Sunday, September 4, 2016
THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS
Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.
Every Lutheran confirmation student is taught the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and mother.” As Luther explained, “we are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents or others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.”
In 1 John 4:20 we read: “Those who say, `I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
In Romans 12:9–10 Paul writes: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection.” Then he adds in 12:18: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
In the “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus exhorts his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43–44).
If the 4th commandment teaches us to love our fathers and mothers, if 1 John insists that we must love our brothers and sisters, if Paul urges us to love one another and live peaceably with all, and if Jesus exhorts us to love even our enemies, what is up with verse 26 of our gospel reading from Luke 14: “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” ? This is one of the most jarring verses in the Bible. Jesus seems to contradict himself and so much of what is taught elsewhere about loving our neighbor and all God’s people.
I wonder how many people would flock to a church with a welcome statement that read: All are welcome as long as you hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and your own life.
We are told that large crowds were following Jesus. Surely there were many fathers and mothers, wives and children, and brothers and sisters in the crowd. Such a message must have shocked those gathered to hear him.
Biblical scholar and President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at
So then, if Jesus is using hyperbolic language— that is, exaggerating to make a point— what is his point? First we need to clarify the meaning of the Greek word translated as “hate.” For people in our culture, the word “hate” conjures up images such as a person screaming “I hate you” or a group of people committing a hate crime. Jesus was not advocating that his followers scream at their loved ones or engage in hate crimes. Instead, he sought to make clear that following him entailed undivided loyalty to him.
Jesus was speaking to a large crowd of eager listeners. They may have had the best intentions. But Jesus wanted them to understand that he did not need half-hearted disciples.
For Jesus the cross lay ahead of him. Following Jesus and carrying the cross would involve sacrifice. He wanted would be followers to be fully aware of the costs, so that they were prepared to follow him to the end.
When lenders extend a loan to a borrower, they are required to provide a “truth in lending” statement. In our gospel Jesus offers what we might call a truth in following statement. Jesus cared enough for his would be followers that he did not want them to be naïve about what they were getting into. He wanted them to count the costs in a thoughtful and intentional way.
Jesus used two illustrations to stress the importance of counting the costs of following him. “For which of you,” asked Jesus, “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.’”
People who visit St. Andrew tend to be impressed with the facility we now enjoy. Imagine if we had been able to complete only the foundation. We could have become a laughing stock in the neighborhood, community, and synod. We had to count the costs and make sure we had what we needed to complete the project.
Jesus offered a second example of counting the costs: “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.”
Jesus ups the ante even more in the final verse of our gospel reading: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Luke does not tell us how the listeners responded. But presumably a large number in the crowd were not as eager to follow Jesus after he confronted them with the costs. The sacrifices he was calling for seemed daunting.
Jesus made clear
that those who followed him would need to make their relationship to him a
greater priority than their relationships to family members. Family
relationships were central in a first century Jewish family in
The thought of having to give up any hard-earned possessions would also have been a tough sacrifice for many to consider.
Others may simply not have been ready to put their lives at risk for the sake of following Jesus.
Mainline churches have tended to shy away from asking for significant sacrifices. Presumably we are afraid that people will not want to be part of a community that asks for too great a sacrifice.
Surely Jesus does not want us to scream “I hate you” at our family members or anyone else. But he continues to call us to make our relationship with him our top priority and to be willing to sacrifice as necessary. Those who truly want to follow him still need to count the costs in a thoughtful and intentional way. Following Jesus may well compromise other priorities we may have.
A famous example in more recent times of the cost of following Jesus was Martin Luther King’s involvement in the civil rights movement. His family paid a heavy price for his efforts to follow Jesus in seeking to establish what he called God’s beloved community. King himself ended sacrificing his life. Thankfully the cost is not always so high.
But in a sinful world we need to be prepared to pay a price for following Jesus. Seeking to fulfill Jesus’ inclusive vision of a community of God’s love can be costly. At the beginning of Luke 15 we are told that “all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.” These were people who tended to be excluded from the religious community. The religious leaders grumbled and said, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” A number of these religious leaders were instrumental in getting Jesus crucified.
We have adopted a statement welcoming all people “regardless of ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, education, income, or family status.” Not everyone is excited by this inclusive statement. There have been some grumblings or at least some rumblings about it. Some have joined St. Andrew because of the statement and our efforts to fulfill it. But at the same time this welcome statement has also cost us some members— be they people who have left or people who have chosen not to come or not to stay.
Our inclusive vision of welcoming helped inspire us to sponsor the Alajrab family. Many support our efforts. However, many others in our society do not support welcoming a Syrian Muslim family.
For those who seek to follow Jesus, what matters are not the number of members we are gaining or losing or the number of supporters we have. What matters is to follow Jesus in seeking to fulfill his inclusive vision and to accept the costs of doing so.
Jesus was willing to sacrifice everything, even if necessary his life, for the sake of that vision. He continues to need followers who are willing to do the same. Following Jesus may seem daunting, but the good news is that the one who calls us to follow loves each one of us. Because Jesus loves us, he wants us to be fully aware of the costs of following him, even if it costs him some followers. But Jesus has also counted the costs, and he is confident that he will have enough followers left to finish the job of establishing God’s inclusive community of love.
In Jesus’ name, AMEN. .
 “The Cost of Discipleship,” Craft of Preaching, Working Preacher,
 Emerson Powery, “Commentary on Luke 14:25–33,” Working Preacher.