Theme: Giving all for Christ
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, at times your son called us to radical discipleship: help us to see what we give to your church and what we can to do more, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Luke says large crowds traveled with Jesus. To maybe put some perspective on this, picture Jesus as a first century rock star or movie star – Jesus Christ, Superstar. Jesus, though, was spared the nuisance of the paparazzi.
We tend to take this comment by Luke as a throw-away line. But I think it is important to note what the Galilee region was like then. Jesus could not travel anywhere without attracting not just a crowd, but a large crowd. People must have dropped whatever they were doing to walk with Jesus. Try to imagine how charismatic Jesus must have been. Well, here we are nearly 2,000 years later in this place and we never met him in person.
Jesus wanted to let these people know that he is not a super celebrity. He wanted them to know that walking with Jesus meant more than being in the presence of a popular person. There is no free pass in walking with Jesus. There is a cost.
First, Jesus tells them that following Jesus requires hating our families. And not just our families, we are to hate our lives. I worked with a guy at American Express who often said, at work, that he hates his job. His goal in life was to retire before he was forty. I don’t know if he ever made it.
He was looking for a life different than the one he was living. He didn’t like his life and thought that retirement was going make his life better. Even if he made it to early retirement, I’ll bet he didn’t like that either. He would still hate his life. He had no faith. He had no idea that Jesus was waiting for him to see something greater than himself.
Jesus says that it is more than just looking for someone greater than ourselves. We need to love Jesus more than anything else in the world, even ourselves. What my friend needed in his life was love. He just refused to look to Jesus for it. Jesus demands that we give up everything in order to be a follower.
What did Jesus mean by using the word hate? Hate is not primarily a feeling word in the Aramaic language, the language Jesus spoke. It is primarily a priority word. It means to abandon or to leave aside: the way a sailor needs to abandon a sinking ship or the way a general needs to leave aside distracting things to win the battle.
Jesus was probably using hyperbole when he said we need to hate our families. But I’ll bet the word got everyone’s attention! When talking to a large crowd, many of whom are probably talking among themselves, asking them to hate their loved ones must have got their attention.
Jesus doesn’t stop there. Second, putting Jesus first is not enough. Jesus then tells them that they must carry their own cross to follow him. We need to put this into context. We can wear a cross around our necks as a sign of devotion, but that doesn’t require a whole lot of us. Jesus would ask us, today, to carry our electric chairs, our nooses, our lethal injection equipment with us. We need to be prepared to be executed for Jesus.
In case any of these star-crossed followers didn’t understand what Jesus said, he asks them a series of questions to drive the point home. If you’re going to build a house, wouldn’t you first calculate the cost to make sure you can afford it first? Now lately, this wasn’t done as often as it should have been. People bought houses they could not afford. They failed to make their payments. And they and their mortgage holders put us in this recession. Normally, this produces shame. But many were shameless of their actions.
What national leader would go to war without first calculating the number of troops it would take to achieve victory? If he discovers he doesn’t have enough, the leader will instead sue for peace. It’s also possible that the leader won’t realize the force is not enough and will go anyway. Then the leader finds the army in a quagmire and later needs a surge in troops to get the job done.
Discipleship adds to ordinary life another potential conflict of loyalties. There is a cost to baptism. Baptism requires a shift of priorities. It’s a wonderful family time, but the irony for the baptized person is to turn from family to Christ. Most people, I don’t think, are really mentally and spiritually ready for baptism.
We are baptized into Christ’s death, “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
In baptism, we share Christ’s resurrection and we share Christ’s cross. Baptism calls us to a vocation. At every baptism, we are reminded of the cost of discipleship of our own baptisms. We confess the Baptismal Covenant reminding us of what God requires of us as baptized people. Saying it in church and forgetting about it after we get home is not enough. We are to live into the promises we make.
Jesus sums up what he is saying by telling them that if they want to continue following Jesus, they need to give up everything they have. We need to be prepared to give up everything and everyone we have.
Jesus is tough. Luke doesn’t tell us if the crowd dissolved or hung in there. (Probably many of them didn’t have all that much to give up in the first place.) But I am here to give you good news. Jesus wants everything, but God only wants ten percent. That makes things a lot easier. You get to keep 90 percent. Isn’t that great! Rejoice – you get keep almost everything you have! You don’t have to give up everything. The tithe is a much easier way to follow Jesus.
“Working out our discipleship in terms not only of what we give away, but also what we keep for ourselves, is no small issue. What we own can come to own us, posing a serious threat to our spiritual welfare.” (Ronald P. Byars) It is difficult for us to objectively make the decisions of what we keep and what we give away. We need help. Sources of help may be the parish, trusted friends, a small group, or a spiritual director. But make no mistake. These are spiritual decisions.
Several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished. At its grand opening, the people gathered and marveled at the beauty of the new church. Everything had been thought of and included. It was a masterpiece.
But then someone said, “Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It is really quite dark in here. How will the church be lighted?” The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship.
“Each time you are here,” the nobleman said, “the place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here, that place will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God's house will be dark”
That’s a poignant story, isn’t it? And it makes a very significant point about the importance of our commitment and loyalty to the church. The poet Edward Everett Hale put it like this:
I am only one,
but still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
What if every member of this church supported the church just as you do? What kind of church would you have? What if every single member served this church, attended the church, loved the church, shared the church, and gave to the church exactly as you do? What kind of church would you be?
[The story of the lighted church is from, James W. Moore, Some Things Are Too Good Not To Be True, Dimensions: Nashville, 1994. pp. 117-118.]
Text: Luke 14:25–33 (NRSV)
25 Now 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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or 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? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.