Luke 14:25-33 (NRSV)
25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
At the beginning of my third year of seminary I was given the opportunity to preach in front of a real congregation for the first time. By real congregation I mean not the members of one of my preaching classes, but the actual people who gathered on Sunday afternoons to attend worship at Robin Run Retirement Community in Indianapolis. I was so excited! I had just begun serving as their student chaplain a few weeks earlier and I really wanted to make a good impression. When I looked at my calendar I discovered that particular Sunday was also National Grandparents Day. I couldn’t imagine a better choice of Sunday. Then I looked up the Gospel reading for that day. My first sermon, to be preached on National Grandparents Day, would come from the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 14, beginning at verse 25. Excitedly, I began to read the passage to myself. “Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “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.”
Wait. What? Hate father and mother? But it’s National Grandparent’s Day! How on earth can I preach this to a room filled with grandparents? Well, I did preach on this, and they were quite understanding, which makes sense when you consider that I was preaching to a room full of retired preachers, missionaries, and seminary professors. The toughest part of the audience? The preachers’ wives. They’d had decades of experience critiquing their husbands’ sermons and they weren’t going to cut me any slack. Oh, they were loving and kind, but I can tell you that I learned more from those preachers’ wives about preaching than I ever learned in a classroom!
“Now large crowds were traveling with him.” Jesus was a rock star! He healed people, he cast out demons, he performed all kinds of miracles and wonders, he debated theology with the priests and legal experts, which was kind of fun to watch. He preached these amazing sermons, telling great stories that resonated with the people, because he used examples they understood from their own daily lives - stories about fishing and farming and building, stories about interactions between the poor and the rich, and about how the actions of the powerful people impacted everyone else. He told stories about what it means to be oppressed to the people who were themselves oppressed. Everyone wanted to follow him! At least, everyone wanted to be around for the next miracle, the next debate, the next feeding of the five thousand. At the very least, they wanted to be able to tell their children that they had been there when Jesus did this and that and the other thing. Those large crowds were like…first century Deadheads.
Now Jesus knew this. He knew that, like Deadheads who have been following the band faithfully since the 1970s, some of his followers were really dedicated to following him, no matter where he went or what happened. Others, not so much. Oh, they’d come around for a while, as long as it didn’t interfere with real life. But most of them would fade away at the first sign of trouble. Jesus knew that following him, really following him, would require a lot more commitment than a tie dyed shirt and a concert ticket. So he tries to explain exactly what it will take to follow his way.
If you really want to follow me, Jesus says, that commitment has to come before everything else in your life. Even your family! Mind you, the 5th commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother,” so if Jesus is saying, “If you are serious about following me, you must ignore one of God’s commandments,” he is saying something designed to make everyone sit up and listen more closely. And because that has to be hard to wrap one’s mind around, Jesus gives them a couple of other examples.
What if you were building a house, and you didn’t first figure the costs of all the labor and materials you needed? You wouldn’t be able to finish and everyone would laugh at you. Or what if you were a king considering going to war? Wouldn’t you pay close attention to the odds before heading into battle, and perhaps stay home if you would be heavily outnumbered? Maybe offer the other king some sort of treaty? Unless, of course, you were a Spartan king, but the Spartans always were a little bit different.
Following Jesus wasn’t going to be easy. Even beyond the difficulty of wandering away from home, leaving your job and family behind, walking from town to town with a bunch of people you don’t even know, trying to find folks in those towns who would either invite your for dinner or sell you food, having no shelter to sleep in . . . even beyond that, it was going to be a hard life. Jesus was demanding a lot of his followers. That they reject what everyone knows and look at life in a new way, a different way. That they reach inside themselves, find their faults, ask God for forgiveness, and make amends to anyone they had injured. That they treat even people they dislike, even people who may have injured them in the past, with loving care, as if they were sisters and brothers. Jesus was going to ask them to go out into the world, to tell everyone they met the Good News of God’s love for all persons, of God’s desire that all humans treat one another as they themselves wish to be treated. Jesus was going to ask them to preach love and acceptance of all persons, even the enemy, even the non-believer, everybody. And Jesus was going to ask them to go out with nothing, to give up all their possessions, and to preach against the world’s view that power, influence, and money were the important things. This, alone, would be enough to get them in serious trouble with the authorities. Jesus was trying to prepare them for something that was bigger and more enduring than a road trip. He was trying to prepare them for a lifetime commitment. He wanted them to think very carefully about what the costs of discipleship might be.
It takes more than a tie dyed shirt and a concert ticket. It takes more than showing up on Sunday morning, praying, and singing God’s praises. It takes more than reading the Bible, and wearing a cross, and going to Christian events, and spending time with other Christians. It even takes more than doing mission work. All of those things are good. We should do them. But really following Jesus requires much more. It requires praying for direction in every situation, giving God control over my life, being willing to go where God says to go, and to serve whomever God says to serve in what ever way he says to serve them. Being a Christian means bringing the love of Christ into every situation, speaking and behaving in such a way at all times that people I meet see me as an example of loving kindness, whether or not they happen to know that I am a Christian. For me, that’s the goal . . . turning my entire life over to God, as Jesus did, so that everything I do reflects God’s love into the world. I’m not perfect at it, but it is the goal toward which I strive.
The Good News, my brothers and sisters, is that when we follow Jesus, when we really follow him, when we make the decision to turn our lives and our wills over to being the people Jesus taught us to be, we are changed. When we follow Jesus, really follow him, we are filled with love and care, and that love and care overflows and spills out upon everyone we meet. Therefore, let us, each one of us, consecrate our lives to God today. Let us turn our will our and our lives over to God’s care. Let us submit ourselves to God’s direction. Let us give our hearts to God, so that we might be filled with love, and may that love be poured out on everyone we meet. And thus let us change the world, one person at a time, until the kingdom of God on earth becomes reality.