Filed under: Sermons
Bible Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
When my college girlfriends and I got together this summer, we shared memories and swapped stories.
My roommate Ali has been hosting an event called “Beer and Hymns” for a number of years. On the last Sunday of every month, a group gathers together at the back of a pub with a hymnal next to their drinks. There are regulars who make it every month and new people who find their way.
This summer, a group of young men came in. One of them was wearing a St. Olaf t-shirt and Ali introduced herself as an alum. They chatted up all the usuals, comparing majors and dorms. Then one of them turned serious, and looking her in the eye, asked, “Was it worth it?”
The constantly rising tuition, the long hours of study and time locked away in a practice room— was the cost worth the reward? Did it all work out in the end?
Behind his question was the fear- have I made the right choice?
Halfway along the journey is a hard place to begin weighing the costs. Where we meet Jesus, he is coming close to the completion of his journey. He looks behind at the crowds. Do they have any idea where they are going as they follow him?
Jesus is going to his death. It’s going to get really ugly.
On this side of the resurrection, we know death will not be the end, but does Jesus? First there will be a complete experience of abandonment and failure. Jesus’ journey will cost him his life.
The text we read this morning doesn’t sound very uplifting. It’s hardly the motivational speech you’d expect a leader to use to rally the crowds onward. But maybe that’s because Jesus isn’t really interested in raising a crowd, he wants to form disciples who are ready to go all in with him for the gospel.
In the first churches where this gospel was read, the faithful would know what it is to hate father and mother, brother and sister, to leave everything behind to follow Jesus. This hating Jesus talks about isn’t about a feeling, but about priorities and actions. Jesus is saying that they can’t choose it all. They can’t choose their family which represents their old way of life if they want to choose Jesus. In the past, your family was your whole world, it was the source of all your connections- your social, economic, religious, and educational sphere were all contained within or grew out of the family. Your family identity decided who you could hang out with. Following Jesus means choosing loyalties. Will you live like your family, or live like Jesus? These Christians can’t be loyal to their families and live in segregated communities when Jesus calls them to be loyal to him and live in a new community in which rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men and women were all welcomed. It’s one way or another- it can’t be both.
So for those first Christians, it’s not a shock to hear Jesus say they will have to hate their family and choose him first, because they’ve done that and they know the cost of following Jesus.
For us, this text is quite a shock.
I don’t think we ever talk about there being a cost to Christianity.
Often people tell me they want raise their children Christian so that they will learn to be good people. But being good, respectable citizens is not the call of Jesus. Jesus is turning the way things are, the way the world is supposed to work, the order and the rules, upside down. That’s the kind of dismantling that will make you lose your friends- and your life.
But if that’s really true, why don’t we ever think about it? Why don’t we ever calculate the costs of our faith? Why do we think there won’t be a cost?
Sometimes I think we’re the blind ones in the back of the crowd, who don’t really know where Jesus is going and are going to check out when he’s being crucified. Or we’re just so focused on getting into heaven to be with Jesus that we forget to be with him at the cross.
The cross is where Jesus shows us who he is. There Jesus experiences rejection, humility, suffering, and death. Jesus is the God who chooses to suffer for the sake of healing those who suffer. Jesus is the God who chooses to be rejected for the sake of welcoming into community those who are outcast. Jesus is the God who chooses to die so that death would be defeated. Jesus is found in the experiences and people we often try to avoid. What a strange God, to choose suffering rather than glory. Jesus gave up everything for us.
The challenge of this text is the question- will you give up everything for Jesus? Will your life choices reflect that the only thing that is important is Jesus? With his final comment, So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Jesus cuts to the chase. In effect, Jesus says, “in order to be mine, you can’t look to your money, or your house, or your family, or your calendar- and say mine.”
To be Jesus’ disciple, we have to give up power and control over everything. We in the church don’t like doing that. While I was on Synod Council in ND, we had to deal with churches attempting to use their offering as a tool of power. Even as they said this was their act of faith, returning to God what is God’s, they restricted their money to certain projects to put pressure on the church to do what they wanted. It was a sad reminder that even in our following Jesus, we want to take the lead.
Jesus calls us to follow. When this challenge is too hard, then rest in the gospel. Jesus knew the cost of his faithfulness to us. Jesus chose twelve disciples to be his closest followers, and when the cost of following Jesus became clear, as he was arrested and led to death, they ran away and hid in fear for their lives. Still, after his resurrection, Jesus came to them and spoke peace. Jesus sent his Spirit to guide them and empower them to continue to be his disciples and disciple others.
We might never live up to the challenge Jesus puts before us. Our lack of faithfulness does not take away Jesus’ faithfulness to us. Jesus is always coming to us, picking us up, bringing us close, giving us strength and forgiveness to continue in his path. God gives us everything we need, even after we’ve given up all we have. A new family, a new identity, and new life; these are the gift of God.
My friend Ali wasn’t quite sure how to answer that St. Olaf student’s question. Had she ended up with the life she expected out of her investment in college? Maybe not. But as she told the story, she was surrounded by the community that had been formed out of that experience. Maybe that was the reward that made it all worth it.
Those early Christians looked around and saw the new brothers and sisters Jesus gave them and believed Jesus would give them even more. How will you weigh the costs and wait for the outcome?
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