Year C — The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18)

Commentary for September 8, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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Jeremiah 18:1-11
I’ve never been very crafty with my hands; manual dexterity just isn’t my long suit. But I have long been amazed at the gift of those who make beautiful things from “just stuff” — and pottery is certainly one of those arts.

Our lives are “just stuff” that becomes molded in the hands of God, the Great Potter. We are God’s artwork. No artist really wants to reject a piece of his/her handiwork. But, there is a strong warning at the end of this text about that very prospect. 

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Oh, wow…I always love reading from Psalm 139!

Pick a verse, almost any verse from this text and you’ve got the subject for a sermon. Taken together, there is not a more powerful statement about the presence of God in, around, and all through our lives. Especially comforting to me after what has been a summer of great loss in my congregation, is the final phrase: “I come to the end — I am still with you.”

As my colleague often says (and writes), “Amen and amen.”

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Life’s choices are not always clear and unambiguous, at least in the moment. The calorie-laden chocolate eclair looks awfully tempting, even to a person prone to diabetic fluctuations in his bloodstream. 

It takes a bigger, longer-term view to add proper perspective — something akin to God’s view. The words of wisdom from Deuteronomy are, “I set before you today life and prosperity, [as well as] death and adversity….. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

The first stanza of Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer, which is often mis-quoted (a little bit) comes to mind here:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity 

the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things 
which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish 
the one from the other.

(For the entire prayer, complete and unabridged, click here.)

Psalm 1

The opening of the Psalter makes a nice companion piece to Deuteronomy; a wonderful, poetic description of what happens when we choose good, and what happens when we choose evil. 

Philemon 1:1-1:21

We’re used to hearing Paul in his relentlessly didactic mode (and we mostly love him for it!) Philemon gives us a look at Paul’s somewhat softer side. How can Phil refuse to grant Onesimus the grace that he needs, after Paul has finished setting him up by reminding him of the grace that he (Philemon) has received in his own life?

Luke 14:25-33

Luke now records some of Jesus’ hardest sayings. The cost of discipleship is great — in fact, the text tells us, the cost is everything we have. 


by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In 2007 this was “Youth Sunday” at Friedens Lutheran Church in Gibsonville, NC.  Though I was the pastor none of what happened that day was my idea; those little Tarheels had a mind of their own. They did almost everything in the service. My role was to be the celebrant at the Eucharist, and to make brief comments after their dramatic rendition of “The Little Red Hen,” which was the sermon for the day.
I thought it a brilliant and hilarious choice, but the Youth Director was afraid that the more literal minded among the congregation wouldn’t get it, so it was my job to point out the connections between the story and the texts for the day. (And also to stall for time while the girls changed from their “chicken suits” into their free-flowing white dresses and tights for the liturgical dance accompanying the Creed; like I said, it was all their doing.)
So here goes; my homily on the connections between the texts for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost and the classic children’s story the Little Red Hen.

It is tempting when reading our first lesson from Deuteronomy (30:15-20) to conclude that God is setting before the people a stark, legalistic choice, like the bully on the playground who says, “Play by my rules, or I’ll beat you up.” Way too many religious leaders have used that technique down through the years. “Choose to follow my rules, my ethics, my commands, or you will burn in Hell!”

That version fails to recognize the Law, the commandments of God, as a gift, a teaching, a help to God’s beloved people. The commandments were given to us to help us chart our way through life. Is it possible that God’s word of promise here is better understood as;

“Look, I have shown you the way. This is how one must live to successfully make it through life. If you do not follow this way, the consequences for you, and for others, could be very serious, very dire, could maybe even lead to death?” 

In that light, God’s call to “choose life” is a call to take seriously the need to follow a strong ethical path through life. To “choose life” is to choose to be a part of a community that cares about and respects one another and looks out for one another, for that is what the commandments call us to do and to be. 

In the story of the Little Red Hen, all the other animals refused to follow the rules, the guidelines, the commandments; for being a part of a family, a community. They refused to participate in the things that make a community safe and productive for all involved. They refused to help; but they all wanted to reap the benefits of the work done by the Little Red Hen.

In our Gospel Lesson from Luke, Jesus talks about what it means to be a full participant in a loving community. His words about sacrifice, giving up family and counting the cost, and taking up the cross; are meant to bring home to his listeners and to us, the seriousness of becoming a part of the Kingdom of God, the Community of Christ. 

Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer died at the hands of the Nazis at the end of WWII.  In his book “The Cost of Discipleship,” he pointed out the problem that he called “cheap grace.” Way too many of us accept salvation without being willing to take up our own cross of service and sacrifice in order to follow Christ. We are like the animals who want to eat the bread, but don’t want to help the Little Red Hen bring in the crop.

In the original story, The Little Red Hen ate her bread alone. But our youth showed that they are good little Lutherans and have learned their theology well. In their story, the animals repent and the Hen shares her bread. This is how God is. God does forgive us our cold hearts and idle hands.

But we are called to respond to God’s free (notice I said free, not cheap) God’s free grace with lives of gratitude and discipleship. This day we are called to take up the Cross and follow wherever our Lord leads.

Amen and amen.

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