The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 14:25-33

BACK IN THE 1980’S, WHILE I WAS SERVING AS AN ARMY CHAPLAIN IN GERMANY, THE ENDORSING AGENT FOR LUTHERAN CHAPLAINS CAME TO PAY US A VISIT. THIS WOULD BE COMPARABLE TO A VISIT FROM THE ASSISTANT BISHOP OF THE NATIONAL CHURCH HEADQUARTERS. HE HOSTED A DINNER AT A LOCAL GASTHAUS FOR ALL THE LUTHERAN CHAPLAINS IN THE STUTTGART AREA. DURING THE GET TOGETHER TIME BEFORE THE DINNER, AS WE ALL SAT AROUND WITH LUTHERAN APPROVED BEVERAGES IN HAND, TO GET TO KNOW US BETTER, HE ASKED US TO TELL HIM A BIT ABOUT HOW WE CAME TO THE MINISTRY OF THE GOSPEL. THERE WERE SOME VERY INTERESTING AND COMPELLING STORIES TOLD, BUT ONE STICKS OUT IN MY MEMORY TO THIS DAY. WHEN IT WAS HIS TURN, ONE YOUNG CHAPLAIN SAID, “WELL, I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I WANTED TO DO AFTER COLLEGE, AND SOMEONE TOLD ME I HAD A GOOD SPEAKING VOICE, SO I SHOULD BECOME A PASTOR. I THOUGHT ABOUT IT, AND DECIDED TO GIVE IT A TRY.” THE GROUP RESPONSE TO THIS TESTIMONY OF DISCIPLESHIP WAS AN AWKWARD SILENCE, WITH PEOPLE LOOKING DOWN OR ANYWHERE OTHER THAN AT HIM, UNTIL THE ENDORSING AGENT CLEARED HIS THROAT AND SAID, “WELL, I GUESS WE SHOULD GO IN TO DINNER.” I CAN NOT JUDGE THAT MAN’S HEART, I CAN ONLY JUDGE HIS WORDS; AND THEY SEEMED TO ME TO BE THE WEAKEST OF REASONS FOR BECOMING A DISCIPLE OF JESUS.

IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, IT IS RECORDED THAT LARGE CROWDS WERE FOLLOWING JESUS AS HE MADE HIS WAY TOWARD JERUSALEM. THEY FOLLOWED AFTER JESUS FOR MANY REASONS; SOME TO HEAR HIS TEACHINGS, SOME IN THE HOPE OF MORE FREE BREAD AND FISHES, SOME TO WITNESS OR EXPERIENCE HEALING, SOME LOOKING FOR A POLITICAL SAVIOR, AND SOME JUST SWEPT UP IN THE EXCITEMENT AND NOVELTY OF THE MOVEMENT. IT WAS IF MANY OF THEM SAID TO THEIR SELVES, “I WILL TRY BEING A DISCIPLE OF JESUS AND SEE WHERE IT TAKES ME.” THE LARGE CROWDS WERE A THREAT TO THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES, TO THE POLITICAL STABILITY ENFORCED BY THE ROMANS AND A BURDEN TO THE MINISTRY OF JESUS; SO HE TURNED TO THE CROWDS AND TOLD THEM JUST WHAT BEING HIS DISCIPLE MEANT.

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. THIS IS KNOWN AS ONE OF THE ‘HARD’ TEACHINGS OF JESUS, AND IS OFTEN GLOSSED OVER OR IGNORED, OR EXPLAINED AWAY BY SAYING HE DID NOT MEAN WHAT HE SAID. IT IS, HOWEVER, THE HARD TRUTH OF BEING A DISCIPLE OF THE CHRIST OF GOD, AND ABSOLUTELY CENTRAL TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FOLLOWER OF JESUS. ONE DOES NOT ‘TRY OUT’ BEING A FOLLOWER OF JESUS; THE DECISION TO FOLLOW JESUS IS A COMPLETE LIFE CHANGING ONE, BECAUSE TO FOLLOW JESUS MEANS TO PUT HIM FIRST ABOVE ALL THINGS IN THIS LIFE, EVEN LIFE ITSELF. LUTHER SAID, “SHOW ME WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU IN THIS LIFE, AND I WILL SHOW YOU YOUR GOD.” THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP IS EVERYTHING.

ONE MIGHT THINK THAT THIS ADMONITION CONTRADICTS THE COMMANDMENTS OF LOVE; IN FACT IT REINFORCES IT. REMEMBER THAT THE FIRST OF THE COMMANDMENTS IS “TO LOVE THE LORD, YOUR GOD, WITH ALL YOU HEART, WITH ALL YOUR MIND, WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL.” EVEN THOUGH WE ARE COMMANDED TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR AS OURSELVES, AND, THEREFORE, TO LOVE OUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS, INDEED ALL PEOPLE, ALL THAT IS AND MUST BE SECONDARY TO THE LOVE WE HAVE FOR GOD. TO FOLLOW JESUS MEANS THAT NOTHING IN LIFE, EVEN OUR OWN LIVES, CAN STAND IN THE WAY OF OUR LOVE FOR GOD IN JESUS HIS SON. “SO, THEREFORE, NONE OF YOU CAN BECOME MY DISCIPLE IF YOU DO NOT GIVE UP ALL YOUR POSSESSIONS.” WHEN YOU POSSESS SOMETHING, OR SOMEONE, IT POSSESSES YOU; THEREFORE, TO BE A DISCIPLE OF JESUS, WE MUST FREE OURSELVES OF ANY HOLD THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD HAVE ON US SO THAT WE CAN LOVE GOD WITH ALL WE ARE AND ALL THAT WE HAVE. ONE DOES NOT ‘TRY ON’ DISCIPLESHIP; RATHER, ONE MUST COUNT THE COST BEFORE MAKING SUCH A LIFE ALTERING DECISION.

