just plain confused about what is the right choice, the life-giving choice. And sometimes we may hear Jesus’ voice calling us to sacrifice for the sake of life, but it gets all but drowned out by the cultural voices holding out success and accumulation and security as life. And sometimes the choices in front of us are just incredibly ambiguous.
This is why Jesus makes his own sacrifice, of course. Jesus assures you of God’s love and forgiveness, so that whether you are overwhelmed, fatigued, paralyzed or just choose badly, the promise of abundant life in Christ is always in front of you. This promise of God’s unconditional love frees you to choose the life that God has already chosen for you.
Do you want to be a disciple?
- If yes, then you follow.
- If you follow, then you joyfully choose worship, prayer, giving, serving.
- If you choose these things, you re-discover, every day, that God has already chosen you.
- If you discover God has chosen us, then you realize the depth of God’s great love and grace, which has been there for you all along.
Let us love God more. Let’s be “all in.”