(Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 1, Philemon 1-21)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/y5RBllCB48A)
25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Let us begin with a short story about two seeds that lay side by side in the fertile spring soil. The first said, “I want to grow! I want to send my roots deep into the soil beneath me, and thrust my sprouts through the earth’s crust above me…I want to unfurl my tender buds like banners to announce the arrival of spring…I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the bless of the morning dew on my petals!” And she grew.
The second seed said, “I am afraid. If I send my roots into the ground below, I don’t know what I will encounter in the dark. If I push my way through the hard soil above me I may damage my delicate sprouts…what if I let my buds open and a snail tries to eat them? And if I were to open my blossoms, a small child may pull me from the ground. No, it is much better for me to wait until it is safe.” And so she waited.
A yard hen scratching around in the early spring ground for food found the waiting seed and promptly ate it.
Life is about risk. One of those seeds understood that. The other seed did not and look where it got her. She was promptly eaten. Life was taken away from her because she was unwilling to take risks and grow. She didn’t want to risk reaching out into the unknown of sending roots into the ground below and she didn’t want to risk reaching out into the unknown of sending blossoms into the sky above. She was paralyzed by her indecision and fear and life too advantage of her paralysis. She became an easy target for the hungry hen up above. Life doesn’t allow for paralysis. Life doesn’t allow for fear and indecision. Life is fearless and eager to decide for the fearful and indecisive. Just sit long enough and you’ll be bombarded by life. You’ll get hungry, you’ll get sleepy, you’ll need to go to the bathroom, or you’ll just get plain bored. Life will encroach on you and remind you that you’re a living creature meant to grow and develop. And we can only grow and develop if we take risks. We have to fearlessly plow forward into the great unknown of our lives if we’re going to build any value to our lives. We need to take risks to live. A risk-free life is in an unlived life. There’s great little poem by an unknown author that goes:
There once was a very cautious man
Who never laughed or played;
He never risked, he never tried,
He never sang or prayed.
And when he one day passed away
His insurance was denied;
For since he never really lived,
They claimed he never died!
Make no doubt about it, life is risky. Life wouldn’t be life if there was no risk. We’d be dead just like that poor seed who refused to take any risk.
Of course, this is not to say that we have to live risky lives. Rather we have to assess the risks in our lives and minimize those that are harmful and maximize those that are helpful. We have to take risks that have the potential for benefiting our lives in the long run while at the same time avoid risks that will eventually destroy our lives. Business people refer to this assessment as “risk analysis.” They’re constantly assessing the risks in their businesses to achieve the greatest profits and minimize potential loss. Our lives are similar in that they are each one big risk analysis. Each of us must daily decide to engage in either life-giving behavior or life-destroying behavior. You would think that most of us would choose to engage in life-giving behavior but you’d be surprised how many of us would knowingly choose life-destroying behavior. Thus is the power of sin and death in this world. It is a daily battle to choose life over sin and death. And despite its power, sin and death are not nearly as strong as life. Life and love will always conquer sin and death! Just remember what Jesus did on the cross. God’s own Son conquered sin and death and rose to new life and new love in our world! But we get away from the risk of life…
Beneath our readings assigned for this morning is this tacit understanding of the risk of life. In our passage from Deuteronomy, we heard Moses addressing the newly freed slaves in the wilderness. He gave them (and us!) a pretty convincing argument for keeping God’s commandments. “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.” Moses clearly lays it out-if we obey then we will LIVE! And live ABUNDANTLY! And live JOYOUSLY! God understands the risk of life all too well…God created all of life! Of course He understands the risks of life! But He’s always committed to creating new life. He gives us his commandments and decrees and ordinances as means of ensuring new life. They weren’t designed to destroy life but rather to create life…to create new life where life has been destroyed. And obeying God often involves living by faith. It involves going out into the wildernesses of our lives and taking risks and relying on God to walk with us through those risk-taking times. It involves growing and evolving and maturing into the people God wants us to be. God didn’t design seeds to lay dormant in the soil. No, God designed seeds to grow and set roots and blossom. Just as God didn’t design us to lay dormant in whatever environment we find ourselves. God designed us to grow and learn and seek and LIVE! God gave us commandments, decrees, and ordinances to do just that.
Along came Jesus who took the words of Moses to a whole new level. Rather than reiterate the advice of Moses, Jesus simplified all the commandments and decrees and ordinances into one simple command—follow me. Do you want to obey God’s commandments and decrees and ordinances? Then simply follow Jesus and his teachings. They all produce the same result! God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances create the same life as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. If we follow Jesus and his teachings, we achieve the same life that we would if we were to follow all of God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances. The result is the exact same! This is why Jesus said, “I came to fulfill the law.” Jesus has the same life-giving qualities as God’s law. They are one and the same.
And just like God’s law often expects us to live by faith, so too must we live by faith if we are to follow Jesus. It isn’t easier to follow Jesus than it is to follow God’s law in all its various forms. It is just simplified a little. Indeed, it is often more difficult to follow Jesus than it is to obey God’s various commandments, decrees, and ordinances. Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading are difficult words to hear! Jesus tells us we must hate our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself and pick up a cross in order to follow him. That’s a pretty difficult expectation! At least God’s law never expects us to deny those we love to adhere to it! Perhaps it is easier to obey God’s law than it is to follow Jesus! Yes, following Jesus can be difficult. It is risky to follow Jesus. He calls us out into the wilderness and demands us to live by faith much the same way as God’s law. But be assured, there is great life to be had when following Jesus. There is good life in following Jesus. There is good life in obeying God’s law.
As we continue our walk through Pentecost, let us not be afraid of Jesus’ words. He simply wants us to follow him with all our hearts. He wants us take a risk in following him with all our hearts. He wants us to live by faith in order to follow him. After all, there is nothing but good life in following Jesus. Life is about risk. Jesus is about risk too. Let us be bold and eager to follow when Jesus calls out… “Come away with me.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.