Happy Labor Day?
I think the only Federal Holiday originally on a Monday is Labor Day. It started in 1894 to give the working man an extra day off. Funny, I think today more white collar than blue get the day off. Go out tomorrow: restaurants, retailers, grocers will all be open. Labor Day is another day of labor for them. So how about us? Is Labor Day Sunday, a holiday for us?
This text is certainly no holiday. It's an in your face on what you are to do if you're going to be Jesus' disciple. Today's a day for hating self. That's what Jesus says. I didn't include the others Jesus' speaks of because they are easy to hate. I have no problem hating father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters (even those in Christ), but my own soul? Yes, that's the Greek word for soul, life, self. The thing Paul Revere and the Raiders said, "Don't you see no matter what you do/ You'll never run away from you?" Yes, you can't even run away from self let alone kill him.
And can you see that's really what all the hating is about? Look at the next thing Jesus says. A disciples must "carry his cross." The Greek is stronger. It's "carry the cross of himself." Part of the torture of crucifixion was carrying the instrument of your own death. Your cross is whatever puts to death me, myself, and I. And be certain of this: there are people, things, diseases, jobs, situations that are "magic bullet" antibiotics to self. They might not kill anyone else but they will kill you. Jesus says whatever they are you must bear them or you can't be His disciple.
Finally, today is a day for saying goodbye to all the possessions of self. That's in the last verse, and it shows the focus of this text and our labor is getting rid of me, myself, and I. You think it's this one person who is making it difficult or impossible for you to really follow Christ. No, it's you, yourself, and I. The insert says, "give up everything he has." Again the Greek is stronger. Let's put it in the vernacular: "kiss goodbye all the possessions of yourself." If you're not willing to say goodbye to that thimble collection of yours, that artisan food you love, all your possessions that really possess you, there's no way you can be Jesus' disciple.
You can hear how Jesus' words "cannot be My disciple" toll over this text. But some of you need more. Some of you are making excuses for why you don't hate yourself, refuse your cross, and won't hate all your things. Others of you are promising to do better if Jesus gives you another chance. Still others think: Well now at last I know what Jesus expects of a disciple, and I'm ready to start.
No you're not. Until you see yourself as the hateful little man who hates everyone but himself; until you see you regularly pick and choose any cross but the one that will kill you; until you see that you're only willing to give up possessions that you won't miss; the Law still needs to labor on you.
If you're right now calculating the cost of building the tower of the Christian life, can you honestly say you have enough, you're ready to start building? Do you know what the Christian life costs? Can you pay that? Can you pay God not to be angry with your sins and sinning? Can you pay God to look the other way as you have yet another devilish thought? Can you pay for a tower that will reach all the way to heaven?
If we take this illustration in light of Paul saying that no one can lay another foundation other than Christ but a person can build on it with either precious material or wood, hay, and straw, can you even do that? The insert says "not able to finish" and English hears this with the "cannot" and "is able" of the war illustration. The latter two are connected to the same Greek word, but "not able" is not. It's the word "be strong." It's the same Greek word found earlier in Luke 13 about the narrow door. Jesus says, "Make every effort to enter the narrow door because many will seek to but will not be strong enough." Do you have the strength to finish the Christian life Christ started you on? Do you have the strength to hate self, crucify self, say goodbye to all your possessions that really possess you? I didn't think so.
Maybe we'll do better with the next illustration which again is to bring you to the realization that "not the labor of my hands can fulfill the law's demands." Can you win against 2 to 1 odds? In the 70s the Army's doctrine was: we will accept 3-1 odds and expect to win. In 16th century Italy, Italian city-states would war back and forth against one another mercenaries changing sides like in sandlot baseball games. These conflicts weren't that bloody or deadly. Then the French came and they meant business. They really fought and they had a take no prisoners mentality.
