43C Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Choose Discipleship – Choose Life
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.” Luke 14:25-33
Are you sure you want to be a disciple of Jesus? He certainly doesn’t pull any punches about what it takes. First, “Hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and yes, even your life itself.” Second, “Carry the cross and follow him.” Lastly, “Give up all your possessions.”
Yes, it is that simple and it’s that difficult. The words of Jesus don’t just sound black and what. They are black and white. It is all or nothing. We are either in or out.
So, what do we do with today’s gospel? Well, I suspect the first temptation is to soften the text, to explain it away, to reinterpret it to fit our lives. But is not that temptation just another symptom of the consumerism that infects so much of our lives?
Too often our life with God is treated like a big buffet. We take as much as we like and want, but leave behind what we do not like, what is too hard to swallow, what we disagree with, or what does not fit our personal opinions and more strongly held beliefs. But that is not how the gospels portray Jesus or the life of discipleship. If we employ the buffet model, we deceive ourselves.
Sometimes we need to have demands and expectations placed upon us. Any good parent knows this. “You need to eat it because it is good for you.” “You need to do this or that because it is the right thing to do.” I expect you to study hard and to do your homework, make good friends, do your chores.”
Good parents demand and expect, out of love, so that their child might grow and thrive. That is what Jesus is doing in today’s gospel. His demands and expectations call us to be different, to be fully alive, to be like Him. It is the same choice Moses set before the Israelites, the choice between life and prosperity and death and adversity. It is a choice we make multiple times each day and the choice with which Jesus confronts the crowd.
Discipleship is more than gazing at the buffet of divine life. That life cannot be bought, but it will cost us everything we have. Hate your family and your own life. Carry the cross. Give up your possessions.
Those three things, the cost of discipleship, shaped the life and ministry of Jesus. They are to shape our lives as well. Jesus is not making us to do anything that he did not do. To the contrary He makes it possible for us to do what He did do.
So how did Jesus hate his parents? Remember the twelve-year old Jesus in the temple? Mary and Joseph are frantically looking for Him. They think He is lost. When they find Him, Mary asks, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Jesus responded, “Why are you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”
In that moment Jesus hates Mary and Joseph. He sets his relationship with them below his relationship with God His Father. For Jesus, hate is not an emotion but rather hating another is about reordering relationships and loyalties. Jesus is not rejecting Mary and Joseph or their love and presence in His life. He is establishing new priorities. For the disciple no relationship can take precedence over the relationship with God.
In that same sense Jesus hated His own life. He carried His cross and gave precedence to His Father’s will. “Your will, not my will be done.” Yes, it is about priorities. For Jesus, obedience to God was the first claim upon His will.
And what about possessions? The birds of the air and the animals of the earth have more possessions than Jesus. “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but he Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Again, Jesus give primacy to His relationship with God and not his relationship to things.
Jesus is asking us to do what he did and be who He was. This is what it means to be a disciple. No one, no cost, no thing is to take precedence over our relationship with God. Nothing is more important because it is our relationship with God that determines and characterizes all our other relationships, all other aspects of our lives, who we are, what we say and what we do.
Discipleship gives a center to our lives. Without a first love we can only live fragmented and compartmentalized lives. We can have a work life, school life, family life, home life, internet life, recreational life, political life, social life, civic life, and church life. Such fragmentation allows us to place each of those different aspects of our life as our priority for the moment depending on where we are, who we are with, and what we are doing. That fragmentation is one more symptom of a consumer oriented, buffet driven world.
The demands that Jesus makes and the expectations that he communicates change all that. There can be only one priority that informs who we are and what we do.
Consider some of the implications.
- It means we are the same person with the same values and principles regardless of where we are and who we are with.
- It means politics is no longer governed by party agendas but by gospel agendas.
- It means personal preferences give way to love of neighbor and love of one’s enemies.
- It means that business is not a capitalist venture to gain money, power, or leverage, but a resource to care for, support and satisfy human needs.
- It means the environment is not a commodity to be used, polluted, and stripped but a sacred gift entrusted to our care.
- It means everything we say, do, choose, and are arises from and reveals our love for Christ.
If we choose to live like that, there are costs to be paid and sacrifices to be made. But we are practiced in this routine. We sacrifice years of life for an education. We sacrifice long hours for a successful career. We sacrifice time and money to send our kids to camp, activities, and sports games. We sacrifice dessert for health and sleeping-in time to work out. We know how to make sacrifices and pay the cost. We do this because things are important to us. If we do this for any of these, or other things, we cannot avoid the obvious question to which these lead us. What costs are we willing to pay and what sacrifices are we willing to make to be disciples of Jesus?
What is your answer? Is discipleship just one other priority among many? Or is discipleship THE priority that must needs have consequences for all our other relationships? Does it leave no part of our lives untouched? Look at the choices you make. Do these reflect discipleship?
Biblical scholars refer to today’s gospel as one of the “Hard sayings” of Jesus. The words are challenging and the questions they raise are difficult. However, these words and questions offer life. Isn’t that why we are here this morning? We want life. We want to be fully alive. We want to be real and authentic. Hopefully we want to be like Jesus. Don’t let the hardness of the text frighten you and scare you away.
We can do this. The Christ in us makes it possible. His words have power. They can empower us to seize the moment. We can leave church this morning different than when we arrived. What is one thing, just one thing, large or small, that you could do or stop doing that will reflect a change in your priorities, that will reorder your relationships, that would give precedence to Christ. Choose that and you leave here today a different person. “Choose life that you and your descendants may live.” Always mindful in the words of Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
September 5, 2022