Sermon Preached the Fifteen Sunday after Pentecost + September 5, 2010
There are times when I read a text like the difficult one from Luke .and think, you’ve got to be kidding, really Jesus… To be one of your disciples we must be like a wise builder or warring king, and count the cost. Being a Christ follower means counting costs, analyzing strategy and assessing outcomes… Outcomes that include hating one’s parents, siblings, spouse and children… really?
But wait there’s more, if you can get through the critical planning and hate all those folk, well what the heck give it all up. Yup, everything…
- sell the house (no problem, you hate all the people that live there),
- your car (won’t need it because the job is gone as are any friends to visit),
- have a huge tag sale to unload all that stuff you own (say good bye ipod, TV, and your comfy bed),
- cut up the credit cards (won’t be hitting the mall anytime soon),
- and then, when it is all gone, then you can be a follower! Really Jesus..?
I could rationalize this text as hyped up, intensity on Jesus’ part to make a point. I could chalk-up all this difficult speech by nuancing the meaning applied to the Greek verb miseo in Luke 14:26. Tell you that Jesus wasn’t really using the word hate literally. That he wasn’t really using hatred as being the opposite of love. That he wasn’t really using hatred as being in this case a form of loathing and anger. I could explain that in the Bible “hate” is often really used metaphorically. You know, as a lesser form of love… so you could still like your parents, family, friends and loved ones. Heck maybe you could even keep some of your stuff…
Okay at this point I realized that there was no way I could stand up here and preach this message to you, today. This text must be Jesus on a cranky day, you know all those people following his every move.
- Like having some video crew follow you around as if your life was the most popular reality show of the season,
- paparazzi snapping your picture because you’re the hottest celebrity,
- hackers reading your e-mail to publish your stuff in their tabloids,
- nosey neighbors peeking in your windows to see just what makes you so special.
But the more I grow to dislike, grow uncomfortable with and real-l-l-ly not want to preach this text… I know in my heart, that this is the text I need to preach, and this is the word we need to hear from God this day. This is more than an ‘off day’ for our Lord and Savior on the road. This is more than a simple warning to his followers that the road ahead will be difficult. This is more than a hard reading for a stewardship sermon with Luke doing what Luke does, showing wealth and materialism largely in a negative light.
This text is blunt and it holds a mirror up to the priorities we set in our lives, how we live as followers of Jesus, and how our possessions, relationships, and what we say and do reflect the realities of our sinfulness, our brokenness, and our nastiness, rather than mirror what we were created to be, children of our Creator, the face, hands and body of our savior, filled with and breathing the Spirit of our Sustainer.
So you might be sitting there thinking, okay preacher man, that God talk is all well and good, but really, real-l-l-ly what does it cost? How much is it? What is the payment? How long are the terms? What dear Lord must I do to follow you, to be your disciple, to be forgiven for the mistakes I’ve made, the jerk I’ve been, the stuff I’ve done instead of what I know you’d want me to do… to be loved by you, to live forever..?
Well friends Jesus was pretty direct, discipleship is not part-time, not a when it’s convenient for you, not when I can drag myself to church, not when I feel like it, and not a timeshare agreement. Jesus wants you. All of you. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, to infinity and beyond, forever and ever. Jesus wants you. The real you. The good the bad and the ugly, all in!
Really Jesus… really pastor… real-l-l-ly!? Yup. All in. Really.
David Buehler in his blog this week reminded me that the guests in the preceding parable refused to face the cost of accepting the invitation to the banquet and here the opposite happens. Last week Jesus told us where to sit and who to invite. This week Jesus says don’t embark on a journey without first counting the cost. In both cases the result is the same, by being focused on ourselves and not on the things of God, we miss what is important, really important.
By not being all in, living as God made us and wants us to be, we miss what is important to God. Missing the way of God is the same in both instances since those invited fail to heed Jesus’ call to bear one’s own cross and follow. They, like you and me fail to die to their selfish ways. They like you and me fail to live or walk in the way God intends, fail to hold Jesus and his way as the center.
Thankfully the Christian life is not black and white. Not about choosing life or death. Not about either this, or that. Because, we don’t have to do anything! We don’t because Jesus does it all for us. But Grace is difficult to deal with. is easier to understand the exact specifics, the written contract, the quid pro quo of the law. We want the world, and God’s way to be an exchange:
- Obey and be blessed.
- Disobey and be punished.
- Screw-up and get what you deserve.
- You mess up your bed, you lie in it.
- You do the crime, you do the time.
- A + B = C.
God’s way from the first covenant made with Abraham was a covenant of grace. God’s way required nothing from Abraham, grace is God’s way and when we follow and live as God intends, the math of the law, the exchange rate of our human existence, the ways of the world just don’t add-up. God doesn’t care about return on investment, what you do or don’t do. God loves you no matter what. God’s grace is bigger than our being able to fully grasp, or live into.
But as we live in grace, rather than by the logic of a godless world. We are graciously given faith to put Jesus first. Think of the order of the Ten Commandments. God wants us all in, to be before everything else in our lives. God blesses us with life, family, friends, and our possessions. God does not want us to lose these things. God wants us first and for us to want God first.
+ + +
Following Jesus was not easy for the twelve, the other early disciples, or disciples of any time and place. He shared that good but very real news with the larger group of followers in our text from Luke today. Discipleship is costly, but God pays for everything.
In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “When Christ calls a person, he bids them come and die.” Jesus is reminding us of that today as he talks about the real cost of following him. He writes about the metaphor of grace sold in the marketplace of the world. About how we as good consumers, prefer and seek a life of cheap grace. We want God’s love, to follow Jesus and live a way of discipleship that doesn’t ask too much of us, or take took much, of our time and money.
We want a Jesus who grants us justice when we have been wronged. We want to be disciples where there is no heavy lifting, no discomfort, no confrontation. We want to live happy, graceful lives where we won’t have to ask for forgiveness or forgive others. We want to serve and love others so that we might be served and loved in return. We want to live a life of cheap grace filled reciprocity, so that we get grace and other get what they deserve. We want to see and worship a cheap and superficial Jesus who validates us, our expectation and selfish beliefs.
Costly grace is as Bonhoeffer writes, altogether different. It is by recognizing and giving up, dying to our selfish ways that we see the fullness of Jesus experience grace with no strings attached and life in its most real sense. It is through following Jesus that we and the reality our lives are made whole.
Yes we sin and mess it all up each day. But thankfully through the promise and claims made by God at our baptism, new life begins each day. Jesus came so that you might have life. Life where we have choices, life where even when we make the wrong ones we are given grace and life abundantly. Paid for no matter what the price, by Jesus who invites us to takes up our cross and then walks with us and makes it his own.