Sermon — Pr. Martin Noland — Total Dedication
Text: Luke 14:25-35 [16th Sunday after Pentecost]
In American society, there are many people who have total dedication to their vocation. Mothers who have children at home are the most common. Even if they work outside of the home, child-rearing for mothers is a 24 hour, 7 days a week job. That’s “total dedication” in my book. It is true that fathers are supposed to share the burden, but you all know that the burden rests on mom’s shoulders. That is why we have Mother’s Day.
Another example of “total dedication” to vocation are our service men and women. While they are in uniform, their entire life is dedicated to service to our country. Our soldiers and sailors travel the world to keep you safe and secure. Even if they don’t see combat, they have to travel through, or live in, some of the most inhospitable places on earth. If they are career soldiers, their family will move around every couple of years–with no place to really call home. And if, God forbid, there is a war, they may be asked to place their life and health in harm’s way on your behalf. That is total dedication. That is why we have Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
Another example of “total dedication” are artists and athletes. Real artists are dedicated to their craft, whether that be playing an instrument, singing, painting, sculpture, literature, or the dramatic arts. For most artists, this does not result in great fame or riches. Real athletes are dedicated to their game or sport, whether that be swimming, running, baseball, golf, or anything else you find on the sports page of your newspaper. For most athletes, their dedication does not result in great fame or riches. Everyone admires athletes and artists who are truly dedicated to their craft or sport, because in them we see the best abilities of the human race.
In our Gospel lesson today, and throughout the New Testament, you will find that the Christian life is one that also demands “total dedication.” My favorite passage on this topic is found in 2 Timothy 2:3-7. Paul writes to his protégé Timothy and says:
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
Jesus says similar things in our Gospel today. For example, in verse 26, he says, “If anyone does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” What does this mean? Jesus does not mean that you should be angry with your family or mistreat them. That is not what the word “hate” means here. It means that Jesus wants his disciple to be so totally dedicated to him that his family thinks he hates them. That is what they often accuse him of doing when they are not Christians themselves.
Here is an example that might make this matter of “hating your family” clearer. I have a friend who is a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. He was born and raised in Mexico in a devout Roman Catholic family. When he moved to the United States for work, he converted to the Lutheran faith, went to seminary, and became a pastor to Spanish-speaking congregations.
When he converted to the Lutheran faith, his family in Mexico told him something like, “You can’t do this. All Mexicans are Catholic. All of our family has been Catholic. Some of our ancestors were Spaniards who were devout followers of the pope. If you become Protestant, you have committed an act of hatred toward your ancestors, your family, and your country–and we will disown you forever.” And they did.
If you were born and raised in a Lutheran family, as most of you were, you probably have no idea what this pastor endured when he left the faith of his family and ancestors. These words of Jesus in our Gospel, in verse 26, are especially meaningful to people who leave the religion of their family in order to follow Jesus. In Jesus’ day that was everyone. Everyone who became a Christian was either a Jew or a devotee of some pagan religion. There were very few atheists and little religious tolerance.
As Christian missionaries brought the Gospel to new peoples and new lands, all of those people had to renounce the religion of their families and ancestors. The Christians in India renounced Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and all the practices of Hinduism. The Christians in Greece renounced Zeus and the gods on the top of Mount Olympus. The Christians in Rome renounced Jupiter, Mithras, the Great Mother Goddess, the mystery religions, and the temples in every city that paid homage to the emperor. The Christians in Germany renounced the Gothic gods and the worship of trees. And the Christians in Britain renounced the druids, leaving Stonehenge as a witness to a religion and culture they left behind.
Why did all of these Christians and many more, throughout two millennia of history, have to renounce their former religion? Couldn’t they have worshiped both Jesus and their former gods? The Jews knew–and they still know–that their God is a jealous God. They knew that Jahweh–the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–does not tolerate the worship of other gods by his devotees. Jesus did not teach anything different.
What is the First Commandment? “Thou shalt have no other gods before me!” When you believe in the true God, and when you become Jesus’ disciple, you have to renounce all the other gods and religious practices that are not in accord with his teaching. That is what “total dedication” means for a disciple of Jesus.
“Total dedication” does not mean that you have to give up eating certain types of food on certain days of the year, or that you have to avoid wholesome entertainment. “Total dedication” does not mean that you dress different than the general public, or spend a year of your life in missionary service like the Mormons. “Total dedication” refers to the object of faith and religious devotion. It means you believe and confess that only the Triune God is god, that all other gods and religions are false, and that you refuse to be involved in religious practices that compromise that truth.
Our church body, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, has always taken this Gospel lesson, and others like it, very seriously. This is the reason that we have objected to our members being involved in the lodges. It is not because we are not sociable–that is hardly the case!–but because the generic god to which the Masons and lodges pray is no god at all. This is the reason that we prohibit our pastors and church-workers from participating in the religious services of other religions, in “ecumenical services,” and even with other Christian denominations. It is also one of the reasons that we don’t let just anyone take communion at our altar. In obedience to Jesus and the apostles, and to avoid spiritual judgment on the communicant, we do not allow people to commune at our altar who do not believe in Jesus or his Word, especially his words about this sacrament.
This type of renunciation of other religions, and either other types of Christianity, sounds unloving, even hateful, to those who do not understand it. That is what Jesus warns you about in our Gospel. Nonbelievers do not understand that Christians are the “bride of Christ” and that he is a jealous groom, as all good husbands should be! True faith in Jesus means total dedication to him, just as wives should be totally faithful to their husbands and husbands totally faithful to their wives.
Because “total dedication” to Jesus is so difficult by human effort alone, you need to know that God will forgive your sins of unfaithfulness, if you repent and pray for forgiveness of those sins. Even so, we pray that God would strengthen our faith, day by day, so that we remain faithful to him throughout our lives and until our dying day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.