When I was a student
the church I attended put on weekly student lunches.
When they began doing this,
they decided not to charge anything.
They went out,
bought all the food,
prepared the room,
laid everything out...
and no one came.
And over the following weeks, that continued.
Very few people came in.
After a while, the church changed tack.
They decided to charge for the lunch –
a nominal sum,
so it was still the cheapest lunch available anywhere,
there was a cost.
In a couple of weeks, the room was packed out.
People flooded in.
Some weeks there was even insufficient food
for all the students who turned up.
When the food was free,
people thought it was worthless.
When there was a cost,
people recognised it had value.
In our gospel reading today
Jesus laid out the cost of being his disciple.
There were huge crowds following him,
yet many did not know where he was going.
Perhaps they enjoyed how he embarrassed the religious authorities.
Perhaps they wanted to see him take on the Roman authorities.
Perhaps they wanted to see more miracles.
The truth was,
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.
In Luke chapter 9 he had set his face in that direction
and from that time onwards he was always moving closer to it.
In chapter 13 he made clear what going to Jerusalem signified –
And so, as these great crowds followed,
he turned to them to make clear what following him meant.
And Jesus is still calling disciples.
In his great commission at the end of Matthew's gospel
he called on his disciples to make more disciples.
We are part of that continuing process –
so Jesus' words here apply also to us.
What does it take for us to be disciples of Jesus?
What is the cost?
There is a cost for our closest relationships.
“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”.
To hate here means to love less –
our relationship with Jesus must come first.
To be a disciple of Jesus requires a new birth.
Jesus is creating a new family,
based not on natural birth,
but on spiritual birth.
And our primary allegiance as his disciples is to him
rather than our natural family.
Does this mean we abandon our families?
Not at all.
Mandy, my wife, moved from Alabama to England
and now, having married me,
has stayed there for much longer than she expected.
There have been a number of people in England
who have assumed that she must have hated Alabama
in order to move to England.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
She loves Alabama,
and she loves her family,
and yet God called her to England.
Following Jesus has made it look like Mandy hates her family.
The truth is, Mandy loves her family deeply –
but she loves Jesus more.
And now that we are married,
one of us will always be away from home.
If God calls us to stay in England,
Mandy will be away from her family here.
If God calls us to move here,
I will be away from my family.
If we are going to be disciples of Jesus,
then obedience to his call must take precedence over our family.
The second cost is to our lives.
“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.”
Where there's a cross,
there's a crucifixion.
The world says to people, “Come fly with me!”;
Jesus says to us, “Come die with me”.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem
and he is on his way to die.
Anyone who follows him must be willing to do the same.
We don't have to find the cross –
it is already there.
We need to carry it.
Does this mean we seek suffering and death?
Again, not at all.
But we must be prepared for it.
Following Jesus takes our whole life.
The parable of the man building a tower makes this clear –
being a disciple of Jesus is something that must be finished.
It is not something we do for a few years
before something better comes along.
It is not something to carry us through a difficult time
until we feel better and drop it.
Discipleship is a lifelong commitment.
Thirdly, Jesus made clear that there is a cost to our possessions:
“none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up
(literally, say goodbye to)
all your possessions.”
Jesus spent more time talking about how we should use money
than about anything else.
He knew the power that money has
and the hindrance it can be in our relationship with God.
Down where Mandy's parents live,
near Gulf Shores, Alabama,
the economy for a long time was dependent on agriculture.
Land was used for farming
and so no one wanted the sandy, beachfront property
because nothing could grow on it.
In fact, only 100 years ago it cost 25 cents an acre.
But since that time,
tourism has been on the increase.
Now an acre of land is worth more like half a million dollars.
What was once thought worthless has,
become incredibly valuable.
If someone 100 years ago could have foreseen that change,
they would have bought up the whole of the beach!
While the immediate benefit would have been negligible,
in the long term it is a wise investment.
