THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AT WOODBURY
September 4, 2022
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Loving God, you call us to turn away from our own selfish interests, to take up our cross, and to follow you. To find our lives, may we live them in service of your mission. As we come before you this morning, give us open hearts and open hands. Make us eager to hear your voice and seek your guidance. Open our minds to your ever-present spirit that is always moving within and around us open our spirits to your nudging and open our lives to your love. This we pray, in Christ’s name. Amen.
PRELUDE “Entrance for Vespers” Adolhe Marty
CALL TO WORSHIP
From daily worries that distract and distort your life-giving path,
gather us, O God.
From suffering that overwhelms and weighs heavy on our hearts,
gather us, O God.
From temptations to escape through worldly addictions and comforts,
gather us, O God.
We choose you and Christ’s way. Help us attend to your presence with us in worship.
Let us worship God.
*HYMN No. 402 “How Lovely, Lord”
1 How lovely, Lord, how lovely
is your abiding place;
my soul is longing, fainting,
to feast upon your grace.
The sparrow finds a shelter,
a place to build her nest;
and so your temple calls us
within its walls to rest.
2 In your blest courts to worship,
O God, a single day
is better than a thousand
if I from you should stray.
I’d rather keep the entrance
and claim you as my Lord
than revel in the riches
the ways of sin afford.
3 A sun and shield forever
are you, O Lord Most High;
you shower us with blessings;
no good will you deny.
The saints, your grace receiving,
from strength to strength shall go,
and from their life shall rivers
of blessing overflow.
*CALL TO RECONCILIATION
The path of faithfulness is oftentimes difficult and full of obstacles of our own making. Let us humbly approach the God who calls and creates, confessing the sins that turn us away from new life in Christ.
*PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
Holy God, you formed us from the dust of the earth and breathed life into our bodies. Yet we take these lives for granted, choosing destructive paths and unhealthy habits. We turn to idols that addict and enslave, instead of the liberating resources Christ provides. Forgive our foolishness, God our Redeemer, and grant us the wisdom to follow you in faith. Amen.
Silence is observed
*ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Our God, who restores and resurrects, grants us new life in Jesus Christ. Know that you are forgiven and live fully in joyful freedom. Amen.
*RESPONSE No. 581 “Glory Be To the Father”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.
*PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
ANTHEM “Come Thou Fount” arr. Bob Krogstad
THE CHILDREN’S MESSAGE
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. May we approach your Word today, Holy God, with the reverence and respect it deserves. Let us be intentional in our listening and focused in our minds as we hear your Word read and proclaimed today. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Luke 14:25-33
25Now large crowds were traveling with him; 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.
SERMON “Cost or Choice?”
What does the cross mean to you? You kind of have to figure that out before you can make sense of Jesus’ statement, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
When was the last time you asked yourself that question? Has your answer changed over time? When was the last time you asked what it means for Luke?
- For Matthew?
- For Mark?
- For John?
- For Paul? The New Testament does not have a uniform answer to what the cross means — and we should not attempt to harmonize the various texts either.
Again, when was the last time you were asked this question — what does the cross mean to you?
Do you reply with a “churchy” response?
Do you offer a confessional answer, the “correct” answer?
Do you respond to the question with another question, “Aren’t we supposed to believe that it means something about suffering, something about forgiveness of sins?”
Or do we hear an invitation to conversation and dialogue about what the cross might mean, just as the New Testament represents and to which it gives witness?
For Luke, what does it mean to carry your cross? It could mean to carry the burdens of those from whom Jesus releases burdens. It could mean to carry the ministry of Jesus forward by seeing those whom the world overlooks. It could mean favoring and regarding the marginalized, even when that action might lead to your own oppression. If the cross is only a means for your salvation, then you’ve missed Jesus’ point, especially because in Luke 14 the cross hasn’t happened yet. Carrying the cross at this juncture has to be in the context of what has come before, not cast in the hindsight of our theology, confessions, and traditions. Carrying your cross cannot only be located in suffering and sacrifice when the biblical witness suggests otherwise.
Of course, most titles offered for this passage are “the cost of discipleship.”
But is it really a cost? Or a choice?
One of my favorite movies is “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. The world renowned archaeologist is seeking the cup of Christ – the Holy Grail. In the closing scenes of the movie, the bad guys – Walter Donovan and Elsa Schneider with Indy Jones are in a room with an ancient grail knight who is the last guardian of this sacred relic. The room is filled with dozens of chalices.
Walter Donovan: Which one is it?
Grail Knight: You must choose. But choose wisely, as the true grail will bring you life, and the false grail will take it from you.
Doctor Elsa chooses the grail for Walter Donovan, and he drinks from what he perceives to be the Holy Grail. After drinking, he shrivels away to dust and a pile of bones.
Grail Knight: He chose poorly.
Is it about choice or cost?
When it’s all about cost, it’s all about what you give up. What you sacrifice. What you deny. When faith is cast as cost, we become rather ignorant of the fact that life itself is costly, not just faith. Life is full of choices, of counting the costs, weighing the costs. The cross is not unique, but representative of what life is. To carry your cross is to carry the choices and burdens and realities of a life that has made a certain commitment — a commitment to a way of life that is committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now. That’s certainly what it meant for Jesus.
