The Uncommitted Need Not Apply

Sermon for September 8, 2012
Based on Luke 14:25-33

When the teenagers in the crowd that was following Jesus heard him say, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother…” they were probably excited and ready to sign up as a disciple of Jesus before they heard the rest of what he had to say.  Because teenagers throughout history as they still do today have at some point hated their parents for their perceived stupidity, their old fashioned advice, and for just not thinking the way young people think. But Jesus went on to say that anyone who came to him must also hate their wife and children, as well as their brothers and sisters and even hate their own life!  What?  Had Jesus lost his mind?  Had the sun been too hot for him that day?  Perhaps Jesus had he become processed by demons? Wasn’t this the man whose ministry was all about love?  Now he’s telling us we must hate the very people we’re supposed to love.

Jesus often used extreme exaggerations to get people’s attention and to make a point. Jesus, a Jewish rabbi was making a point like the Jews often did in their debates about religious matters.  He was using a hyperbole, an extreme exaggeration to get his point across.  It is the same way we make gross exaggerations to make a point when we say “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”  “I’m so tired I could sleep forever.” Or “This book weighs a ton!” We don’t really mean those things literally but they better express just how hungry we are, how tired we are, or how heavy an object is.

When we hear the Jesus use the word “hate” we immediately think of an extreme dislike for someone or something.  But in this case the Greek word that has been translated as “hate” does not mean anger or hostility.  It means to “love less”. In this case it also means that there is a conflict, a controversy going on between two things.  In this story, the conflict is over where a person’s devotion should lie if they are to become a disciple of Jesus.  If one is to become a disciple of Jesus then discipleship takes precedence over one of the most sacred of all relationships, family.  To be a disciple of Jesus is that important.  It is so important that it supersedes family and loved ones. That is where the conflict comes in. Does that mean that a disciple of Jesus must abandon their loved ones and literally walk away from them?  No.  But a disciple should love their loved ones less than discipleship. This demand tells us how extremely important discipleship is.  It should not be taken lightly.  The decision to become a disciple of Jesus should not be made casually in a moment of emotional passion.  There is no higher duty than a commitment to Jesus and to be his disciple.

This story may have had a lot of significance for the people of the early Christian church who heard this story from Luke’s gospel.  The gospel of Luke was written with those early believers in mind. Those members of the early church had heard about Jesus’ disciples, how his disciples were just ordinary men with families and professions.  They knew that the disciples of Jesus left everything behind to follow him and spread the gospel; homes, families, possessions, careers. They left behind the old lives they once lived. Yes, you must even leave behind your very life to follow him Jesus told the crowd that day.

You must also be willing to suffer Jesus said. You must be willing to carry the cross and follow him.  Jesus is saying that to be a disciple you must be willing to suffer as he would suffer once he reached Jerusalem. Even the people listening to him that day had no idea what was to become of Jesus.  Are you ready to do all of these things to follow me despite the unknown future?

Jesus went on to give examples of why it is important to give serious consideration to the cost of discipleship before one makes the commitment.  He first used the example of what considerations a builder makes before building a tower. Most of us aren’t likely to build a tower these days. But in Jesus’ day men were building towers.  King Herod was known as a reckless builder of palaces and towers because he believed that glory came from building big impressive buildings. He was building things to glorify himself.

But many of you have had a house built.  You didn’t just say to the contractor build me a house without first knowing what it would cost.  You sat down first and went over all the costs so that you were sure the house that you were having built was something you could pay for. It would be embarrassing to have a contractor start to build you a house and then realize that you could only afford the foundation and the outside walls. As a disciple it wouldn’t do much for the furthering of the gospel if you entered into discipleship and then dropped out because you didn’t have what it takes to do the job or not have what was needed to be an effective disciple.

Jesus used another example of a king going to war to make a point about discipleship. You wouldn’t go to war with a country that had more troops than you had.  You would first sit down and consider what were your chances of winning a war.  It would be foolish to go to war with 10,000 men against a country that had 20,000 soldiers.  Instead you would send a peace delegation to the enemy to find out what the terms for peace might be.  That would be the only sensible thing to do when you were faced against such odds. You wouldn’t set yourself up for failure in any venture because you lose your credibility with people. In the same way you don’t become a disciple without first knowing what odds will be against you.

God had a plan for Jesus’ life, how it would begin and how it would end. There was no turning back once that plan went into effect. God’s plan for his son was for him to redeem the world.  He would go to Jerusalem despite the dangers and he would face what was before him.  If you as a disciple are not willing to be a part of that plan with all of its demands and sacrifices and unknown dangers then please don’t sign up to be a disciple of Jesus.  Only those who are 100% committed need apply.  The two stories about building towers and going to war illustrate how foolish it is for us to pursue something if we are not sure we can complete it.
Jesus finished his talk to the crowds that day by again talking about giving up ones possessions; “So, therefore, none of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.” Once again as with some of the other words Jesus uses, what we understand a word to mean is not how it was meant to be understood when it was written.  The words “give up” as in give up ones possessions is better translated as “say farewell to” or “to take leave of.” your possessions. The early believers hearing this command in the gospel of Luke to give away possessions more likely understood this to mean that one is to give away their possession to those in need as opposed to just walking away from them. The people of the early church were encouraged to be a charitable people and they were eager to give.

