Before the audio of the sermon begins I spoke briefly about the Children’s Story and then about one of the things we do each week at St. Andrew’s. After scripture has been read the reader says, “The word of the Lord” and everyone in the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.”
Based on our reading from Luke 14:25-33 I made the comment that I wasn’t sure this was true as it is a challenging text.
Text: Luke 14: 25-33
I hope you are ready for some tough love today because today Jesus does not make following him easy. Jesus spells out rather starkly what his expectations are for those who wish to follow him.
Jesus says give up everything, unless you do that you cannot be my disciple. Jesus asks us to love him more than our own families. The NRSV and other translations render that passage as hate. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister, yes, and even life itself cannot be my disciple.”
At this point some of you might be looking at the door. Wondering if you can make it without anyone noticing. Maybe you’ll just slip out, pretend you’re on coffee duty this morning and bolt for the door. What’s all this about hating family, even life itself? I thought that if I was a follower of Jesus I just had to love everyone, which if we are honest many of us have a hard time doing. Jesus says to those who are with him, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
What does that mean? Is the cross heavy? Will I get tired?
Tough words. We read them again, but they don’t soften. They are only reinforced. Suddenly we wonder why we follow Jesus in the first place. Trying to puzzle out how we didn’t see this verse when we committed to being a Christian. This is not what we signed up for, when does the ride stop because we want off.
I suspect that most of you do not want to hate your parents, spouse or children. I certainly hope you love life and I recognize how difficult it would be to give up everything to follow Christ. So what do we do with this passage? You might be wondering if it is safe to ignore it? Unfortunately, I it is not. This is scripture and all of it speaks to us and informs our living. Perhaps some of you really do want off the ride. If this is what it means to follow Christ and be a Christian then you are not interested. Still others of you might be wondering, why haven’t I heard this part before? No one told me about this.
Many of you today are sitting here and you have been Christians for your whole life. You were born into a Christian family and you have attended church your whole life. For some people here today this is the only church you have been a member of. You have been baptized, most as infants, some as adults. You made a profession of faith, to follow Jesus. Indicating that you believe in God and the witness that is found in scripture.
I wonder when did you make the choice to be a Christian? Was it a defining moment, like Paul had on the road to Damascus? Or perhaps it was more gradual, a growing understanding of who you are and what you believe. At some point we all did make the choice to be followers of Christ, when you made that choice, when you came to that realization did you ask yourself what the cost would be?
Commentator Scott Hoezee writes, “We don’t so much ‘count the cost’ as just accept the asking price, which seems pretty low most of the time. And that itself may be something worth pondering” (reference).
Hoezee provides some interesting insight. Do we just accept the asking price of being a Christian and if so what is the asking price? Is it as is suggested pretty low? Does our faith in Christ actually demand much of us? Our passage from Luke this morning would seem to indicate that it does, but in reality that often does not bear out.
Cost is what we give up to acquire something. However, today’s world seems to have tossed the idea of cost on its head. Many people want to know what they are going to get out of something. They will only participate in an activity if it benefits them directly. If they don’t benefit they are not interested. Society, programs, institutions exist to provide a personal benefit. The question of what can I provide is never asked.
Some people ask what do they get for coming to church? Years ago I can remember hearing an elder say they weren’t very interested in participating at the church because they did not see any direct benefit to themselves or their family. The question of what can I give to any other person was not considered.
A question that does not get asked very often is what must I give up to come to church. What personal cost do I pay for being a Christian? The question doesn’t get asked because if something is a burden or infringes on people we decide it is not worth participating in. We don’t want to be uncomfortable or put out. Yet, the Christian faith demands much of us.
This is the message that Jesus is asking that large crowd that day. Will you hate your family, will you pick up your cross, will you become penniless and possession less in order to follow me? The crowd was willing to follow Jesus, but perhaps a little casual about it. Jesus was like the recent fad, you were part of the in group if you were seen with him. I imagine today that people would flock to him and want to take selfies with the cell phones.
Then Jesus asks what are you willing to give up to follow me? Are you willing to go where I am going?
Being a Christian is not just about saying the sinner’s prayer and wham you are a Christian and all is good. It’s not a one stop shop. As Frederick Buechner writes, “A Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at least some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank.”
The price seems steep, but there is a message for us that we need to hear. We need to know that God puts demands on us, God has expectations of us. We are called not to feel good, but to do good. And in today’s world doing good is often uncomfortable and you may be vilified for it. Stand up for injustice and you may be destroyed. If you want to see an example of this going on the world read about NFL quarterback Colin Kapernick and his peaceful demonstration about racial injustice in the United States. (Other notable examples through history would be Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela).
Kapernick may not be taking his stance because of his faith but it demonstrates how standing up for injustice can be a dangerous thing to do. This is what Jesus is calling us to do. This is what Jesus means when he says unless you can leave all your possessions you can’t follow me. Not that you have to take a vow of poverty, but when the rubber hits the road what are you willing to risk for Christ?
Jesus isn’t asking us to hate our families. Many Bibles translate our passage today as hate your father and mother. That is the way the Greek reads, but its meaning is lost on us because of our modern understanding of the word hate. The Good News which we heard this morning does a good job and rendering the actual meaning.
Commentator Fred Craddock writes, “To hate is a Semitic expression meaning to turn away from, to detach oneself from.” Not the same as our modern expression, “I hate you.” It denotes action, not emotion.
It is less about I hate you and more about severing yourself from the family. Family was your social safety net. It protected you. To walk away from family was to possibly imperil your life. Jesus is not asking us to hate our families. What Jesus is saying is that eventually there may come a time where your decision to follow him puts you at odds with your family. They may disagree about what you believe. Remember at one point Jesus’ own family tried to stop him from embarking on his own ministry. Jesus is saying these words out of personal experience.
Are you willing to disagree with family on issues of justice and to what extent? What Jesus was asking the crowd that day is how deep is your commitment? Being a Christian has a cost. Most of the time we don’t weigh it, because most of the time it seems inconsequential. In North America it has become relatively easy to be a Christian. But we aren’t asked to sit and serve quietly and comfortably. We are asked to make a difference in the world. The world God created.
That means rubbing shoulders with people we don’t want to associate with. That means standing up and saying something when we see evil in the world. It means we don’t march with the crowd before stopping to think about why the crowd is marching.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Friends, you can’t soften that, you can’t be uncertain about the decision to follow Christ. It is not an easy calling, the rewards are not often tangible but they are worth while. Amen.