What a different way of being it would be if the cross were a way of choosing life and not fixated on death. In fact, if Luke is right, carrying the cross might result in life for another. This is not to say Jesus’ death doesn’t matter. It’s to push how and why it matters.
How is the cross, especially for Luke, flying in the face of empire?
A promise that God’s seeing us does not end in our death and burial?
A certainty that release of the captives is a past, present, and future reality, but that that future depends on our choice to carry the cross of Jesus?
So, carrying your cross is a choice and ironically, it is a choice for life and not death. But here is the challenge. We tend toward saying the cross is a choice for life because it leads to resurrection. Yes. And no. Yes, this is what God has done — undone death for the sake of life forever. But no if that reality has no bearing on your present. Otherwise, we ignore the plight of the disciples, of Jesus’ first followers. Just because we are privy to a post-resurrection perspective of the cross, does not mean we should impart it on those first believers.
Imagine: if the cross is choosing life, how can the fullness of a life of discipleship give witness to such a decision? Believe me, if you accept this this, you will change, and perhaps for the better, what the cross means for us and for people that we meet along the journey. There will be resistance — Jesus was escorted to a cliff, after all. The women were told their witness of the empty tomb was an “idle tale,” or in common parlance, a load of crap. There will be people who will say — you are a heretic, you have a questionable doctrine of salvation, you have eschewed and abandoned acceptable atonement theories.
Or, you will have people say — you have released me. You have freed me to imagine what the cross means for me now, not just for my future. You have done to me what Jesus said he would do in Luke 4. Yes, I will carry the cross.
What’s more, it is clear that Jesus says something so radical, he must have known it would be both puzzling and also finally a turn-off to many people. The call to hate father, mother, spouse, and children is a tad on the harsh side and surely did not fail to make at least a few folks—and perhaps more than a few folks—turn away.
That was curious enough.
But Jesus then goes on to tell two quasi parables (they are really more like analogies) that talk about counting the cost and doing prudent calculations in advance of undertaking major projects. The upshot of these two analogies is easy enough to discern. But the way Jesus told them seems to be a left-handed rebuke to the crowd. It’s almost as though Jesus is chiding the many people who were following him for not having a clue as to what they were doing in that they were the ones who had in fact did not count the cost ahead of time. They were the people who had to abandon a building project before it was finished because they ran out of money. They were the people who had gone to war against a superior opponent due to lack of prudent advance work as to the strength of the enemy.
Twice Jesus says that you have to give up everything and take up a cross if you are going to follow him. The implication is that these people had not done that but had found it altogether too easy to fall into line behind Jesus.
For those of us who are church people, this passage has a lot of relevance. After all, how many of us in the church today are not there in large part because we were raised in the church? Yes, at some point most of us made some kind of conscious decision to be a follower of Jesus: we willingly went through confirmation, we initiated our own profession of faith, we underwent the sacrament of baptism, etc. But do those formal, “typical” ways of growing up into church membership rise to the level of thoughtful seriousness and astute calculations that Jesus talks about in Luke 14?
In short, do we find it altogether too easy to fall into line behind Jesus? Especially in America, is it relatively painless to join the vast throngs that crowd into the more popular churches in the land? Many churches have in recent years and decades done all in their power to make it convenient to be a member of the church: they have established excellent parking lot flow patterns, they have greeters and Information Booths and excellent latte and family-friendly programming for every conceivable need for every possible age group along with sermons guaranteed to provide advice for things like “Five Ways to Grow Your Business” and “Seven Ways to a Healthy Marriage” and “Four Ways to Raise Successful Children.” Good Advice has eclipsed—or supplanted—Good News in many pulpits.
With programming like this, it seems unlikely that once people enter into these churches that they will hear pastors saying things that appear calculated to make them walk right back out the door. Indeed, a well-known pastor of a large church in Minneapolis once had over 1,000 members leave his church after he shared some political thoughts that the pastor knew up front would not sit well with his congregation but that he believed were true to the gospel message he was charged to preach truthfully. The spectacle of a pastor willingly sacrificing some members was so rare, it made headlines all around the nation, including on the front page of the New York Times. The relative rarity of that kind of thing makes news. And that kind of makes you wonder . . .how we might live our lives and what choices we make as disciples in our community.
When it’s all about cost, it’s all about what you give up.
What you sacrifice.
What you deny.
When faith is cast as cost, we become rather ignorant of the fact that life itself is costly, not just faith. Life is full of choices, of counting the costs, weighing the costs. The cross is not unique, but representative of what life is. To carry your cross is to carry the choices and burdens and realities of a life that has made a certain commitment — a commitment to a way of life that is committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now. That’s certainly what it meant for Jesus, and I would hope for each of you!
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH From a Brief Statement of Faith
We trust in God, whom Jesus called Abba, Father. In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community. But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator. Ignoring God’s commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care. We deserve God’s condemnation. Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation. In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all families of the earth. Hearing their cry, God delivered the children of Israel from the house of bondage. Loving us still, God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant. Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home, God is faithful still.
