COUNT THE COST
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From time to time Jesus does something quite unexpected. Often in our minds, we think of Jesus as gentle, meek and mild. The one who welcomes children. The one who goes around healing, forgiving. The one who invites us to find rest in him. The one who spoke about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourself.
These are all good things to think about Jesus.
From time to time Jesus jars us. Shocks us even. From time to time Jesus sends out a warning that’s almost like the call of a siren. Be aware of danger. From time to time Jesus says something like “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” He says something like “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” when he’s told that his family is waiting for him. He says something like “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.” What are we to make of this? How does this fit with Jesus’ message of love? Are we to say that the Bible is just full of contradictions? Ignore passages like this? Take Jesus’ words literally?
Take Jesus’ words seriously? This is what we want to do yes? Take them seriously. Let’s ask God for help as we do so.
As always when we look at a parable it’s important to look at what’s going on. Jesus has been teaching in parables to a group of Pharisees and teachers. He had been speaking about not taking the place of honour at a wedding banquet because those who exalt themselves will be humbled, while those who humble themselves will be exalted. He talked about a banquet to which unexpected people were invited – the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. He talked about those who missed out on a great dinner because they were more concerned about property, assets, and family.
He continues on his way. Large crowds are following him. We’ve talked about the problem of lack of response to Jesus’ message. This time the issue seems to be the large response. People may be following Jesus for any number of reasons, just as we may in church this morning for any number of reasons. They may be attracted by the size of the crowd. Everyone loves a parade after all. They may consider it the thing to do. They may want to keep in touch at least marginally with Christ. They may be looking for some kind of gain. They might have looked on it as a protest march – end the occupation! This is the man they say is going to deliver us. Let’s go! Let’s follow!
And so Jesus turns to them. He doesn’t offer words of comfort. He doesn’t offer words of encouragement. Tell all your friends! Let’s make this crowd even larger!
Instead, he seems to do the exact opposite. He shocks them. He jars them. He’s not trying to make a mass appeal. He’s shocking us too.
Which I think is maybe a good thing. I think we need to be shocked a little every now and then. We need to consider what it means to follow Christ. We need to consider what it means to be a disciple of Christ. This word that’s used by Luke. A student. A learner. More than a learner though. One who desires to become like the teacher.
Do we profess to be disciples of Christ? It’s about more than believing in Christ. Calling Jesus our Lord is more than about intellectual assent. This is part of what I want us to take away this morning. Even the demons believe and shudder, after all. Jesus is sending out a warning to us. The same way we heard the warning a couple of weeks ago that the devil can use even our piety to instil pride in us. We’ve talked about how parables speak to the mystery of God and the mystery of life. Helmet Thielecke puts it like this – “… he repeatedly becomes an enigma to us, in order that we may listen to what he himself says and perhaps be offended at him, but in this listening and in this offence penetrate more deeply into his mystery.”
This is what we want, isn’t it? To know Jesus. To know him more. In our story today we see Jesus embarking on what seems to be the opposite of a church growth strategy. It was never about chasing numbers after all. Instead of speaking of the benefits of the kingdom or how he has a Starbucks in the lobby of his synagogue and how you’ll feel warmly welcomed and refreshed and enlivened by the music, Jesus turns to the crowd and as much as asks them “Are you sure about this?” Think about what this will cost you. You don’t embark on a construction project without considering whether or not you’ll be able to complete it. Otherwise, you’ll subject yourself to ridicule and your unfinished project will be out there for all the world to see. Towers were built by farmers in order to provide protection for their crops. What king goes out to wage war without considering whether or not he’ll be able to win that war? Otherwise, it’s time to send a peace delegation out. These stories are not included as building advice from Jesus. This is not a “Christ on Homes” type situation. It’s not there as Jesus’ advice on how to do geo-politics and diplomacy.
It’s to tell that crowd, and us, about the cost of discipleship. About what it means to be a follower of Christ. It’s not the first time Jesus has spoken of family. When told that his mother and brothers were outside looking for him, he said that whoever does the will of the Father is his family. He told a man to let the dead bury their dead when the man told Jesus he couldn’t follow him right now because his father had died.