Now you might think with these kinds of demands who would ever qualify to be a disciple.  If I have to make these kinds of commitments then I guess I better not become a disciple.  But Jesus knew that the people listening then and you and I hearing this story today could not possibly live up to such demands.  But what Jesus wanted us to think about was how important discipleship is.  Don’t take it lightly.  Don’t just call yourself a disciple of me if you aren’t at least willing to give it your best, unless you know what the demands will be, unless you know what kind of sacrifices you might be asked to make.   “Christian Disciple” is more than a title. It is a way of life and it is life changing. Your priorities in life must change. Your values must change.  What you pursue in life must change. Many of the people in the crowd who was following Jesus that day were eager to jump on the band wagon without any real thought as to what they might have to do or give up to remain with him.

There are some interesting responses to those who have chosen to be disciples of Christ.  In India, Moslem parents carried an empty coffin through the streets to show the world that their son who had become a Christian was now dead to their love. When the gospel of Luke was being written the early church was still being persecuted by the same corrupt empire that had killed Jesus.  The current emperor mocked early Christians when he declared a new law concerning Christians:

“A most admirable law teaches Christians that it is necessary to be poor to enter the kingdom of heaven; now to assist them, we command that all the property of the Church be confiscated and distributed to the soldiers, and the lands form part of our domain. Thus, being impoverished, they will become wise, and will obtain the hoped-for kingdom of heaven.” Not only did the followers of Jesus in the days of the early church lose their property, many lost their lives.          

When Jesus died on the cross, the cross went from being a horrible symbol of execution, torture, cruelty, suffering, and death to become a symbol of new life, of everlasting life.  You may have heard non-believers say “Why would anyone where a cross around their neck, it is an instrument of execution. You wouldn’t where a gold electric chair around your neck.” They don’t understand the change, the transformation that took place on the cross. Yes, the cross was a symbol of death but after Jesus’ death upon the cross and his resurrection the cross became a symbol of new life.

Giving up so much of our human lives, the things we love and enjoy to follow Jesus may seem to many of us as just too much to sacrifice.  In the human world the words “give up” are not words we want to hear.  They mean having less, losing, not having the things we need and love around us.  But God turns human loss into heavenly gain that is more rewarding than any earthly thing we may have given up. The rewards that we receive from giving up are more than we can ever imagine.

Do you have what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus? Do you have the courage to live a Beatitude life, a “Blessed are those…” life that Jesus talked about in his Sermon on the Mount? Are you willing to be poor in spirit a times? Are you willing to mourn?  Are you willing to be meek?  Are you willing to be hungry at times and thirst for righteousness?  Are you willing to show mercy to everyone?  Are you willing to at least try to be pure of heart?  Are you willing and will you try to be a peacemaker?  Are you willing to be persecuted for what you believe?  Are you able to withstand rejection, ridicule, opposition and loneliness at times?  Do you have what it takes to build towers to Christ and complete them in a world that would rather build towers to itself?  Are you able to begin what you have started, go to spiritual war for Christ and win? If you don’t, those who do not believe will use your failure as another reason to mock Christ and reject the gospel. 

No one really knows if they are up to being a disciple of Christ because we don’t know what the future will hold for us as a disciple.  We have no way of knowing what challenges we will encounter or how strong we will be under the pressures and demands of discipleship.  But what we can expect is that our priorities will change. Discipleship will replace what we might like to do with what must be done.  We aren’t just disciples in our free time but when situations in life require our attention. What once may have been important to us is no longer important. We may have to live in this world, but we don’t have to live like the world lives.

Our popularity among our friends may change.  Our relationships with everyone will change. Not everyone we know may want to continue spending time with us for fear of what we might say to them when we call them on the things they do and say or on the way they behave that are contrary to how we know Jesus calls us to live.  It may not even be so much what we say to people but what they think we are thinking when they behave badly.  Our very presence as disciples of Christ convicts people without even saying anything. He’s a man of God people will say.  She is a Godly woman people will whisper. Be mindful of what you say in front of her or what you do.

The Apostle Paul wrote that when we are in Christ we don’t just become nice people we become new creations; that does not mean we no longer struggle with the temptations of this world. But as new creations we are more aware of the things in this world that are contrary to how Jesus has taught us to live, things  the things that can pull us away from Christ and lead us down the wrong path of life. The journey of a disciple of Christ may not always be easy, but we can be assured that our journey will one day end in a place of new life, a place of peace, a place that feels like we have come home.