Puttin’ Down Roots

A sermon from the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (9-5-10).

Children’s Sermon: want to learn to play make believe. Make believe you’re a tree! What do trees need to survive? Yes, water and light… and soil to hold the roots steady. Did you know that the Bible says we are like trees, too? That God plants us by streams of water (to feed our roots) and helps us grow in faith? There are a lot of things that don’t help trees (or even hurt them). Let’s remember to pray that God will give us all that we need to grow each day in faith toward him.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I first read this lesson I though to myself, “Oh, great. Lucky me! I get to preach on this?!” “Take up your cross and follow me.” “Um… Jesus, the cross means death, a really slow and painful death, execution style.” “Hate your family and give away everything you own.”

Lucky me. Yes, lucky for me that Jesus doesn’t hold back on the hard stuff in order to get my attention and bring me back to God.

This is no triumphal parade he calls us to – it’s a cross of discipleship. What does your cross look like these days? We all have one. It’s big and cumbersome, and really heavy. But not so heavy that we can’t shoulder it for awhile. Our cross can be embarrassing. Others may not understand why we carry it. And it’s never convenient.

It’s not a cross of punishment for something we did or did not do. It’s the place of pain that we go to on purpose, as followers of Jesus.

You heard me right: as people of faith, lifting up the cross, and shouldering its weight, is our calling. We choose to stand with those who are hurting. We hoist that heavy burden (slivers and all) not in some masochistic show of self-hatred; but because our roots go deep into the earth of our faith and we know we will not break under its weight.

I think some in the crowd that day were put off by Jesus, thinking he was asking too much. But others were drawn closer to him by these same harsh words. Like trees gently, but firmly, swaying in the shadow of the cross – they got it – that Jesus was calling them back to choose life – a life rooted in Almighty God.

I love the image of the tree we encounter in Psalm 1 today. Trees have deep roots, holding them firm in the earth, yet making them flexible enough to bend and sway in the midst of storms. We don’t bear fruit all the time… but when it’s in season that fruit is a sweet surprise. Patience and care must be taken to tend to the tree. But it is God who provides the growth. Anything else we add to the mix (our possessions, our families, our great ideas) will only hinder that spiritual growth.

In our Deuteronomy lesson for today we are told to “choose life.” It sounds so simple. Who on earth would choose death? Well, some deaths come disguised as life. But they’re not the rain and the sun that you need.

No, you may as well pour gasoline on your begonias because no matter how much it may ignite your car’s engine – sending shivers up & down your spine – it’s still gasoline – not H20 – and if you’re a plant it’ll kill you.

“Oh,” you may say, “who pours gas on a plant, silly? I would never do that. All I’ve got here is this high fructose corn syrup. That shouldn’t hurt it. Or a few bottles of Miller Genuine Draft – or this five-dollar bill for my lottery ticket: harmless, fun money. That won’t hurt the plant.”

And there are plenty of folks who aren’t into drinkin’ & gamblin’ that are just as deluded: by their sanctimonious cup of teetotaler’s delight! Drugs and addictions are easy targets – but what we often don’t suspect is our own pride, or even placing a loved one before God.

To be clear, if it’s not the light of Jesus shining down on our tree – if it’s not the living water rising up through our roots – it will, at best, get in the way of the growth and at worst, destroy that tree.

When Jesus went off on the crowd, he knew what was at stake. And he was following a long-standing tradition of the prophets – those who shocked the people back to reality in order to convict them to return to the Lord in their hearts. I mean, who did people say Jesus was? When Jesus asked Peter this, he said, “Some say your John the Baptist – and others, Elijah, or one of the prophets.”

Biblical prophets woke people up! They offended their audiences, often threatening of God’s wrath – in order to turn them back to the God who so loves them.

Amos called his listeners “Fat cows of Bashan!” calling for justice to roll down like mighty waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!

Jeremiah said: “If I say I won’t talk about my Lord, it’s as if there is a fire shut up in my bones and I am weary holding it in. I cannot.”

Even Jesus’ mother, Mary, prophesied in the Magnifcat: “You, O God, have cast the mighty down from their thrones and uplifted the humble in heart. You have fed the hungry with wondrous things and left the wealthy no part.”

Jesus’ concern for the poor, and for victims of oppression were born out of this prophetic tradition, and out of his experience as a Jew, living in the minority, under Roman occupation.

So, when Jesus says something so outlandish to us it’s not because he truly wants us to hate our mother and father (thus breaking the 4th commandment) – but to show how much God desires a relationship with us.

What did God tell Moses after he gave the Ten Commandments to him? “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

In the Small Catechism, Luther said, “God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore we are to fear his wrath and not disobey these commandments. However, God promises grace and every good thing to all those who keep these commandments. Therefore we also are to love and trust him and gladly act according to his commands.”

That’s what “choosing life” is all about. I mean you can lie and cheat and steal and kill to get your way in this world… but it all leads to death and destruction. This is not how we were intended to live. How can we possibly know peace and harmony apart from God’s Law?

Now, I didn’t say we were able to follow that Law to the “T.” No one is able to keep the law in its entirety. That’s why Jesus came – to cover the rest of the bases – not to do away with the law… but to fulfill it!

The good news is God’s still trying to get your attention. God is a jealous God and will stop at nothing to wake you up to who you truly are: God’s tree, firmly rooted in the soil of Jesus. You are strong and able, fed with the waters of baptism you are green and fruit-bearing. Flexible to the winds you know how to bend as you must without breaking. And you belong to the Lord.

Let us pray: Lord God, only you can make these words come alive – only you can take our thoughts and make them holy. Give us the strength to choose life this day, to shoulder our cross in loving obedience, and to be rooted in your saving grace. Amen.

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