This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 9/8 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Luke 14:25-33.
“Really Jesus? You can’t really be serious about what you say in today’s gospel reading, can you? Come on…let go of my relatives, carry the cross and kiss good-bye to what is dearest to me? You don’t want this passage taken literally, do you? You can’t mean what you say here. There must be contextual issues, hyperbole, overstatement, sarcasm or something in your words to take the sting out of this directive.”
Aren’t these the kind of things that come to mind as you hear today’s gospel? The gospel is supposed to be good news, but do you hear any in this passage?
The text begins and ends with an “all or nothing” decree about following Jesus, with two practical illustrations in between.
Jesus has some real eager beavers in the crowds that are following him. It wasn’t just one large group, but large groups—lots of people. And these were not disciples. These were people who were impressed with Jesus’ miracles and healings. Jesus, very plainly tells them what following him will look like. He cannot be accused of using small print or of highlighting only the positives without mentioning any of the negatives of the cross-shaped way of life as one of Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus is emphasizing redirected loyalties. The extended family of origin and inner circle of friends made up one’s identity, especially in the Middle East. In the Arab world that is still the case. Jesus is calling for the reconstruction of one’s identity within the community of faith oriented toward God’s purpose and characterized by faithfulness to the message of Jesus.
In Jesus’ time, family members would certainly be unhappy with the call to leave one’s family. After all, this commitment may detract from a person’s family obligations. In that time, many family members were involved in the family business. Losing one of its members to religious interests may be harmful to the family’s well being. As Jesus stresses elsewhere, it is impossible to serve two masters. The crowds have counted the kingdom assets perhaps, but what about the liabilities?
Carrying the cross is one such liability. It has nothing to do with sickness, poverty or anything else over which one has no control. To carry the cross is a decision that one makes voluntarily as a result of one’s commitment to Jesus. It is a commitment to a person. A disciple follows another person and learns a new way of life (Culpepper). Carry is in the present tense, emphasizing the on-going quality of living a cruciform life.
To hasty volunteers, Jesus says, “Think about what you are doing and decide if you are willing to stay with me all the way.” Just to illustrate what he is saying, Jesus tells two cautionary tales.
In Jesus’ first cautionary tale, The Message talks about building a new house, rather than a tower. Many of us have built new homes. While living in Fairport, NY, a suburb of Rochester, there was a driveway that went beside our property down to a very nice looking two-story blue house. I loved it. But there was a problem. The owner had not considered the cost before beginning the building project. Outside, the home was lovely, but inside it had never been completed and there it sat. People make fun of this man who occasionally takes the bus and then walks from the bus stop to his unfinished house to visit it.
Conversely, if we wait until everything is perfectly planned before beginning a project, we would never get started. One should definitely know about the costs of following Jesus and not just go along with the crowd, but on the other hand, we don’t know exactly what “crosses” may be before us.
Jesus second cautionary vignette is about a warrior king. In this case, he must consider if he has enough soldiers to defeat his enemy. If not, he’ll have to make peace with him.
In each of Jesus’ illustrations—building and making war, the problem was someone did not count the cost before beginning the enterprise. This is being realistic. Discipleship includes counting the cost and considering what it means to set out on the journey of discipleship, as opposed to signing up out of sheer enthusiasm without considering where the journey will take you.
Jesus summary decree is, “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple” (v. 33). The application is discipleship means that we let God be God. God must be first in our lives. Kissing good-bye to what is dearest to us refers to all earthly attachments that have first place in our lives.
The late preaching professor and author, Fred Craddock wrote, “What is demanded of disciples…is that in the network of many loyalties in which all of us live, the claim of Christ and the gospel not only takes precedence but, in fact, redefines the others” (Craddock).
Our dog, Jessi, does not like to be left alone. You should hear her on Sunday mornings when we leave. Arrrr, arrrr. She sounds so pathetic—like someone is hurting her. Needless to say, when we leave her, we restrict her to the kitchen with baby gates. And we have to remove all the various things she could get into like trash bins, dishes in the sink and so on. With gates between Jessi and the rest of the house, she cannot get out. The gates block the way between Jessi and everywhere else. Our lives are much like that. We have barriers, higher and wider than baby gates, between us and God. They are different for everyone. Are we going to let them continue to be of greater priority in our lives than following Jesus?
Jesus issues a call for sacrifice, but we may ask, “Aren’t people already sacrificing?” There are parents who give up nearly every weekend for their kids’ traveling sports team. And so many put in very long hours at work they don’t love so they can secure their futures or just to make ends meet. Many people are spending their hard-earned money on a gym or to participate in diet programs to get healthier. How many families sacrifice so their kids are well-dressed and have a chance for further education?
We make these and other sacrifices because they are important to us. We sacrifice according to our priorities. In today’s gospel, Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God he proclaims and the kingdom life he exemplifies should be not only a priority, but THE priority.
How might Jesus illustrate this today? It might sound like this, “What parent or grandparent wouldn’t count the cost before signing up for the traveling soccer team or what new employee wouldn’t consider whether she is willing to work every weekend her first year?” Do you understand Jesus’ point? Our people are already making sacrifices and in today’s gospel, Jesus is saying that following him calls for the same.
In all of our busyness, let’s allow Jesus’ words in this passage to have equal time. Let us look at the long arc of our lives and ask what is important to us, what we hope for ourselves and our families. The abundant life and way of discipleship that Jesus both promises and announces also takes sacrifice—not to earn God’s grace, but to live into the discipleship life that grace empowers.
If we allow God’s word to soak into our lives and reshape us, we will hear Christ’s call to:
love the elderly in our community and congregation as much as we love our own parents.
love the stranger, the addict, the lonely, the prisoner and the immigrant as much as we love our own sister or brother.
Love the children in our community who need school supplies and clean clothes as much as we love our own children and grandchildren.
We are addressing the need of childhood hunger through the Five Loaves and Two Fish Ministry. We always have more than enough people for the nights of packing the food. This is but one way we can impact our community.
Speaking of food, God has issued us an invitation to the great banquet of life, an evite if you like. What a pity if we were to respond this way, “Great idea to have a party. I won’t be there.” The only way to find joy, peace and a renewed relationship with God and others is by living for others out of our love for God. Discipleship does come at a cost, BUT staying home and not answering the invitation comes at an even higher cost.
Of course, on our own, we just don’t have what it takes to be the kind of followers Jesus is looking for. And that’s ok. The good news is that in baptism, we were given the Holy Spirit who works in and through us to become all that God wants us to be. Christ, the good shepherd, carries us, so that we can persevere, in his strength, in the life of discipleship.
So, when the host sends people around to let us know it’s feasting time, we can respond, “Great idea to have a party. I’m on my way.”
Let us pray. “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.” Amen. (St. Ignatius).
Walter Bauer, Author and Frederick William Danker, Editor, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature
Sharron R. Blezard, stewardshipoflife.org
Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Luke
R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke
Eric Fistler and Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com
Alyce M. McKenzie, “Edgy Exegesis,” patheos.com
Emerson Powery, David Lose, workingpreacher.org
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com