Can you not only stand up but take on and win against the Devil and the World in your own sinful Flesh? They are Frenchmen playing for keeps. They're not playing war; they are maiming and killing. O I know; you'll make peace with them. So what are the peace terms? Whether you wish to view God as coming against you with His holy, uncompromising Law or Death and Devil approaching, the terms are the same? Your soul, your life, your all. See? One way or another you're losing self.
Not much to be happy about this Labor Day weekend, is there? You've heard that saying, "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." No amount of your labor is going to dig you out of this hole you yourself have dug for you. But there is One who labored day and night till He was finished getting you out of that hole.
God the Son was sent by His Father into our fallen world into a body made like ours in every way except without sin. In, with, and under our flesh and blood He worked, He labored, He dug, He warred, He built. So many laymen are content with a shallow understanding of the Person and Work of Jesus. They think anything beyond John 3:16 is superfluous. They think anything beyond Jesus loves me this I know is as useless as knowing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. And then they wonder why they don't or can't see how what Jesus did helps them in a particular situation, crisis, or need.
Jesus actively kept the Law in your place. It had to be kept. Otherwise it would go on accusing you day and night. When that happens to you, it always sets you at odds with the people in your life. You have this constant litany playing in your head and heart about what you are to do but don't do, and all the evil you do and think. Like the Chinese water torture the tap, tap, tap drills your sin and guilt into you till you lash out at the closest one available or the easiest target.
O that you could see all that head and heart convict you of have been done by Jesus. He did build a tower reaching to heaven. Every law He kept, every good deed He did, every perfect thought laid down another brick in that tower. It's a tall, solid tower that doesn't sway in the wind. He built it for you. His active obedience in keeping the Law is more than enough for every person in the world to walk on all the way to heaven.
But there is more. The active obedience of Jesus refers to how He kept the Law actively in place of all humanity, but the passive obedience of Jesus is also needed. This is what was done to Jesus to pay for the sins of all. This refers to the wrath of God being pleased to crush Him. This refers to the soldiers whipping, crowning, spitting, and crucifying. This is the Son of God going forth to war against 3 1 odds. He takes on your Sin, the Death you deserve, and the Devil who claims He owns you.
But do you see how He fights? He bleeds, He sighs, He cries, and dies. He buys you back from the unholy three of Sin, Death, and the Devil. There's not one Law that proves they own you because Jesus kept them all. There is not a drop of blood, sweat, or tears that needs to be added by you to cover your sin, your guilt, or your shame. Jesus shed more than enough to cover and pay for the sins of the world.
Now don't try suing for peace on your own. The Devil, the World, and your Flesh will have you for lunch. The world's the person who is mad at you and when you apologize they say, "Fine, but don't let it happen again." They don't forgive you. They're still looking for their pound of flesh, and no matter how much of your flesh you give they will not be satisfied. Try making peace with the Devil, and you'll end up like Faust selling your soul or like the hunter who made a deal with the bear. The hunter wanted a fur coat and the bear wanted a meal. They both got what they wanted when the bear ate the hunter. And your own Flesh is lying when it says it will give you a moments peace if you give it a moments pleasure.
Jesus wants you to see He established peace. There are two Greek words for ask. One means to ask of an equal; the other means to ask of a superior (Trench, 144-5). If you're a king with half the force of the king coming against you, you're not an equal. But the Greek word here in "ask for terms of peace" is asking of an equal. The Son is equal to the Father and He asks, "Father forgive them" "Father keep them in My name." "Father preserve them from the Evil One."
You may not see how God can be at peace with you; you may not feel it; others of the world let you know war is still waging between you and them. But don't try to make your own peace terms. Cling to the peace of God that passes all human understanding which Jesus labored and suffered to win. This no man, no devil, no guilt can take from you.
Virtually every other federal holiday members have complained to me for not celebrating on Sunday, but no one has ever complained about not celebrating this one. Why? It's a happy holiday depending on whose labor you're celebrating. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20160904; Luke 14: 25-33)