*HYMN No. 490 “Wash, O God, Your Sons and Daughters”
1 Wash, O God, your sons and daughters,
newborn creatures of your womb.
Number them among your people,
raised like Christ from death and tomb.
Weave them garments bright and sparkling;
compass them with love and light.
Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit,
holy dove and heart’s delight.
2 Every day we need your nurture;
by your milk may we be fed.
Let us join your feast, partaking
cup of blessing, living bread.
God, renew us; guide our footsteps,
free from sin and all its snares,
one with Christ in living, dying,
by your Spirit, children, heirs.
3 O how deep your holy wisdom!
Unimagined, all your ways!
To your name be glory, honor!
With our lives we worship, praise!
We your people stand before you,
water-washed and Spirit-born.
By your grace, our lives we offer.
Re-create us; God, transform!
THE SACRAMENT OF COMMUNION WITH THE LORD’S PRAYER
THE INVITATION TO THE TABLE
Hear the gracious words of our Savior Jesus Christ: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. No one who comes to me will I cast out. This is the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not the table of the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury or of any denomination or organization. It is the table of the Lord, the One who invites all to come and follow, who invites all to come and share in the feast.
THE GREAT PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
Lord, it is good for us to give you thanks and praise. We thank you for creating the whole world. We thank you for your unending love for us, seen in the rainbows you place in the sky, and in the stories our faithful ancestors and prophets have placed in our hearts. We thank you for loving us despite our failures, despite our anger, despite our mistakes, and despite our doubt. We thank you for loving us broken folks so much that you sent your Beloved to be the face of that love for us, to walk with us, to teach us, to share in life with us. We thank you for sending him to the cross for us. And we thank you for raising him from the dead, to give us new life in you. We thank you for calling us together, to be the church, to pray for one another, to learn and serve together, and to witness together to your great glory. Therefore, join our voices with the choirs of angels and sinners and saints and the faithful and hopeful of every time and place in singing the glory of your name:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, how wonderful is the work of your hands! When sin had scarred the world, you entered into covenant to renew the whole creation. As a mother tenderly gathers her children, as a father joyfully welcomes his own, you embraced a people with love and filled them with a longing for a peace that would last and for a justice that would never fail. Therefore, this day we pray for peace in our world, for an end to violence and oppression, for leaders who will stand for justice, for enemies to lay down their weapons. Lord, we pray for peace for our neighbors, both near and very, very far, those who we name aloud or offer to you silently now…. (wait) …. O Lord, hear our prayer.
Gracious God, through countless generations your people hungered for the bread of freedom. From and for them you raised up Jesus, your Beloved, who healed the sick, offered life to outcasts and sinners, and with a love stronger than death, he went to the cross and rose again, opened his wide arms, and offered us his spirit. So, Lord, we pray now for those who are sick, those who are tired, those who are weary, those who feel left out, and those who are lonely. We pray for all those who seek you, your healing, your comfort, and your love, by offering their names now, both aloud and silently…. (wait)… O Lord, hear our prayer.
God of Joy, we praise you for all the marvelous ways you are at work in our lives, in our congregation and in our community. We offer thanks for your presence in the hug of a sibling, the kiss of a partner, the cuddle of a child, the snuggle of a pet, and the smile of a stranger. We offer thanks to you for all the joys in our lives, naming them aloud and silently now…. (wait)…. O Lord, hear our prayer.
Eternal God, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, and upon these your fist of bread and wine, that the bread we break and the cup we bless may be the communion of the body and blood of Christ. By your Spirit, unite us with the living Christ, that we may be one in ministry, love, and witness in every place. And as this bread is Christ’s body for us, send us out to be the body of Christ in the world. We pray all this using the words you taught us, saying:
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION
On the night before our Lord Jesus died, he took bread, and after giving thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way, he took the cup, saying: This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.
SHARING AND RECEIVING THE BREAD AND THE CUP
PRAYER OF COMMITMENT
Loving God, you have given us a share in the one bread and the one cup and made us one with Christ. Help us to follow your way, and to bring your salvation and joy to all the world. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES
We have more to offer than we recognize or realize. God has given us abundant gifts. Let us faithfully respond to our generous God by presenting our tithes and offerings.
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Holy God, take these gifts and bless them for good use to your glory. May these tokens of our gratitude be of service in blessing the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing and sheltering those struggling to survive. Use these gifts to further Christ’s mission and ministry in a hurting world. Amen.
*HYMN No. 546 “Lord Dismiss Us with Your Blessing”
1 Lord, dismiss us with your blessing;
fill our hearts with joy and peace;
let us each, your love possessing,
triumph in redeeming grace.
O refresh us,
O refresh us,
traveling through this wilderness.
2 Thanks we give and adoration
for your gospel’s joyful sound;
may the fruits of your salvation
in our hearts and lives abound.
to your truth may we be found.
3 Savior, when your love shall call us,
from our struggling pilgrim way,
let no fear of death appall us,
glad your summons to obey.
May we ever,
may we ever
reign with you in endless day.
God has set before us life and death, blessings, and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. May the grace, hope, peace and love of God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer be with us all. Amen.