Sermon; Proper 18C; Luke 14:25-33
“So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
As we begin the pledge drive, this is the message we get from today's gospel passage. I have often wondered if the designers of the lectionary purposely put readings dealing with money in the early fall knowing that pledge drive/stewardship campaigns were on the schedule. But all kidding aside, let's look at the totality of this passage.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. In the context of Chapter 14, this signals a change of venues. Previously (like last week), Jesus was in the home of a leading Pharisee. This was the reason for Jesus to talk about where to sit and whom to invite. Now Jesus has left the house and is being followed by large crowds. This is significant because, if you've been following the story, Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. He is now on his way to Jerusalem and, ultimately, the cross.
The disciples haven't quite grasped this. The crowds certainly haven't. But that is where he is headed. It's in the context of a parade or a popular movement where people get caught up in the emotion of the event that draws them in. Remember, Jesus hasn't called anybody to follow him today, the people just show up. They show up with no more understanding of Jesus than that he's the superstar of the day. And it's here that Jesus begins to test them.
“If you want to follow me, you must hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and life itself.” This sounds harsh to our ears and, if taken “literally,” cancels out all the other commands to love others. This is why we need to read it in context and be wary of “literal” interpretations.
Hate here isn't the emotion-filled term we think of today. Hate is a figure of speech meaning to turn away from, or to detach from. The crowds, and us, are being asked to redefine our relationships. Where does Jesus fall on your list of priorities? We are not asked to treat family members or ourselves poorly; but we are asked to redefine our relationships so that Jesus is primary – more than father, more than mother, more than brother, more than sister, more than self. That is a hard thing to do.
And if you think we're doing okay, or that we are totally committed to Christ – and without making any judgments, just an observation – take a look at Sunday youth soccer leagues. That's just one example. I don't know how many people have told me they don't go to church because it's their one day to sleep in. There are all kinds of things that keep us from making Jesus a priority in our lives. Jesus is challenging us to make him our priority.
Jesus then gives us two parables: Figuring out the cost of a tower and figuring out the cost of waging war. The question for each is ultimately the same – do I have enough resources and dedication to complete the project? Will this cost me more than I am willing to pay?
Christianity and discipleship ask the same questions and demand honest answers. Christianity makes certain claims about life, God, and our place in the world. Are you willing to publicly make those claims and are you willing to proclaim the message of the gospel? Discipleship also lays claim to our lives. Are you willing to pay the price? Do you know what you are getting yourself into, and are you willing to commit to Christ? In other words, “Are you all in?”
These are questions we must ask ourselves. These are things we must think on. These are things with which we must count the cost and be willing to pay the price.
As we move into the pledge drive/stewardship campaign, this gospel passage is where we are. There is a lot going on here at Saint John's – Community Cafe, book drives, clothing drives, Micah's backpack support, learning parties, Mayfest, worship, music, Eucharistic visitors, and many other ministries and activities. Like the crowds in today's gospel, we're excited to follow Jesus. This is a good and exciting time to be part of this parish.
But this is also the time to consider the cost of discipleship and our commitment to Christ. Although I joked at the beginning of the sermon about the designers of the lectionary having stewardship campaigns in mind, it really isn't that far off. This is the time we begin to consider the cost of discipleship.
As we begin to think about our financial pledges, I don't want any of us to be so over-zealous that we pledge an amount that we can't fulfill, or that puts an undue burden on us. The same goes for our time – don't commit to being available eight days a week if you're only available one. Instead, like the guy building a tower, sit down, estimate the cost, and see if you have enough to follow through and complete the task. Another way to put this is to spend some time thinking about all this parish offers to parishioners and non-parishioners alike, what we need to keep our ministries vital, and praying over how you can participate in the life of the church – financially, physically, and spiritually.
Along with that, take care to understand the cost of discipleship. As we follow Jesus to Jerusalem, understand that sacrifices will need to be made. People make sacrifices all the time for their job, their hobby, their health, and their family. We must also take seriously this call to discipleship and make sacrifices for God. Among all the various demands of our lives, the demand to be a disciple of Christ, the sacrifice that takes, and the devotion needed, must come first.
This passage, and others like it, are hard passages to hear and follow. If we say we live in faith with the conviction of things yet unseen, then we must take steps to live into that faith and conviction every day. If we claim to be disciples of Christ, then we must be willing to carry the cross.
As we move into the pledge/stewardship season, let us take stock of where we are and how committed to the mission of God we want to be. Only then will we be differentiated from a crowd following a popular superstar and that of disciples who understand the cost.