Children Behave! Become the Good Kind of Christian

Heritage Presbyterian Church

September 8, 2019
13th Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture readings – Jeremiah 18: 1-11 & Luke 14: 25-33

Sometimes the Lord is harsh!

We all love reading the passages in the Bible where Jesus welcomed the little children, or when he healed the blind and the sick and the lame, or told parables about helping others.

We love the heroic passages where his weak, vulnerable people were rescued and saved by his mighty hand, like when he sent the plagues upon Egypt, or when the Holy Family was told to flee before Herod could find the Christ child, or when the walls came down at Jericho, or when Noah and the ark were safe from the great flood.

Or maybe you like the softer side of the Lord in Scripture such as, “I lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth”; and “Have we not all one Father?  Has one God not created us?” or “If God is with us, who can stand against us?” or “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  Those are sweet and soft on our hearts, right?  That’s so nice…isn’t it?

But sometimes – like in today’s readings – the Lord is harsh!

Now to be fair…sometimes believers need the Lord to be harsh.  After all, we don’t have a strong record of consistently good behavior over time.  We tend to get things right in short bursts, only to wander off into sinful lives as soon as everything is good.  The other thing we tend to do is give up too easily.  It is murderously difficult to hang in there with our faith when things are wrong and not seeming to be getting any better…

The Lord is sometimes harsh – as today’s readings illustrate.

However, taken together, today’s readings are actually telling the children of God to behave and to become the “good” kind of Christians.

First, in the reading from Jeremiah, the Lord gives Jeremiah the example of how a potter works with a piece of clay.  The potter shapes a pot carefully and skillfully – much as the Lord created and shaped each of us.  But Jeremiah is also told that if the pot seems to be forming incorrectly, the potter takes the clay and starts over.  If the finished pot doesn’t turn out right, the potter casts it aside and starts over with a new piece of clay. 

Shape or destroy…that is what the Master Potter, our Lord, will do.  Either action will be the work of the Lord.  That’s a harsh message!

But while we are so busy wincing at the harshness, don’t miss the rest of the message.

The Lord is also telling us to become the good kind of believers, the good kind of Christians.  That means we need to always remain sensitive and receptive to the Lord’s formation.  We are never finished!  The Lord gets to decide when the pot is perfectly formed.  If we resist, then we risk a firmer hand forming us or completely reshaping us – or even starting over with us!

I understand this one all too well.

Back in the early 1990’s, I was a member of a small church that was dealing with a very tight budget.  One of the ways we proposed to save money was in pulpit supply.  When this was brought up, the pastor cheerfully pointed out that elders could preach instead of calling pulpit supply folks.  The entire Session looked at either the ceiling or the floor…none of us looked at the pastor.  But I started thinking about it, and I phoned the pastor the next day and asked more questions.  Long story short – I became the pulpit supply preacher for that church. 

But I ignored any and all discussions about going to seminary.  Until one day, when the right person said the right thing at the right time…and then I began to be re-formed and reworked into a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  That took some pretty firm pressure by the Master Potter, but it worked.

We are not called to be mindless lumps of humanity; we need to be sensitive and receptive to the Lord’s formation, however it may occur. 

The second harsh point comes from Luke’s Gospel.  This one is quite disturbing for many reasons.  First of all, Luke’s Gospel is widely considered to be the gentlest of the four Gospels.  Luke is the storyteller, using soft words and easy passages.  Yet, in verses 25-33, we are told that if we choose to follow Jesus, our families will break apart and hate each other.  We are told we must carry a cross of our own upon which to be executed.  We are told to get rid of our possessions.  These harsh words are even tougher to hear than the warnings from Jeremiah! 

Perhaps the root of the matter is not breaking up our families or dying a criminal’s shameful death or giving everything away and living on the street; perhaps the root of the matter is checking our loyalties and putting Jesus first.  In today’s society, it is pretty easy to proclaim ourselves to be Christians.  Social media, websites, Twitter, Facebook and the like gives Christians opportunities to proclaim their faith in ways we have never had.

All of it doesn’t mean much if proclaiming our faith is all we do with it. 

Along with the opportunities to proclaim, we are also aware of opportunities to serve.  Again, social media reminds of us of various needs all over the planet – and in our own backyard.  It is easy to become aware of problems, so we can do our part to work and address them. 

God’s call on our lives is designed to radically re-order our values and visibly re-shape our actions.  If that costs the support of our families and friends, if it costs us our wonderful possessions, then that may be the cost of discipleship.

The good kind of Christians understands the cost of discipleship – and accepts it.  But the good kind of Christians never, NEVER quit trying to bring families and friends to the Lord at the same time.

The words from the old song remind us, “With one hand, reach out to Jesus, and with the other hand, bring a friend.”

[“Two Hands” by Chuck Girard, 1972]

Finally, we get the harshest point in today’s readings.  As if we could ever do so, believers are told to never forget the cross.  Jesus suffered and died a criminal’s death at the hands of the occupying Roman army.  He was betrayed by the religious leaders of his day who were challenged by his radical teachings.  He went to this death freely and bravely.  And he did all for us.

So, we owe a debt we can never repay.  We cannot ever EVER live up to the example that Jesus set for us.  We will all fall short.

And that is exactly where Satan wants to find us…doubting our worthiness to receive Jesus’ sacrifice.

Friends, none of us are worthy enough. 

None of us are good enough.

None of us are good enough Christians to earn the right to even call ourselves “Christians.”

But we also receive the grace and the mercy of the Lord.  We also receive his love and understanding, which will never depart from us.  We also receive his salvation, and so does every living being who ever walked the earth.

The difference is that the good kind of Christians accepts his or her limitations, acknowledges them before the Lord, asks for forgiveness, and then gets on with life and service to that same Lord.

The good kind of Christians do not lord it over others.

The good kind of Christians stand up for what they believe, but they do so in a gentle, forgiving way.

The good kind of Christians hold firm even when things are hard…especially when things are hard.

Because even the good kind of Christian will face pain, loss, suffering and injustice at some point in life.  In those low moments, when our faith weakens, hope can still remain in the hearts of stubborn believers.

So, my friends, yes – the Lord can be very harsh at times!  But when did we learn that following the Lord would get us a trouble-free life?

He is the Lord who loves, redeems, forgives, and remains.  He is the Lord who will tell us the unvarnished truth, even if it makes us wince.  In that harshness is still a message of unbelievable love.

And the good kind of Christians always seek that love!