"The Hard Work of Following Jesus" – Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
My guess is you’ve seen or read something like this before. I’ve seen it make its rounds on social media more than once, myself, but it never made me think about the Gospel, or faith, or following Jesus, until this week.
It’s an e-mail, written by a daughter, to her parents, after being away at college for the first time.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know it’s been three months and that you haven’t heard from me since I left for school. I need to let you know what I’ve been up to, but before you read on, please take a deep breath, sit down, and remember how much you love me. : )
So, things are going pretty well. I got a minor concussion when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory during a fire shortly after I got here, but I’m pretty well over that now. Fortunately, a guy at the gas station next door saw everything and called the fire department and the ambulance. He also visited me at the hospital, and since I had nowhere to live, he was nice enough to let me share his apartment with him and his three buddies. It's really a room in the basement, but it's kind of cute. : )
He is a great guy and we are in love and planning to get married. We haven't set the exact date yet, but it will be before the baby comes. Yes, Mom and Dad, I am pregnant. And, yes, we hope to have the wedding before I start to show, because I already found a dress that I love. I know you will welcome this baby and give it all the love you’ve given me over the years.
And I can’t wait for you to meet Brad, which I promise will happen as soon as his infection clears up – that’s a whole ‘nother story, which I’ll tell you about some other time. Anyway, I know you’re going to love him, too. He’s so kind and super cute. He’s not all that educated, but he’s a really hard worker and he has plans to help run his family business once his dad gets back from some time away. : )
And I have so much more to tell you, like the fact that there really was no fire, no hospital, no Brad, no baby on the way, and no wedding plans, either.
What you really need to know is that I got a 'D' in my History class. And I totally failed Biology. I just wanted you to get that news with a little bit perspective about how much worse things could be. (Smiley face.)
I (heart) you,
That's funny, right? And clever, don’t you think? And, it made me think of Jesus and this Gospel, because of what Jesus seems to be up to here. He says all sorts of pretty harsh, surprising things, right out of the gate: “whoever doesn’t hate father and mother, hate wife and children, hate brother and sister, hate, even, life itself, cannot be my disciple.” And then, “whoever doesn’t carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Anyone and everyone listening in that crowd would have known what crosses were used for back in Jesus’ day, just as well as we do now.
And then Jesus goes on with all of this stuff about counting the cost, estimating the investment, measuring your resources before deciding – with no small amount of forethought and attention – whether you have what it takes to do this whole discipleship thing well… or seriously… or with some measure of faithfulness.
So, I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s why Jesus doesn’t wrap it all up with his final challenge: “No one can become my disciple unless they give up all of their possessions.”
My point is, I think it’s okay to see this as one of those passages of scripture that is chock-full of hyperbole, something we just talked about a week or so ago in our Breakfast Club Bible study. It’s one of those moments where Jesus is exaggerating things to get our attention; he’s overstating his point, so that we’ll listen; he’s talking in extremes so that that large and growing crowd of wannabes and hangers-on might stop for a minute and consider where he was headed… just where he might be leading them… and what this life of discipleship could really look like, if they were really serious about really following Jesus. It’s one of those moments, I’m pretty sure we’re not meant to take Jesus literally, so much as we are meant to take Jesus seriously.
So part of the point is to see that following Jesus isn’t easy. His lessons are hard. His expectations are high. His teachings are difficult to hear. He challenges us – and expects us to challenge one another – in ways that pretty much promise us we won’t always agree or get along or feel comfortable about what God is calling us to do – as individuals or as the Body of Christ in the world.
We might feel compelled to hate – or at least disagree and argue and take exception with – our friends and relatives, our Pastors and fellow Christians, from time to time. We might find ourselves bearing a cross, depending upon how far we’re willing to take our discipleship. And we might be called to sacrifice a thing or two – our time, our energy, a significant portion of our money and resources and stuff. “None of you can become my disciple, unless you give up all of your possessions.”
Which is where I find a strange connection to that letter the college co-ed wrote to her parents. I wonder if Jesus starts with the hard, harsh, heavy stuff – the hatred and disagreement and struggle we’re likely to face between moms, dads, siblings, spouses, and children; and that bit about carrying a cross, walking ourselves to the suffering and death of crucifixion – so that when he gets to that bit about our money and our things, we can receive it with a different kind of perspective.
Because I think, for the likes of you and me – white, middle class, safe, suburban, mainline Christian people, I mean – giving away our money and giving up our possessions, is as faithful and as tangible and as meaningful a thing as we can do to express and to experience our desire to follow Jesus.
I’ll say that again: For the likes of you and me, giving away our money and giving up our possessions, is as faithful and tangible and meaningful a thing as we can do to express and to experience our desire to follow Jesus.
See, I think we’ve convinced ourselves – thanks to a lot of hard work by the culture we live in – that to give up, to do without, to fore-go our financial possessions is more sacrifice than it was ever meant to be, or that it really is, when we’re looking at life in this world from the proper perspective. Not many of us risk hatred or alienation from our friends and family because of what we believe as far as I know. And most of us don’t have plans to carry or climb onto a cross come Friday, I suspect. But possessions and money?, that’s something we can do something about, if we’re honest. And God knows it.
Any of you who have been through our CrossRoads class know about the question I ask when we talk about financial stewardship: to share with the group the most meaningful gift you’ve ever given or received. I ask that question because, without fail, the gifts people talk about have very little, if anything, to do with their financial value. They could very well be worth a lot of money, but what matters most about the gifts that mean the most is who gave them, the occasion they commemorate, and the thoughtfulness, preparation, and sacrifice that went into the giving, in the first place.
And that’s what God asks of us as we consider the gift of discipleship we’re called to offer as followers of Jesus. It involves our money, yes. We are called to be generous and to do with less – to do without, even – so that the Church can flourish and so that God’s good news can be shared in ways we can’t accomplish on our own. More importantly, I think, we are called to be generous and to do with less – to do without, even – because it changes us for the better and helps us to love and care for others in more faithful ways.
But the gift of discipleship – be it financial or faithful following and sacrifice in any other way – is meant to be the gift of ourselves, the fullness of our lives as much as we’re able to offer it. There’s no promise that it will be easy. There’s no assurance that the world around us – or even those closest to us – will always understand or agree with what we’re up to. But there is the promise that through the living of our lives, following in the footsteps of Jesus, we will know eternal life, we will experience the Kingdom of God, we will find and share God’s heaven – in this life and in the next, by grace in Jesus’ name.