The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Luke 14:25-33
The Cost of Discipleship
25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Sermon: “Fools At Work and War”
This is the first Sunday after Labor Day weekend. Right about now, church leaders try to double as cheerleaders—in my case, an overweight, bald, white-haired cheerleader—urging their members back into full swing.
In today’s scripture, Jesus wasn’t trying to fire people up. He was shooing them away, warning them that the path of discipleship wouldn’t be easy.
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, can’t be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry the cross and follow me, can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27)
That word “hate” stands out there, doesn’t it? We use “hate” in any number of ways today. For example, here are the top five chores that couples hate, according to Yelp’s Modern Love and Household Responsibilities Survey:
- Washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen,
- Doing laundry,
- Cleaning the bathroom (including the sink, toilet, and shower,)
- Sweeping and vacuuming, and
- Cooking meals and grocery shopping.
Jesus demanded way more than the occasional date with a vacuum cleaner.
“Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
Try putting that on a T-shirt: “Welcome to St. John’s—We Hate Everybody!”
Umm… no—that’s not what Jesus meant. At one time or another we learned about hyperbole, exaggerating things to make a point. Jesus, like any good storyteller, used hyperbole a lot.
- “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)
- “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24)
- “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull up your roots and plant yourself in the sea,’ and it would do it!” (Luke 17:6)
- “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
Hyperbole aside, the Greek word we translate “hate” isn’t about emotions, but priorities. It means building our lives around something we value more than anything else, and then rejecting everything that keeps us from it. For Christians, that something we value is Jesus and his call to discipleship.
Today’s verses come just after a parable Jesus told about guests invited to a huge banquet. When time came to attend, Jesus said, they all had an excuse for the host’s servant.
The first said to him, ‘I’ve bought a piece of land, and must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I’ve bought five yokes of oxen, and I’m going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I’ve just been married and, of course, I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:18-20)
A second round of invitations went out, Jesus said, to “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” No excuses here; they all gladly came.
When the host learns that there are still places left, he says, “Force people to come in until you fill my house. I tell you, though, that no one I first invited will ever sit at my table.'”
We’re still good at spinning excuses. In 2012, author Tim Crider wrote a column for The New York Times he called, “The Busy Trap.” In it, he takes a long, hard look at our twenty-first century American obsession with being “busy.”
If someone asks us how we’re doing, what do we say? “I’m busy,” which is really a wolf of a boast in complaining sheep’s clothing.
“Notice it isn’t generally people…commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are,” Crider says.
Those people aren’t busy. They’re tired. “Busy” people, Crider writes, are “almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self- imposed:”
…work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
Of course, the “busier” we are, the more excuses we can spin. Jesus wants disciples, not excuses, disciples who know what they’re getting into.
“Which of you, intending to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and isn’t able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build, and wasn’t able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30)
In 1889, the Eiffel tower opened in Paris, becoming what was then the tallest building in the world. Englishman Sir Edward Watkin was determined that the French wouldn’t hold that honor for long.
He decided to put up an even bigger building in England, planning a tower 150 feet taller than the one in Paris.
Construction started in 1892, and workers quickly completed the first level, which you see here. Then, building costs increased. Watkin’s money ran out. The first level sat rusting away for years, nicknamed “Watkin’s Folly.” Watkin’s own company finally blew it to bits in 1907.
A prudent person wouldn’t start a project until sure he or she could finish it, Jesus said. In the same way, Jesus didn’t go to Jerusalem unprepared to face what waited for him there. No one should follow him, Jesus said, if they weren’t willing to do the same.
Jesus expects, even demands, undivided loyalty. That’s why he tells us to count the cost. The Christian life isn’t just a matter of sacrifice. It’s also a question of priorities.
- A lot of parents give up every weekend for their kids’ traveling sports teams.
- Some career minded people put in long hours at jobs they don’t even like to safeguard their future or make ends meet.
- Others join a gym or go on a diet to get healthier.
- Many parents make big sacrifices so that their kids will have the chance to further their education.
We sacrifice according to our priorities, Jesus said. The Kingdom of God he proclaims and the Kingdom life he lives shouldn’t be just a priority for us, Jesus insists, but the priority in our lives.
Jesus invites us to consider that maybe, just maybe, going to church is more important than doing Sunday chores that could wait an hour or two until after worship, or playing on a select team, or, for that matter, just pulling the covers back over our heads when the alarm goes off.
Jesus asks us whether sharing in the life of a congregation shouldn’t matter even more than our career.
Jesus doesn’t want equal time. He wants prime time. He tells us to look at the long arc of our lives and decide what’s important to us, what we hope for for ourselves and our families.
It’s not about earning God’s grace; we can’t do that. What we can do, though, is live more faithfully into the life of discipleship that God’s grace makes possible.
Like anything else worth doing, that kind of faithful living takes time, energy, work, and practice. In other words, it takes sacrifice.
Looking at the fair-weather crowds following him on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus said, “Whoever doesn’t carry the cross and follow me can’t be my disciple.”
Most turned away. The few who stayed lost their lives as they once were, but got them back as more than they could ever have imagined. May we find ourselves among them, my sisters and my brothers.