The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Luke 14:25-33

This entire passage from Luke 14, today’s gospel reading, fits nicely under the category of “Things I Wish Jesus Had Never Said.” When one is aware that the gospel is meant to be good news – that the word gospel means good news – it is difficult to conclude this reading by saying, “The gospel of the Lord.”

Having been taught a method of sermon preparation that includes reading scripture, then basically living with that text for a period of time, I must admit that having this text as a companion the past few days has been an unpleasureable experience. Not that I haven’t heard it all before, and preached on it before, but it is still a difficult passage. So, I have contemplated and listened to and argued with and wrestled with these words of Jesus most of this week and, still, there is an unpeacefulness about them.

They are words that call us to Estimate the cost of following Jesus. “Hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself. . .carry the cross. . .give up all your possessions.” Why even listen, when the commands sound so unreasonable? So Impossible?

These are words from a savior? Who needs that kind of savior?

These words invoke an argument within me. Perhaps they do the same to you. It’s an impossible choice. Or maybe it isn’t: God? Or the people I love the most? It just seems an unreasonable demand.

But Jesus, himself, is telling us to count the cost of discipleship To know what we’re getting ourselves into before we sign on as Christians. As Robert Duvall says in the movie, The Apostle (speaking of grace and salvation and acceptance into the Lord’s service), “It may be free, but it ain’t cheap.” There are some definite, hard costs to discipleship. Christianity, contrary to the thinking of some churchgoers, is not just a weekly trip down Jesus Lane, with apathetic attitudes and half-hearted commitments, taking in the benefits (and taking them for granted), without giving something—something significant—in return. A response is demanded – sacrifice – if we truly want to be disciples of the Lord.

And Jesus wants us to know that up front, and to be prepared (if necessary) to put everything and everyone else in second place to our commitment to the Lord. Not really to hate, not literally, but to make God and your relationship with God the greatest of all. And sometimes it is necessary to put those relationships and those people that we hold most dear, in subordination to our relationship and love of the Lord. We have to –if God is really our God.

Because sometimes we are tempted to let or we do let our love for other people and other things come between and before our love and relationship with God.

Sometimes people – even family – usually family—mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, siblings; sometimes things— golf, tennis, ball teams, or houses, or cars, or trips, or jobs demand to have that first place priority in our lives instead of God.

But Jesus says, “No. It can’t be. Those people you love, and are supposed to love, and those things can’t possess you, if you are mine. They can’t come between or before your relationship with me. If you are to be my disciple, truly my disciple, you have to be willing to give up even life itself for my sake, for the sake of my love and my kingdom.”

So “Estimate the cost,” says Jesus, “before you sign on with my company, as my disciple.” Have you? Did you? I didn’t, at first. If I had, I might not be standing here today. I think I’ve learned and accepted the costs of discipleship since becoming a Christian, since becoming a priest, even, Though I know I certainly still do fudge on that from time to time.

But if I had actually sat back and analyzed and evaluated very carefully before allowing myself to be grasped by God’s gracious and merciful hand, I might have balked or turned and ran away from this intimidating invitation from Jesus.

There are those who do count costs and carefully stay away from Jesus. They’re careful not give too much, not to commit themselves too deeply, not to get to close to Jesus, lest they become drawn in to the point that they can’t turn back, can’t avoid the gaze and calling of Jesus to give up those things that they hold more dear than God and desperately want to keep more dear than God.

They are so intent on avoiding sacrifice in their lives that they miss completely the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice for them—the example of his sacrifice for us—indeed the whole concept of Christian sacrifice, and thereby miss the joy and significance of being Christian, of Christian service and Christian living.

You cannot be Christian, a follower and imitator of Christ, without sacrifice, without giving; giving up something; something of what you have (your possessions), and of what you are (your self), for God’s sake. That’s what Jesus’ is saying. That’s what Jesus has shown us by example.

The Greek word for it is “kenosis.” It means “self-emptying.” The giving of one’s self to the point that you can feel it. That’s what sacrifice is. If we’re only giving to God and God’s service a fraction of what we have—time, money, talent, our lives. If we’re giving at a level that has no effect on us, then, guess what? It has no effect on us. But if we’ll give to the point that we can feel it, to the point of sacrifice, then it will have an effect, and that effect will be joy and peace (in our lives). The kind of joy and peace that only a true follower, a true disciple of the Lord can know.

I have a friend who says if you’re giving till it hurts, then you probably need to give a little more till it feels good.

So how are you feeling this morning? Do you have that joy and peace of true discipleship? Have you emptied yourself enough in service to God and God’s church and God’s people, that there is room enough to be filled with God’s presence and blessing. Are you willing to do that? That’s what Jesus wants to know.

Sacrifice doesn’t mean doing without. To the contrary, It means opening yourself up to giving by giving in order that you may receive. To make a place for you to receive.

These words from Jesus in this morning’s gospel seem like hard words. Indeed they are. But there is good news here. The first bit of good news is that these words are honest. To be a follower of Jesus is not all bliss and joy, and anyone who would follow Jesus needs to know that from the beginning.

In any full-blown relationship, in any true and faithful relationship, one does more than receive that. God gives grace, and mercy, and love, and forgiveness, and we are in a position to receive. But there is more than receiving. Jesus’ words are protection against any cheapening or disregarding of the full claims that the holy One can make on humanity. Jesus gives and then asks for integrity from us. He asks us to give in return.

The second bit of good news is to recall that even though Jesus tells us to count the cost, he has paid the price. Our counting the cost refers to our opportunity to recognize Christ’s work and respond. Paying the price is the act that initiated the relationship. It is appropriate to be reminded that what God has done for us is infinitely more significant than what we have done or will likely ever do for God.

Like the Michelangelo painting, traditional religion portrays humankind struggling to reach high enough to touch God, and the Christian gospel announces that God is with us in our struggle offering a hand of help.

The One who offers the call to discipleship, and the admonition to count the cost, is also the one who is revealed as the God of justice, mercy, righteousness, and pure love.
In the Name of God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.