Now that we’ve finished up the book of Acts, it will be good to spend some time back with good old Jesus. It was fun spending the summer with Peter and John and Paul as they followed Christ. But now it is nice to back on familiar ground, traveling that comfortable road so we can follow Jesus. Ah… And boy, has he been busy, healing and preaching. Lots of people were following Jesus, too. There was something exciting about the personality of Jesus that brought in the crowds wherever he went. Maybe it was because he would heal with a touch. Others gathered around him because of the authority by which he spoke. There was power in his every word. He’d even sit around with children on his lap teaching about the Kingdom of God. Some followed him because they were looking for healing and hope, some followed because the thought maybe he was the Messiah they had prayed for. Others followed because they were just curious. But people definitely wanted to follow him. Makes you want to step out of the crowd, give him a big hug, congratulate him for the amazing work he’s doing, and let him know he’s got your vote. Let’s see what this wonderful man has to tell this expectant crowd this morning…(read Luke 14:25-33)…
Wow. That’s not the Jesus I wanted to hug a few minutes ago. Hate my parents? Hate my kids? Hate my wife? Shoot, we celebrate our 10 year anniversary this week. I don’t think there has been a time when I loved her more! Take up my cross? I know there is more than one person in this crowd listening to Jesus who has seen a Roman execution on a cross, with the crosses placed along the roads for the entire world to see. And give up everything? I don’t want to be a monk or a hermit, Jesus. I like my stuff, my house, my camel! What happened to the Jesus surrounded by children, smiling and laughing? These are hard words. I think if I was in that crowd that day, I’d be looking down at my feet, shuffling the dirt of the road, taking in the words I just heard. I’m sure some people would be headed home and I wonder just how much longer I’d hang around.
Friends, what Jesus is inviting those who have been following him is to consider the cost of being his disciple. Many of these people in the crowd had been looking forward to the dawning of a new day, the Kingdom of God was at hand and this Jesus was bringing it to fruition. Some thought it was going to be an age of victory over Rome and the peace and prosperity that would follow would be theirs at no personal sacrifice for just following him. But Jesus lets them know there will be a personal cost to being his disciple, and that cost is high, and it may be more than what some of them are willing to give.
In understanding what Jesus is teaching the crowd and us about the cost of being his disciple, we have to stress the notion of cost along with the discipleship. The term for “cost” appears only once in the New Testament, and it is in this passage. As Emilie Townes defines it, “cost is what we give up to acquire, accomplish, maintain, or produce something. It involves a measure of sacrifice and perhaps loss or penalty in gaining something. Cost requires effort and resources.”
Now with that understanding of cost in the back of your mind, we must remember that discipleship is a process. We do not wake up one day and decide to follow Jesus and are perfect disciples. The Holy Spirit is continually molding us and forming us. That should be clear from the behaviors of those 12 disciples that were the closest to Jesus. Fighting over who was the greatest, running off the people who were trying to get close to Jesus, and even denying and rejecting Jesus aren’t what I would call ideal models of discipleship, but they are real examples of people on the road of discipleship. Theirs are the stories of real people saying yes to Jesus and the bumps and pitfalls encountered along the way. Discipleship takes time and involves both false starts and modest successes. Discipleship is growing in our faith on a journey to live into the fullness of our humanity and dare to live and be guided by the Holy Spirit that resides in each of us. It is a process by which we learn to face life’s challenges and joys with a spirit of love, hope, faith, and peace that leads us to an ever deeper spirituality and relationship with Christ and each other as we commitment to live into what appears to be the harsh demands of his call to discipleship.
But I think that with this understanding that discipleship as a process, Jesus’ words no longer seem as harsh, still demanding and still with a cost, but it is actually good news as it refocuses us on our call to love God and neighbor. The word that most often gets translated ‘hate’ in most versions of scripture loses something from the word Jesus used in Aramaic. Eugene Peterson translates the word as ‘letting go of.’ That also misses the level of degrees the word conveys. It is a comparative verb, one that means something like “loves much less than.” Another way to translate it, but still doesn’t quite get it, would be something like, “Whoever comes to me and loves father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, their possession and yes, even life itself more than me, cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t love our families, ourselves, or even have a fondness for our possessions. What he is saying is that our love for God in Christ is to be so much greater than our love of all other things that there is no chance that family, our possessions, or even our very self and self preservation becomes our god, to make sure what we own does not own us. These words ask us to put Christ above “family values.” Our families and our stuff should not get in the way of our love of Christ. It is a word that tells us that the love we have for our closest family members, compared to the love Jesus demands from us, looks almost like hatred. In short, if God and His kingdom are given the proper all consuming love Christ expects then the highest and best of all my other loves-even my love for myself-will seem to be in a far-distant second place.
And, what may seem as a twist, that life of discipleship that calls for a life of learning to love Christ ever more deeply frees us to truly love our family, ourselves, and our possessions as God would have us love them. We don’t become monks and send our kids to orphanages. But what we do is free ourselves of our need to acquire, our yearnings for success, our petty jealousies, no longer trying to keep up with the Joneses, or have the picture perfect family. We are no longer controlled by our stuff and we no longer try to control our family. It’s what Calvin called the proper use of the gifts of God in daily life. We recognize what we have, our possessions, our family, and even our lives, are a gift from God. And in all of those gifts and life’s action, we first look to our calling from God as Christ’s disciples.
But I think the hardest part of this call to discipleship is the letting go of one’s self, of loving God measurable more than loving one’s own being. The cost of discipleship is not just accumulating new information about life and living it fully or making changes in our behavior in light of Jesus’ teaching. The cost is engaging in a profoundly radical shift toward being guided by the Holy Spirit with every fiber of our being and being transformed into the people, the disciples Christ would have us be. We no longer pursue trying to be the people society says we should be, but becoming the people God created us to be. And that may mean taking up a cross.
Do you remember the definition of cost from earlier, how it is about what we give up to acquire something? In studying this passage, I came across a lot of people talking about all the things one needs to give up, the cost, in being Jesus’ disciple, but not what we gain. Now, we might just jump to salvation, but if we think of salvation only as fire insurance, our get out of jail and into heaven free card, we miss what salvation gives us in this life. And the person who describes that best in his aptly named book “The Cost of Discipleship” is DeitrichBonhoeffer. In it he says, “Where will the call to discipleship lead those who follow it? What decisions and painful separations will it entail? We must take this question to him who alone knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows where the path will lead. But we know that it will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. Discipleship is joy.”
Joy. Walking the discipleship road with Jesus leads to joy. In scripture we have Peter to look to, or maybe John or Paul and hear about their mistakes and sacrifices, but also the joy they experienced. And what we discover in looking at their stories is that their joy occurred in community with other disciples. They never walked the discipleship road alone. Friends, you never walk that road alone, either. It is a walk with Christ and the rest of the community. That’s why over the next few weeks as we enter stewardship season, we will be hearing from you. Some of you will be asked about how God has changed you and molded you on your path of discipleship and how God through this church community has had an impact on your life. We will probably hear some stories of sacrifice, but I know that we will also hear stories of joy and celebration. Because that’s what discipleship is. It is hard, it is demanding, but it is also joy.
In the name of the One who calls us to discipleship,
and in the name of the One who walks with us on the discipleship road,
and in the name of the One who forms us into disciples, Amen.