16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 4, 2016
“What Does This NOT Mean”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is our assigned Gospel text for today from Luke 14.
My dear friends,
By now just about every student/teacher here in Florida has gone back to school by now. They don’t always like it, but they go back every fall. It is never easy or fun to do your taxes every spring, but it is something that every American is supposed to do. It is never easy or fun to go to the dentist and have dental work done, but that also is something that we are all supposed to do. It is typical for us people to avoid things that are difficult or unpleasant which is why we either put them off or avoid them altogether. Sometimes it is best to “go through it” so you can “grow through it.”
That being said, I am going to tackle this Gospel text with you today in an effort to truly understand what Jesus is saying to the crowds and what the cost of discipleship really is. Is this a hard text? Yes. Would it be easier to preach today’s First Lesson? Yup. Would it be easier to just skip it? You better believe it! But just because it is difficult doesn’t mean we’re going to skip it. So…let’s roll up our sleeves and dive in to a sermon that I have entitled “What Does This NOT Mean.” My intention is to help you understand what Jesus’ teaching from Luke 14 does and does not mean for us modern-day disciples and the unconditional nature of discipleship.
In the text, suddenly Jesus whips around and says to the great crowds following Him and drops a bombshell (size too large? Something someone said?). “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (vs. 26-27). Okay, what does this mean and what does this not mean?
I wish I could tell you that “hate” is just a bad English translation of a Greek word, but that’s not the case. Jesus literally uses the Greek word for “hate, despise.” So, what does this mean? Does it mean we have to hate our families to be Christian? No. The idea is not that we should hate our families or our lives, but that in comparison, if forced to choose, the winner of the choice must be Jesus. He is to be loved more than anyone else…even grandkids! (1st Commandment issue: “we should fear, love, and trust in God ABOVE ALL things”). As such, people should understand the cost before just following Jesus blindly or whenever it’s convenient or the trendy thing to do. Maybe that’s why Jesus “snapped;” He was being followed because it was “trendy” or “popular.” To follow Jesus is a life-changing, radical calling to discipleship. One should not entertain the thought of discipleship without first counting the high cost. That is why Jesus then tells two parables to illustrate His point.
Jesus speaks of someone building a tower who must first consider the financial cost to build the tower before starting construction. The second illustration is about a king preparing for war and whether or not his forces can be victorious. The point is that one must first count the cost before taking action, which is wise counsel indeed. We do the same thing all the time. When you buy a car or house, doesn’t cost primarily drive the decision? In the same way, cost has significant ramifications for Christians.
Part of the problem in counting the cost is that often we do not know ahead of time what the real cost will be in terms of future relationships. Taking a stand regarding sexuality and marriage issues with your family and friends may be painful, but it is necessary because we want them to have what we have…salvation by grace through faith alone. It may mean having the courage to discuss destructive behavior at the risk of never speaking to that person again. It may be perceived as loving God over family or friends, labeled “holier than thou” or as “hateful” when ironically it means you are trying to love – not hate – both God and neighbor! How is it fair that, if someone else stands up for their belief, it’s “courageous,” but when we do it, it’s “hateful”? Then again, “fair” is a place to take your favorite quilt and jelly each fall in search of blue ribbons.
Sometimes being a disciple means not doing what is popular/trendy and also sometimes doing what’s unpopular. To follow Jesus and share in His cross may mean that your life isn’t always going to be easy. It might mean some rough times for you and your family. Neighbors and friends do not always understand why we do what we do. Those who wish to follow Jesus acknowledge that He has priority every single day, not just the time you spend sitting in a pew (1 hour a week…maybe)! The true cost of following Jesus is unconditional commitment 24-7. That’s counting the cost, and the cost is high, but certainly not higher than Jesus’ cross.
Then, our text doesn’t get any easier! It ends with “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (v. 33). What does it mean and what does it not mean to renounce all we have to be disciples? Are we to sell all our possessions or give all our stuff away? The answer is no, we don’t have to give up all our stuff. Again, where is the priority? Are people/stuff of utmose importance, or is it God? St. Paul helps to explain this when he wrote in Philippians 3:7-8, “whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” We can have stuff; stuff is a gift from God. But what is the priority in your life? In insurance circles, to lose all your stuff is “catastrophic” loss. But to lose Christ, to lose eternity, heaven, the Kingdom of God…now that’s real catastrophic loss.
When Jesus says things like hate your family or renounce all that we have, He is using hyperbole (“if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”). He is using exaggerated figures of speech to teach an important truth. The truth He is teaching is that as disciples Jesus Christ is to have the priority in our lives.
There, that wasn’t so hard, right? Well, maybe not right here, maybe not right now. But at some point out there we are to give Jesus our highest love, make Him our highest priority, put down the axe you want to grind at home, at the school, or church and instead pick up our crosses and do so in the name of and for the sake of Jesus because you ARE His blood-bought, forgiven disciple. It is my prayer for you that you can do that today and every day of your life, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Any fool can say they believe. Do you mean it? Do you love it? Do you live it? That, my friends, is the hard part and you have to go through it to grow through it.