Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, “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. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 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? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.- Luke 14:25-33
This isn’t going to be a fun sermon – because this really isn’t a feel-good gospel text. You just heard it; Jesus’ words here are pretty unsettling, pretty hard to hear for us. I mean, would Jesus really say that in order to follow him, you have to actually hate your family? Did Jesus really mean it when he said that we couldn’t be his disciples unless we got rid of all our possessions? Was he serious about that?
I think it’s pretty clear that Jesus was using hyperbole, extreme language here, not to be taken literally, but just to emphasize the importance of the point he was making. This becomes obvious if you compare these words to the full spectrum of his teachings across the gospels. Just as one evidence of this is that in another gospel story, Jesus criticized people, condemned people, who wouldn’t use their financial resources to take care of their own family members, saying that that money was set aside as their offering to God, to the synagogue, to the church. He condemned them. So we know he can’t be speaking literally when he says we’re supposed to hate our family and only pay attention to him exclusively. In one sense, we can all breathe easier.
But not *too* easy. Jesus is still making the very serious point that being a follower of his comes with consequences – it comes at a cost. He really does expect our lives to be transformed; he wants us to make his priorities our priorities when it comes to all the other demands for our time, our money, our loyalty. In short, he’s warning his disciples in this passage, and by extension he’s warning us, that following him is going to come at a cost – and he expects us to bear it.
It’s important to recognize that what we’re talking about here isn’t about trying to earn our salvation. Our salvation – or redemption, or reconciliation, or justification, whatever you want to call it – is something that God has given us, solely as an act of God’s love and grace. What Jesus is talking about here is what comes after that – how we’re expected to respond to that gracious act of God. And that’s where things can get tricky.
When we think about this topic of priorities in our lives, one subject that often comes up is the question of why so many kids – especially the kids of churchgoing families; “our” kids – drop out of being part of church. And so many of those conversations run along the lines of, “why doesn’t the church leadership, the pastors and others, come up with some way to get these kids to church?” Well, there’s certainly enough blame to go around for how the church has missed the boat with its youth; pastors that don’t pay attention to them, sessions that won’t establish effective ministries and programs for them, congregations that will just patronize them and not recognize them as full, current members of the church family to be integrated into worship and all aspects of the church. But while that’s all true, to be honest, there’s only a very small, select group of adults who have the authority and ability to rustle some teenager out of bed on a Sunday morning and tell them they’re going to church – and it isn’t the pastor or the session. Sorry, Mom and Dad, a big part of this one’s on you here. Actually, could you imagine how that might play out if we really did make it the church’s responsibility to make sure that happened? Just picture it, you’re sitting at the breakfast table Sunday morning before church, and KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK… “Oh, yeah, hi, it’s just us, the Membership Committee. We’re here to wake up Bobby and make sure he gets to church. It’s OK, we’ll just let ourselves in – he’s upstairs, second door on the left, right?” I suspect we’d probably have a tough time staffing that committee.
Christ has expectations of us, parents and kids alike, if we’re going to call ourselves Jesus’ followers – if we’re going to call ourselves Christian. That’s just part of the deal.
Or what about the issue of extracurricular activities – sports, music, job, whatever it is – cutting into church time, Sunday morning or otherwise? And by “extracurricular,” I’m not just talking about our kids; it’s our stuff too. We’ve got the golf league, the quilting guild, whatever. So many times, before we become part of those activities, we know the conflicts with our faith commitment up front – but how often has this kind of conversation happened? A kid and their parents sit down with the coach and say, “Coach, I’m excited about being playing ball, and I’ll be committed to the team – but you need to know right up front that if practices or games are scheduled on Sunday mornings, I’m going to miss those times – I already have a previous commitment; I need to be in church.”
But… but…it’s a team; we need to depend on each other, we have to be there for each other, all do our part! Yes, exactly. And in this passage from Luke, Jesus is pointing out in very blunt language, that we’re actually already on a team. And we need to depend on one another, we have to be here for each other, we all need to show up and do our part. We need to remember that all of us here are already wearing a jersey that says Team Jesus. When it comes to setting our priorities, why is it that it’s only in the rarest of times when Team Jesus wins the day over Team Almost Anything Else?
Finally, what about the way we prioritize our money? Does the way we prioritize our finances reflect our beliefs? This is an important topic for us right now, as we’re gradually easing into our stewardship season. C.S. Lewis once famously wrote, “Show me a man’s checkbook and I’ll tell you what he really believes,” and I think that’s more than just a little bit true. Christ calls us to use our financial resources in ways that advance him and the Kingdom of God. So are we succeeding at it? Do we bump up our annual pledge a bit? Or do we get the premium leather package and upgraded sound system in the new car we’re getting?
Have we ever stopped to ask ourselves just what we *have* actually given up for our faith? Just what consequences, what costs, we’ve accepted in order to put Christ first in our lives?
Well, look… I know that this morning’s sermon is a bit of a downer. Now you know why I tried to soften the blow this morning by including pictures of cute babies and funny movie lines in the weekly email. I know that this subject, and mentioning some of the specific examples I used to illustrate the issue, can hit close to home for some. It might cause some discomfort, maybe even some resentment, or thinking that I’m trying to scold or play the holier-than-thou card. Please don’t hear it that way. Know that of all the many examples I could have mentioned, I mentioned those particular ones precisely because I’ve failed myself at various times in all of those situations. I’ve been too lax with my own kids in seeing that they get to church. I’ve allowed extracurriculars, those of the kids and my own, to take precedence over worship services and other church functions. I’ve prioritized my finances to benefit my own preferences over what would best serve the Kingdom of God. I’m sad to say that I’ve done it many times, actually. So when I mention these examples this morning, please don’t hear them as if I’m shaking my finger at you or looking down my nose at you. I’m actually sharing them with you as a fellow traveler in the struggle, trying to hear Jesus’ words about making him and the Kingdom of God the first priority, and trying to apply those words better and more fully as time goes on in my own life. If we’re going to be faithful to Christ, we have to periodically examine this part of our discipleship, even if it isn’t the most pleasant topic.
If there’s any saving grace or good news in this passage from Luke, maybe it’s that no one could possibly, perfectly adhere to Jesus’ expectations here – but what matters more than the actual perfection is the journey itself, and making sure that the course we’ve set on that journey is actually getting us closer and closer to the model for discipleship that Jesus has laid out for us.
Thanks be to God.