Letting Go of All but Christ

Letting Go of All but Christ                        Sermon by Teddie McConnell for 9/4/22

First Scripture Lesson                     Philemon 1-21                                                  
1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To our beloved coworker Philemon, 2 to our sister Apphia, to our fellow soldier Archippus, and to the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I thank my God always when I mention you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the partnership of your faith may become effective as you comprehend all the good that we share in Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
8 For this reason, though I am more than bold enough in Christ to command you to do the right thing, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me so that he might minister to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for the long term, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Second Scripture Lesson                      Luke 14:25-33                              
From The Message translation
25-27 One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.
28-30 “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’
31-32 “Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?
33 “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.”

Sermon "Letting Go of All but Christ"
I chose to use the translation for the reading from Luke from The Message because the other translations read, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The word translated as “hate” can also mean “to disregard” or “to love something less,” as in “Whoever comes to me and does not love father and mother less than me…” The verbs Jesus used were not commands, but a reflection of the nature of his ministry, and the need to let go of one’s previous life in order to fully commit to his leadership.
At this point in his ministry, Jesus was surrounded by crowds. This isn’t the first time he reacted to his adoring fans by stopping to give them a dose of reality. He had a reputation as a healer and someone who could feed the multitudes. Some were looking for a free lunch. Others were following him around trying to figure out whether to become disciples. Jesus wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t a lark, but a serious, life-changing and complete commitment. As he looked forward to his own prosecution and death as well as the persecution of the disciples after his resurrection, he knew the extremely high costs involved. With characteristic honesty, he told them about the risks.
Jesus warned them that walking with him might lead to their families and friends disowning them, might lead to their own crucifixions. Of course, the big crowds fell away once he was arrested, and even shouted for Barabbas to be released in his place on the day he was killed. Crowds are notoriously fickle.
The danger in the first century was real. Rome didn’t take kindly to competition from anyone claiming to be a king or planning what could be a rebellion.
In today’s society, as we read this account we feel relieved that Jesus is not talking about literally giving up our attachments to our family and friends, not warning us of soldiers who could arrest and kill us for following him. He is warning us of spiritual dangers that are more subtle but still real, and of the consequences we may face for choosing to do the right thing, standing up for the Gospel, and standing out as different from the culture.
Jesus says to STOP! Take a long, hard, honest and prayerful look at your life situation and what is possible given your commitments and attachments. Not doing so can have serious repercussions for us and for those we care about. Obedience to God takes prayer, careful thought and courage.
He warns that we’ll have to let go of loving good things too much. We’ll have to prevent our possessions from possessing us, to travel lightly. We’ll face resistance and punishments from others for not playing by the world’s values and rules. We’ll have to let go of self-protection, own up to our own sins and repent of them or be mocked as hypocrites. We’ll have to disown the model of life with which our culture constantly bombards us in commercials and other media, one of independent thinking and self-reliance mixed with following the crowd for the latest trends. We may even have to make hard choices between loyalties to family, the country, the church and the Lord. When we’re called to be disciples, Jesus becomes the sifter for our priorities.
We’ll also need to let go of some emotions, including our need to acquire, our need for material success and approval, our jealousy, prejudices, hatreds, unforgiveness, and anything else that makes us think of ourselves as better or more deserving of God’s blessings than other people.
To hold on to anything we treat as an idol is to fail to hold on to Jesus.
The choice to follow Christ is just the beginning of a life-long series of choices that require evaluation and prayer, relying on the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and protect us. The process of maturation in the Christian faith is long, but it pays off in the joy and peace that comes from knowing you are true to God and the principles Jesus taught so clearly. Michelle Obama said, “Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there is more growing to be done.”
Paul’s letter to Philemon is an example of a carefully thought-out decision to try to repair a relationship despite great risk. Philemon was a wealthy man, who owned slaves and had a house large enough to accommodate a church. Paul sent the letter to the whole church to keep Philemon accountable, but it asked Philemon to make a decision that went against the culture they were living in. Slavery was considered normal and even necessary. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave. He met Paul while the church was being formed. Onesimus ran away and helped Paul during his house-arrest/imprisonment. They formed a close bond, and Onesimus accepted Christ. It’s not quite clear from the letter whether Onesimus stole something or if being a run-away slave meant that he had stolen himself. A slave was usually considered property, like an animal, rather than a person. Philemon labeled Onesimus “useless” and a “thief.” Ironically, Onesimus means “useful” in Greek.
Paul encouraged Philemon to accept and welcome Onesimus back as  one who was transformed through baptism into more than an animal, more than personal property. There were no guarantees that this would work. Not only would Philemon have to let go of his resentment toward Onesimus for running away, but he’d have to risk the censure of his friends, neighbors, and household for accepting Onesimus back without some kind of punishment. Paul asked Philemon to see Onesimus as a child of God who should be treated a fellow Christian and a member of God’s family, and to let go of Onesimus’ labels in his mind.
It’s so easy to label each other, even in the church. In the middle of a conversation, an unfortunate adjective can be attached to a fellow member and perhaps change the perception of the listener. She’s lazy. He talks too much. She’s too liberal or too conservative. These labels come out of our ego’s need to feel superior and more deserving of blessings and the love of God that everyone receives equally as God’s kids. Jesus asks us to let go of that need to be right, to be better, to be justified in the eyes of those we know. He wants us to trust that the God who loved the world enough to give an only Son for us loves us despite our failings and because we are his own.
Grace through Christ means we are justified by faith, not by works or superiority. It’s human nature to be self-centered. It’s Christ’s nature and our example to be selfless, to sacrifice one’s own ego and ambitions for a life of service. I’m sure Mary and Joseph’s relatives and friends encouraged Jesus to marry and raise a family, to be part of the common culture. Boys were considered men at the age of thirteen, so Jesus’ single status at the age of 30, especially as the first-born son, was an unusual and risky choice. It was wise, though, because he knew what he was called to do.
Speaking of making choices, we asked you to turn in your surveys based on the Think Tank we held in July by last Sunday. As of Friday, we had 10 responses. I understand that this is a challenging process and one that you’ve been through in the past without success. But I’m asking each of you to pray about this and consider the cost, of doing more for God through St. Andrew, or by continuing on the same path you’ve been on for the last several years. Some of you have considered the cost of doing more and decided it was too high. If your choice is to continue the status quo for whatever reason, you are still making a choice. If we end up merging with another church, for example, it will take a couple of years, mean closing one of the buildings, and result in having to choose a new pastor for the new combined congregation. Or we may run out of money and simply close within a few years.
A big thank you to those who have returned their surveys. If you haven’t yet, please do, if only to let us know that you feel the cost of helping to extend our ministry is too high for you at this point in your life. We will understand. Either way, please return them no later than September 18th, so we have time to put the results together for consideration during the next session meeting.
Please pray with me. Creator God, Create in us a new vision for this church; show us your will and your way. Create in us an honest and servant attitude, that we may count the cost for each of us and all of us together. Give us your strength and insight into your will. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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