Jesus is being unequivocal here. Whoever does not…… cannot be my disciple. The question for the crowd, the question for us is – “Are you serious about this?” Large crowds were coming to him. Large crowds were travelling with him. Jesus wanted to get at the heart of the matter. I often say that in our post-Christian age we have a good chance to get to the heart of the matter. Not many of us are coming to church because it’s the thing to do. We may be coming to church because we’re holding on to a tradition. Holding onto something we once had, some way we once felt. We may be coming to church because we want to take this whole Jesus following thing seriously. To all this challengee rings out – “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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus is not saying that we are to hate anyone, least of all members of our own families. This is an expression of Jesus’ time and language that means to have a preference for. That is to say whoever values family above me. Whoever values possessions above me. Whoever values career above me.
Cannot be my disciple.
Do we find this offensive? Maybe we need to be offended. Are we offended to the point where we’re not listening? Then stop listening.
We need to listen more don’t we? The world needs more listening. We need to listen to the voice of Jesus echoing down through the ages. This same invitation that has rung out through the years.
To hate life doesn’t mean hate our lives. To inflict suffering on ourselves. It means to put loyalty to Christ before all else, even our lives. For many loyalty to Christ has cost them their lives.
Because we need to remember where Jesus is going as we read this story. We read it in Luke 9:51- “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus is on a death march. This whole journey is taken in the shadow of the cross. Our whole journey with Jesus is taken in the shadow of the cross. “Jesus keep me near the cross” is what we’re going to sing in a while. There’s nothing wrong with a parade. There’s nothing wrong with a protest march. This journey we’re on is neither of these things. This call to hate one’s own life and take up one’s cross is a call to die to ourselves.
This is serious.
What is it that we need to die to? What are the things that keep us from being disciples of Jesus? What are the things that Jesus is saying “If you do put them before me you cannot be my disciple?”
The language is strong and I think that’s fitting and proper. It can be easy for us to live highly moral lives and avoid obvious sins. It’s another thing to be confronted with things that seem in and of themselves good and realize that they are keeping us from being who Jesus calls us to be. Does work get in the way? What could be wrong with work? We need to live after all. Does an attachment to our possessions get in the way? They’re ours. We worked for them. Does family get in the way?
What could ever be wrong with love for family? Could something be wrong with it when it comes between us and Christ? To want to give our children anything they desire and yet miss giving them the love of Christ? James Dean’s character in the classic “Rebel Without a Cause” is given what his parents think is everything he needs to succeed in life – every material thing that is. At one point the angst ridden teen’s father tells him “Just wait, in ten years all that will be over. Then you will think differently about it.” Dean replies “I want to know now, now! And right now when I need it, you don’t have an answer for me. With all your love you simply let me down. And when I need help, when I’m in despair, you furnish me with exactly nothing.”
Just as pride can be found in the midst of piety, even love of family can be used to separate us from the love of God found in Christ.
Why would we do this? Take up our cross and choose to value God even above our own lives? Because we have found that in this is life. In this, we are connected to the ground and source of life of the ages. Not just life after this one but life every day.
The call is to make Christ the centre. Make this decision every day. Every day of this journey. I say the centre rather than the top of the list, number one. I used to use this image with the children here at Blythwood. I think it’s better than thinking of God as if God were at the top of your speed-dial, everything and everyone else subordinate. When it comes to God’s love, it’s not a zero-sum game – the more love you have for God the less you have for everyone else. To live with God at the centre of your life rather, colours how you love everyone and everything else. To dream of what this might look like.
We’re going to be singing about it in a little while. To have God’s love for us, our love of God at the centre of our lives, imbuing every person we see, every thing we see. Fairest Lord Jesus. Thee will I cherish. Thee will I honour, thou my soul’s glory, joy and crown. It affects how we see everything. Fair are the meadows. Fairer still the woodlands. Fair is the sunshine. Fair is the moonlight. None can be nearer, fairer or dearer than thou my Saviour art to me. May this be the prayer of all our hearts here this morning.