Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-30
2nd Reading: Philemon 1:1-21
Well, do we have any takers? Is anyone here willing to give up family and all possessions to follow Jesus? Me neither! I’m kind of glad that you don’t all weigh the cost, because we wouldn’t have a congregation, if you did. I’ve asked many people to join the church and they tell me, no—that there is no way they could tithe or be at church every week or go to meetings all the time. And that’s when I get to tell them the good news of God’s grace. Joining the church is making it public what we already know is true, that you are a part of this community and we are a part of your life and ministry. We have exactly no requirements for being a member. If you want to be a voting member, that’s another story—you need to either take communion or give an offering that can be traced back to you in the previous year. A lot of people might be glad to miss the congregational meeting in which they can vote on a very exciting budget and a new batch of council members. Maybe we make it too easy to be a member here. I think we probably do. I’d rather err on the side of grace than upset or exclude someone. On the other hand, with no requirements at all, does it have any meaning to be a member of this congregation? I guess it means what you decide it means. Only you can decide your level of involvement—whether you want to truly be a part of this community, a family member deeply known and a part of something, or whether you’d prefer to keep it more distant, but always knowing we’re here if you need us. Of course, even if you’re not a member, we do try to be there for those who need us.
Well, Jesus isn’t talking about being a member of King of Kings or a Lutheran. He’s talking about those who want to be his disciple—who want to follow him. This is heavy stuff. You might be surprised, that to be a Lutheran, you don’t have to want to follow Jesus. You can be a Lutheran in name only and sit in a pew every Sunday, never read a Bible during the week, never help another person or care about anybody else, but I don’t think you’d be getting the most out of your faith. And that is what Jesus is talking about. I would hope that you would want to be a Lutheran and follow Jesus, too—be his disciple, too. If only we could do it without giving up everything we love!
Jesus really wants to get our attention in the Gospel this morning. That’s why he uses such strong language. We’re not going to be able to just sit here, and think to ourselves, “How nice of Jesus to say all that! What a sweet and gentle man!” He says to us here in our comfortable padded pews, having driven here in our comfortable cars, about to go eat a spread of fruit and crackers and cookies and coffee--He’s saying there is more to life than our comfort. He wants to invite us into something radical. So he tells us to hate our life. Oh it is so hard to hate my soft bed and my delicious food and my happy job. I will flat our refuse to hate my delicious child and my husband who is my best friend and my siblings who are, at times, annoying, but I am still far from hating. The word for hate used here doesn’t carry the emotion that our word does, but he’s still trying to get our attention. He’s inviting us along on this trip he’s taking, but it isn’t to the Bahamas or something. He wants us to know what we’re getting into. This isn’t like just joining the church—it is a lot of work and sacrifice. But he’s saying that it will be worth it in the end, because new life is going to take the place of the old life we’re leaving behind. This word for hate is more about priorities and what we are willing to give up. Still, I don’t think there are many of us who would be willing to give up our families and all that.
I wonder if God estimated the cost when he decided to throw in the hat with us. Some of the scriptures, with God lamenting the people’s idiocy and faithlessness, makes me wonder. But even after all that, God sent the Son, Jesus. God must have had a pretty good idea then how it would all turn out. So God gave up everything to be here with us. When we estimate the cost, maybe it is the cost to God, of what it took. For us to give up family and friends and possessions would be nothing compared to what God gave up. God, the author of life, the all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, gave all of that up—took on limits to be with us, to be us, and to give us life. When we consider that cost, doesn’t it make you a little less clingy to your stuff? If God could give up that view of the stars and the universe every day, give up that throne so high above, give up knowing and seeing everything all at once, maybe we could give something up to serve that God, especially because it means that our life takes on new meaning that is deeper, and so much more fulfilling than the one we have based around possessions.
The truth is that we will all, eventually, give up father, mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, all our possessions and even life itself. For some, it happens sooner than others. Our parents get sick, our spouse dies, we lose our children to addiction. We learn the art of letting go every day. The things we thought were most important change. We may have put the ultimate value in our work. Then we retire and we have to find new meaning in our lives. We might have put the ultimate value in raising our children, but the years fly by and we experience an empty nest. Then we have to find new meaning in our lives. We may have put all our faith in self-reliance, and suddenly we realize we can’t do all the things for ourselves that we used. We may find ourselves having that conversation with our kids about giving up driving or moving to assisted living. As we move from our homes to apartments, to a rehab center, we give up our possessions one by one. And of course, we all eventually give everything up, even our lives, when we die. But life is so much more than the things we have and even our family. And Jesus wants to give us that life, now, and for all eternity.
Jesus is saying that God is a part of that letting go. God knows what it is like to let go and it isn’t easy. God knows what it is like to suffer, because God did so in Jesus in life and on the cross. Even Jesus asked that the cup be taken from him. He may have estimated the cost, but when the time came, he found himself overwhelmed. Yet, he put his purpose first. He was not willing to compromise on his generous welcome and his critique of humanity, and that’s what got him killed.
What Jesus is saying is that there is one place you can put your energies that is completely reliable and that is to put your faith in God and your energies into following God. For Jesus, he did so completely. For us, it is a matter of degrees. We are somewhat committed to God. We are probably more committed to our family and friends. When forced to choose, we’d probably more often choose our family, friends, possessions, and comfort over our service to God. But not always. When we give our offerings, we make a small sacrifice in order to serve God. When we give our time, we are showing commitment to God. With practice, we can train ourselves to follow a little more boldly. When we do, I think we find ourselves, not hating our family and friends, but loving them in a new way—letting them be themselves and live their lives and make their own decisions. When we follow Jesus, we may not necessarily hate our possessions, but we are aware that they are temporary, we don’t spend all our time and energy protecting them. Instead, we use them in service to God, to help other people.
I think of two times when people in this congregation, took people into their homes who were in danger of becoming homeless. Both times, their families really struggled with it. They put someone else and their needs before the desires of family. Both times they estimated the cost, and both times it paid off. The risk was worth the outcome. But when you’re serving God, or doing anything really, you don’t know all the possible outcomes. An estimate is only an estimate. There are often unforeseen costs