Count the Cost of Discipleship
A sermon based on Luke 14:25-33
Sunday, September 12, 2010 -- Pentecost 16C
You know, there's a certain phrase that had almost become extinct in the American language. But thanks to the economy it's making it's way back into our everyday speech. You'll hear the phrase more often lately than we did in previous years. It's that age old question: "Can I afford it?"
In recent history, very few asked, "Can I afford it?" "Do I want it?" "What color does it come in?" "Can I have two?" you might hear. But "Can I afford it?" was seldom asked because it really didn't matter if you couldn't afford it. "VISA or Mastercard?" was the question heard most often. Just throw it on the card.
Of course, that kind of thinking got a lot of people into a lot of trouble. The answer was sometimes a most definite, "NO! I can't afford it! And I shouldn't take on more debt to buy it!" And the repo-man came knocking. Things were reposessed. Homes were foreclosed. And lives were ruined.
Now more people are cautiously asking "Can I afford it?" before they buy the bigger home, the newer car, or the big screen TV.
This morning Jesus tells us to ask that same question, "Can I afford it?" Because it's not just the home, or the car, or the TV that cost something. But being a Christian costs something too. In fact, it costs everything. So Jesus encourages his disciples of then and now to count the cost and ask, "Can I afford it?" Total the tremendous cost of following Jesus as one of his disciples. And be grateful for the gracious gift he gives that allows us to. Listen again to Jesus' encouragement recorded for us in Luke 14:25-33...
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
31 "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
I. Total the Tremendous Cost
Whoa, Jesus! Tame it down a bit. All this talk of hating people is no way to grow the church, right? This text is certainly one of those difficult sayings of Jesus, to be sure. But what does he mean when he says "hate... father and mother... wife and children... brothers and sisters [or you] cannot be my disciple."? After all didn't Jesus also command that we "Honor father and mother" that it may go well with us? Doesn't he say in 1 John 4(:20-21), "20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."?!
So, if Jesus isn't telling us to actually hate our family, what does he mean? Perhaps the parallel account in Matthew will help? There Jesus said, 34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn " 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' 37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me..." (Matthew 10:34-37)
Jesus isn't telling us to show animosity toward our family. But he's calling for us to set our priorities straight. He's teaching the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods." We are not to love anything or anyone, more than Jesus. That's what it costs to be his disciple.
Steep price, right? But there's more...
"Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."
You'll sometimes hear a guideline given in a stewardship presentation that God wants 10% of all you have. That's not true. ... He wants all of it! All of what you have is to be used -- not for your selfish purposes, but to his glory -- even what you spend on your family, your choices in food, your house and home, and yes, in your recreation. Give up everything to God's glory to follow Jesus. That's what it costs to be his disciple.
But wait there's more. The cost is greater than giving up all your stuff, all your family and friends. You have to give up yourself. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate... his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
Give up everything -- even your life. Carry a cross.
You know, I think that phrase, "Carry your cross," is often misunderstood. "My kids misbehave. I'm sick again. I lost my job. There was an accident on the freeway... But, I guess that's just my cross to bear." But those sufferings and sorrows are common to all people. They're not crosses that we bear. The crosses we carry are those things we suffer because we're Christians.
It's the taunts and ridicule we face for sharing our faith. It's the suffering we feel when we deny our sinful nature's desire to keep on sinning. It's the patience you show when you endure the sufferings and sorrows common to all people as you suffer in joy.
And make no mistake: It's not supposed to be fun. Think of the cultural context in which Jesus spoke. To that original audience "a cross" meant nothing but the cruelest form of torture and death. This is what Jesus calls his disciples to if they are to follow him. That's what it costs to be his disciple.
So, are you willing to suffer the worst torture for the sake of doing what's right? Are you willing to give up your family and friends to follow Jesus? Are you willing to give all you own to his glory and not to yours? Are you willing to sacrifice your pride, your time, your life to be his disciple? Who would do all this? ... Who of us has done all this?
Not me. I have a big fat zero in my spiritual bank account with God. When I count the cost, I see that it is way more than I can afford. Even when I am trying my hardest to live as I know Christ would have me live, then I still fall way short. (And to be honest, I don't always try my hardest.)
Like trying to finance the construction of two more classrooms and a gymnasium and new landscaping for Grace Lutheran School on my own, I simply cannot afford the costs of building the tower to heaven. In the spiritual battle for my soul, Satan, the world, and my sinful nature, have me outnumbered way more than two to one. I'm not a spiritual Rambo. I cannot win on my own.
I count the cost and I find how short I fall. And so do you. And with no spiritual financing available, we all fall short of the glory that God demands. We are not fit to be his disciples. We are not fit for heaven.
Give up everything -- family, finances, physical life -- to be Jesus' disciple? We can't do it. It costs too much... for us.
III. Grateful for the Gracious Gift
But before you consider claiming spiritual bankruptcy, consider this: We're not the only ones to count the cost of us being Jesus' disciples. Jesus himself counted the cost. He added it up and knew that it would be too much for any of us to afford. He considered that we were sure to lose the war. So, he estimated the cost so that he could pay it... for us! He calculated that nothing less than the death of the God himself could pay for your sins and mine. And he paid it.
Jesus did give up everything. He had no wealth or possessions except what he had on his back. He had no house or home. He gave up the glory of heaven! He gave up his family when they tried to dissuade him from carrying out his mission. "Who are my mother and my brothers?" (Mark 3:33) He considered you being his disciple of greater worth than even the love of his Father. And because he loved you more, he volunteered to be abandoned by the Father as he carried his cross -- enduring hell itself to pay the cost of being his disciple.
The resources that you and I need to complete the massive tower of our salvation have been gifted to us. The project is complete. When we could never win the battle for our soul, Jesus fought the battle for us. And he won. So we are victorious.
And now, because of this sacrifice: That "though he was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor, so that [we] through his poverty might become rich," (1 Corinthians 2:9) now we respond with a sincere and heartfelt thanks that's eager to give up anything that might keep us from following him. And Jesus doesn't tell us, "Count the cost" as if to say, "Count the cost, and, if it's too high, don't bother." But "Count the cost. Understand what it will take to be my disciple, so you're prepared to do it."
And we are prepared to follow Christ all the way, at any cost, giving up our earthly wealth, giving up our family and friends, giving up our very lives, to follow Jesus and be his disciples.
In 1914, the antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, ran the following ad in the London Times before his expedition to the South Pole: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success." Who in their right mind would want such a job? And yet, in spite of the description Shackleton received 5,000 applications from men who wanted to be part of his expedition.
Why? Because they knew that cost isn't the only factor when you're making an investment. With investments the formula is risk (or cost) versus reward. If you put a lot of money in, but get triple the money out, it's a great investment, isn't it? Yes, they knew they risked their lives to accompany Shackleton. But the promise of honor and recognition was worth it. Likewise, we know that being one of Jesus' disciples does come with a great cost. But the cost is nothing when compared with the fact that, by God's grace, it comes with an eternal reward!
Who in their right mind would want to follow Jesus when it costs family and friends, worldly wealth, maybe even life itself as safe return is doubtful? We would. That's who. We do. We we count the cost, and gladly give up everything in thanks to Jesus! "And take they our life, Goods, fame, child and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The Kingdom our remaineth." Amen.