Monday, September 5, 2016

The High Cost of Discipleship

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 14:25-35
September 4, 2016
Proper 18C

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

Could somebody please tell me what happened to Jesus? Because the teacher doing all the talking in today’s Holy Gospel
doesn’t sound at all like the Jesus we know and love. Perhaps the Savior got up on the wrong side of the bed. Or perhaps an imposter has stepped into the Savior’s sandals. Instead of inviting us, He repels us. Instead of kindling the fire of faith in our hearts, He pours cold water on us. Instead of, “Come, follow me,” He warns us to reconsider jumping on the Jesus bandwagon.

Could somebody please tell me what happened to Jesus? The great crowds who were swarming around the Savior must have wondered the same thing. Who is this guy? They were looking for celebrity Jesus—popular Jesus—the kind of Jesus we all want to follow—fun Jesus—the Jesus who gives us what we want when we want it. Healing? You got it! All you can eat bread and fish? No problem! Raise your child from the dead? As easy as waking her up! Wine for your wedding reception? Just ask Jesus to be the bartender and watch the magic happen! Now there’s a Jesus we can all get behind!

But as Jesus moved into the final phase of His earthly ministry—as He set His face toward Jerusalem and Calvary—there’s a tremendous change in tone: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Excuse me? Hate? Aren’t we supposed to love our families and honor our mother and father? How can the God who tells husbands to love their wives, now speak of hatred for wife and children and brothers and sisters? What’s more important than family? What’s more important than marriage? What’s more important than children and brothers and sisters? Jesus, here, seems to be saying, “I am. I am more important than all of these.”

And that’s really the point of this pointed language: When it comes to the actions we take and the choices we make—everyone else—every other relationship—takes a backseat to following Jesus. Jesus had to know that His word choice here would be controversial. This is the classic “hard saying” of Jesus. There’s probably an element of hyperbole here—Jesus exaggerating to make an important point. Hate, as Jesus uses it, is not an emotion. Jesus isn’t saying that we should have negative feelings—or wish the worst—for our family members. We shouldn’t be plotting against them with a seething rage. But in the grand scheme of our priorities, Jesus always takes first place, while everyone and everything else must be a distant second. Get your priorities mixed up, and you cannot follow Jesus for long. You cannot be His disciple.

A simple way to check your priorities is to ask, when you’re not here on Sunday morning—when you’re not hearing the Word or being fed with the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins—when you’re not engaged in the primary activity of discipleship that goes on here—then where are you? What keeps you from being here? Is it soccer, swimming, baseball, football, or foosball? Is it dance or drama or music rehearsal? Is it the cabin up north or the 18-hole golf course? Or did you simply stay out too late on Saturday night? Or do you have house guests who aren’t all that religious (maybe even family members) and staying home allows you to avoid having to talk about your faith? What would the Savior say to you about your priorities? And if you are here every Sunday, how well do you put your discipleship into practice Monday through Saturday? How well do your words and actions and choices reflect who you are as a baptized child of God?

Right about now we could all use some good news from Jesus. Unfortunately, the Jesus we hear from today doesn’t have it. In fact, He turns up the heat: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” There’s some debate about exactly what Jesus means when He tells us to take up our “cross.” Crosses are not just the pesky little problems that vex us, like a car that won’t start or getting overcharged at Trader Joe’s. Crosses have but one purpose—like electric chairs have one purpose. Crosses kill. Crosses are instruments of suffering and death. To take up your cross then is to follow Jesus through suffering, persecution, loss, and finally death. To take up your cross and follow Jesus is to travel the road of death and resurrection—with Him. Suddenly, following Jesus doesn’t sound like much fun anymore, does it?

So, it only makes sense to count the cost. Do the accounting. Check the assets and expenses. It’s what you do before you start any big construction project. It’s what world leaders do before they head off to war. So what will it cost to be a disciple of Jesus? What will it cost you to follow Him? Everything. All you have. Following Jesus is going to cost you far more than the ten percent you toss in the offering plate. Following Jesus is going to cost you much more than the precious 90 minutes of your schedule you block out to be here on Sunday morning. It will cost you everything. And unless you hate everything that competes and gets in the way and hinders your discipleship—whether family, friend, or favorite pastime—then you cannot be a disciple of Jesus.

Beloved in the Lord, if this is a hard sermon to hear, let me tell you it’s also a hard sermon to preach. If it sounds like a lot of law to you, you’re absolutely right. Jesus wants to take away everything that prevents us from following Him in true discipleship. But know this: Whenever Jesus takes anything away from you, He does that only because He wants to give you more. In fact, Jesus wants to give you everything—the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting, the peace that passes understanding, joy that has no limit, and comfort that carries you through every dark and lonely place.

Jesus knows about dark and lonely places. Jesus knows about counting the cost. As Jesus spoke the difficult words we’ve heard today, He was headed to Jerusalem, to His very own cross, to His atoning death as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus had counted the cost. Jesus had crunched the numbers in collaboration with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus was going to take up His cross . . . and die on it for you—to redeem us all from sin, death and hell. Jesus considered the high cost of your salvation and He concluded: You are worth it!

We should indeed consider the cost of discipleship . . . because Jesus Himself bears that cost. He lays down His life to save the world. He becomes the world’s sin. He dies our death. He went to battle against sin, death and the devil—not with an army of thousands to back Him up—but entirely alone and completely forsaken. And He concluded that it was worth every drop of His holy, precious blood to save you.

Here’s an important point to consider: If our discipleship depended entirely on us, then Jesus would have no disciples. If following Jesus was solely a feat of our spiritual strength, then Jesus would have no followers. It’s true! Jesus is the one who creates disciples and followers for Himself—by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s so important to remember: He chose you. He baptized you. He called you by His Spirit. You were dead and He made you alive with faith. You didn’t choose Him to be your Savior; He chose you and loved you and gave Himself for you. And even when you are here—regularly—for all the right reasons—even then you are here, ultimately, because you have been called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Jesus has counted the cost of giving you eternal joy in His presence; and it has pleased Him to pay that price in full.

If the hard sayings of Jesus today caused you to wonder, what happened to Jesus? Know that Jesus is here, where He has promised to be, giving you faith and forgiveness. He will not leave you behind. He desperately wants you to be His disciple. And His fervent hope is that you will follow Him through death to life that lasts forever. Amen.

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