Jesus calls on us to say goodbye to all our possessions,
not because money is evil,
but because he wants us to make a wiser investment.
He wants us to invest in him.
Being a disciple of Jesus means investing all we have in following him.
It may look like a waste to the people around us,
just like anyone buying beachfront property in Gulf Shores
100 years ago would have looked foolish.
But in fact it is the only secure investment we can ever make.
Jesus is certainly making clear the cost involved in being his disciple
Is he trying to dissuade us from following him?
Is he frustrated by the size of the crowds
and hoping that his strict demands will cause some of them to leave?
Neither of these is true:
Jesus' desire was to make disciples
and as we noted his final commission to those first disciples
was to go and make more disciples!
So what is his purpose in laying out the costs involved?
Is it simply a matter of honesty?
You know, terms and conditions apply, please see in store for details?
Is he laying out the small print for legal reasons?
Perhaps partly – after all “there was no deceit in him”.
But Jesus did not say,
“If you do not do this, you are not allowed to be my disciple”
Rather, he said
“If you do not do this you cannot be my disciple”
It is not possible to follow Jesus without doing these things.
These are not entry requirements,
a standard to live up to in order to be admitted as a disciple.
Rather, these are the non-negotiables:
there is no discipleship without this.
It seems incredibly harsh to us:
perhaps it even goes against the view of Jesus we have in our minds.
Certainly “gentle Jesus meek and mild”
would not say such things.
Perhaps we need to have our view of Jesus shaped by what he did say
rather than by what we'd prefer him to say.
But in the midst of these strong words, there is hope.
Jesus is not only laying out the cost of discipleship.
Like the church putting on student lunches
where people only came once the cost was made clear
Jesus is making clear the cost of discipleship
so that we can see more clearly the value of discipleship.
Discipleship requires us to hate our families,
that is, to love them less
in comparison with how much we love Jesus.
Think of the love you have for your spouse,
or your parents
or your children
or your siblings.
In Jewish society, the family was extremely close-knit,
so for Jesus to claim a higher love than for one's family
was a shocking thing to do.
Only God could claim such devotion:
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your mind
and with all your strength.”
But in claiming this, Jesus was also saying that he was worthy of such love.
As Paul wrote to the Romans
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us.”
He calls us to love him more than our own lives
and he set the example by giving his life for us.
Discipleship also requires us to carry our cross
that is, to take on the suffering which is part of the Christian life
and to commit ourselves to Jesus until death.
But Jesus promises to give us life in all its fullness
both now and after death, if we follow him.
He promises that
“whoever tries to keep his life will lose it
but whoever loses his life for my sake will keep it.”
Again, Paul wrote that
“we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Again, Jesus set the example by taking up the cross
and dying for us.
There is nothing he asks us to do that he was unwilling to do himself.
Discipleship finally requires us to give up our possessions.
Jesus had no home; he had nowhere to lay his head.
When he had to pay taxes,
he sent Peter to get the coin out of the mouth of a fish!
When he was crucified,
his clothes were taken and the soldiers gambled for them.
He was laid in a borrowed tomb.
Once more, Paul wrote
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sake he became poor,
so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Jesus calls us to true riches.
He calls us to use all our possessions in this life
to lay up treasure in heaven.
He calls us to make a wiser investment,
one that will truly last:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy
and where thieves break in and steal,
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust destroys
and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
He calls us to follow him and find treasure of eternal value.
In his book, “The Great Omission”,
author Dallas Willard writes of the cost of non-discipleship.
“Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace,
a life penetrated throughout by love,
faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good,
hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances,
power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.
nondiscipleship costs you exactly that abundance of life
Jesus said he came to bring.
The cross-shaped yoke of Jesus Christ is after all
an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with him
and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart
that brings rest to the soul”
Jesus makes clear to us the cost of discipleship
and the value of discipleship.
So weigh up the cost:
can you afford to follow him to the end,
regardless of what comes your way?
Can you afford not to?