THIS DOES NOT MAKE MUCH OF AN APPEALING RECRUITING POSTER FOR CHURCH MEMBERSHIP AND PEOPLE JOIN CHURCHES FOR A HOST OF REASONS. NOT SO LONG AGO, BEING A MEMBER OF A PARTICULAR CHURCH MEANT BEING SEEN BY THE MOVERS AND SHAKERS OF THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY, AND, IF YOU MADE IT TO THE EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL, YOU WERE ON THE WAY TO SUCCESS. SOME COME FOR THE COMFORT OF THE LITURGY, OTHERS THE MUSIC, SOME OUT OF FAMILY HABIT, AND SOME COME WHO ARE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING THEY CAN’T QUITE EXPRESS. SOME CHURCHES TODAY HAVE DAY CARE CENTERS, FULLY STAFFED GYMNASIUMS, CAFETERIAS, AND ALL SORTS OF OTHER CREATURE COMFORTS TO BRING PEOPLE IN TO INCREASE MEMBERSHIP. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH A GROWING CHURCH OR STRIVING TO INCREASE MEMBERSHIP, BUT THE REASON FOR GROWTH MUST ALWAYS BE TO MAKE DISCIPLES OF THE LORD JESUS; AND DISCIPLESHIP HAS A COST.

DIETRICH BONHOFFER, THE GERMAN PASTOR AND THEOLOGIAN WHO WAS EXECUTED BY THE NAZIS AT FLOSSENBURG CONCENTRATION CAMP FIVE DAYS BEFORE LIBERATION, WROTE IN “THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP,” ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘CHEAP’ AND ‘COSTLY’ GRACE. HE DEFINED ‘CHEAP’ GRACE AS THE KINDS OF THINGS WE TEND TO DO TO GET PEOPLE TO COME INTO THE CHURCH, AND ‘COSTLY’ GRACE AS THE REAL GRACE WHICH JESUS HOLDS OUT TO US AS HIS DISCIPLES.

“CHEAP GRACE IS THE PREACHING OF FORGIVENESS WITHOUT REQUIRING REPENTANCE, BAPTISM WITHOUT CHURCH DISCIPLINE, COMMUNION WITHOUT CONFESSION, ABSOLUTION WITHOUT PERSONAL CONFESSION. CHEAP GRACE IS GRACE WITHOUT DISCIPLINE, GRACE WITHOUT THE CROSS, GRACE WITHOUT JESUS CHRIST. COSTLY GRACE IS THE TREASURE HIDDEN IN THE FIELD; FOR THE SAKE OF IT A MAN WILL GLADLY GO AND SELL ALL THAT HE HAS. IT IS A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE TO BUY WHICH THE MERCHANT WILL SELL ALL HIS GOODS. IT IS THE KINGLY RULE OF CHRIST, FOR WHOSE SAKE A MAN WILL PLUCK OUT THE EYE WHICH CAUSES HIM TO STUMBLE; IT IS THE CALL OF JESUS CHRIST AT WHICH THE DISCIPLE LEAVES HIS NETS AND FOLLOWS HIM.

SUCH GRACE IS COSTLY BECAUSE IT CALLS US TO FOLLOW, AND IT IS GRACE BECAUSE IT CALLS US TO FOLLOW JESUS CHRIST. IT IS COSTLY BECAUSE IT COSTS A MAN HIS LIFE, AND IT IS GRACE BECAUSE IT GIVES A MAN THE ONLY TRUE LIFE. IT IS COSTLY BECAUSE IT CONDEMNS SIN, AND GRACE BECAUSE IT JUSTIFIES THE SINNER. ABOVE ALL, IT IS COSTLY BECAUSE IT COST GOD THE LIFE OF HIS SON, AND WHAT HAS COST GOD MUCH CANNOT BE CHEAPER FOR US.”

THE ONLY TRUE GRACE IS THE GRACE WHICH COMES TO US ONLY IN THE CALL OF THE CHRIST OF GOD, JESUS HIS SON. AS GOD WAS IN CHRIST, THE COST OF GOD’S LOVING GRACE TO US WAS HIS LIFE; EVERYTHING. AS DISCIPLES OF THE LORD JESUS, THE UNEARNED GRACE THAT GOD OFFERS TO US IN JESUS HAS A COST; AND THAT COST IS ALL THAT WE ARE AND ALL THAT WE HAVE – EVERYTHING. STILL WANT TO BE A DISCIPLE OF THE LORD JESUS? THEN YOU HAD BETTER COUNT THE COST.
AMEN

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