You may be called to give up your life. /to a life of poverty. / people disagreeing with you. /Hating you. The word HATE used in this scripture is disturbing. It is supposed to make us uncomfortable. I am saddened by how many preachers water down the word HATE because it can’t possibly mean to be as harsh as Jesus uses it. When you make a commitment to Christ you may be called to put aside that which you love. / be a different person.
Jesus wants people whose commitment is long term, when the world gets messy, when the people you immerse yourself in keep on being stupid. People who don’t quit. I heard about a guy that quit his job at the helium factory. Why, asked the boss. I’m just so tired of the way you talk to me in that tone of voice….
That doesn’t mean God doesn’t place within our hearts dreams and desires that overlap His will. When Sally and I were in school we were figuring out where we would go for me to serve as a Pastor. One church tried hard to recruit me to Bloomington, Illinois. Right beside Bloomington is a city named Normal ~ the unofficial motto for Bloomington residents “I’m next to Normal.” I did not really want to go to Illinois to be a church planter, but that kinda became the joke of our house that if God made it clear that is where we were supposed to move at least we’d be next to normal. Sally and I used to pray, “Lord, we’ll go anywhere you want us to go, but preferably we’d like to stay on the west coast, and could you please make it Northern California and up. So far, so good. Thank you Lord. I guess that means I am not next to Normal. When we follow Christ, our part is to give up everything for His sake to serve Him in His great Kingdom Work. He may choose to give us back that which we cherish, but it is His leading.
Many hard words in this scripture. READ Luke 14:33. The perspective of God owning everything, including my life, my calendar, my wallet, puts a whole new slant.
I want to point out the slices of bread in this scripture sandwich. In the first slice of bread he is talking to Large Crowds (READ Luke 14:25). Jesus sometimes talks to individuals, sometimes his disciples who are ready to commit, sometimes the inner circle of the disciples, etc. In this case, the crowds. Today there is still a crowd listening to the message of Jesus with a range of commitment levels from skeptic and curious people to those who have or will make a deeper commitment to Him. As people mature in faith they go deeper in their commitment, deeper in their trust, turning over more and more of their life to Christ. The people who hold back in the crowd will often look at those who give up jobs, and money, and safety, and things, and time… sacrificial givers to Christ, and question their wisdom… Jesus is speaking to the crowd, looking for those who will grow deeper in faith and commitment.
The crowds are one slice of the bread. The other slice: READ Luke 14:34. Jesus doesn’t want followers to bail when the cost gets high. Saltiness ~ to understand this metaphor you do need to know “Salt” in Jesus day was not the pure salt we use but a mixture of stuff, so if all the salt part leached out, it no longer did the job of seasoning the food. Salt enhances flavor, preserves. Christianity is not something you just try, like a pair of shoes you put on for a day and walk around to see if they fit properly.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” Jesus means what he says. His harsh words are meant to be harsh. But it’s easy to remain part of the crowd and spiritualize what Jesus says, or overexplain, or question… After all, when Jesus says, “Whoever does not hate his father or mother” does he really mean it? hmmm…Whoever has ears to hear…
The meat of this scripture is to count the cost, think through what it might be like to follow Jesus wherever he may lead you. For years I went with my father climbing Mt. Baker, in those days he’d get calls all year long from people who would want to go with him, commonly parties of 15-25 people. I can still hear him trying to explain to people what it takes, the stamina, what’s needed, the proper clothing, what could go wrong. He did not want people who were half serious, people who romanticized what it would be like to climb, but realistic people who understood the power of the sun, the threat of storms, snow and ice, crevasse dangers… Once in a while a person would make it through that had no chance, casual preparation, not enough food, wrong clothing…My father used to say he could tell who was likely to not make it based on the way he or she tied their sleeping bag onto their backpack…
Some of you may be saying, I’ve been a Christian for a long time….my faith, my life, my commitments, my patterns are set. I understand. But guess what. The twelve disciples are part of the crowd. The crowd includes a range of folks from looky-loos to the deeply committed. Each of us, no matter our level of commitment, needs to consider the cost. The builder counts the cost every time he or she faces a new project. The King must look at every threat of war and consider the cost of going to war for every conflict. It’s always good to say, “my life is yours Lord. May I have the courage to step through whatever door you open. The courage to change.” Counting the cost is a way of life, not a one time analysis.
This scripture is about drawing a line of commitment. You’ve heard the phrase, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” TRUE. But the opposite is also true: Today can be the last day of your past. There is no better day than today to pull up the anchor to sail forward unhindered by the past. People from other churches would sometimes ask Jim Crouse about our clothesline ministry and how to model for them what is happening with us. His answer: “The best time to start is 10 years ago. The next best time is today.” The message of Christ is that you can change, don’t continue to let your temperament, your past, your destructive habits, your perceived reputation, your fears keep you from engaging in ministry in service of Christ today. Jesus is saying to the crowd, including the disciples, consider the cost, draw a line today, and follow me. All we have is today.
I remember when I was in the Seattle A.C. Church years ago, a woman was part of the church that was of retirement age, her husband had died I think a year or two before I came on the scene, and she felt God calling her to the mission field. She spent years and years going to help in a variety of places around the world for months at a time. She was responding to Christ’s pull on her life at that time… what a marvelous example of faith. It’s your life, Lord, not mine. Doesn’t mean we won’t enjoy it along the way.
Make today be the last day of your past. There is no better day than today.
READ Luke 14:26. What you want Lord comes first. The cost of following you may be extreme but I am willing. “Even my own life.” Surely that means literally. So what if I am a martyr for the faith. I’m often in a lot of situations where things could go terribly wrong, (shhh….I don’t always even tell Sally the whole story) and if the worst happened and I were to die, I’m OK. How else are we going to bless the messy/loveable/overly drama plagued people who God tells us to serve.
I love the story of Father Damian, in the 1800’s, a Catholic priest, who was called to serve in the leper colonies of Hawaii. He was greatly loved by the people. He preached to the lepers, served the lepers, fed the lepers. As the story goes, one day everything changed, a whole new depth of relationship took place. Father Damian stood up to preach to the lepers, and he began with these words, “We lepers…” He had contracted the disease and became one of them. If you do not hate even your own life, willing to pay any price…. Father Damian learned what it was like to be marginalized by society, no longer an outsider...
I want to serve the people in the streets. I am outsider. I don’t know what its like to truly go hungry. Huddle under a bridge all night to stay warm. What if God chooses someday to make me an insider. My life today is yours Lord, and if you should choose to change it.... May this day be the last day of my past.
READ Luke 14:27. I feel this is a verse I can barely scratch at the surface of meaning. We tend to think becoming a Christian makes life easier, there is a whole segment of Christianity that teaches God will bless you materially, the more faithful you are the more God will bless you with the comforts of life. Isn’t that crazy.
I think the command to carry your cross means to do that which you don’t want to do… you would not choose to do… I heard a speaker years ago, a big man, told us about his adult son who was not mentally able to function in this world. His son would often start get stressed, boil, explode… This man said when he could see the steam building in his son, he’d give his son a bear hug and hold him till he could feel his son settle down and find peace. Only then would he let go… This mean then explained, “My son is not my cross. I love my son. My cross is that which I would rather not do.” Maybe my cross is the tedious work of ministry. Maybe it is certain hard people that confuse me. Maybe for you it is situations you feel unequipped…. Yet the Lord calls you to serve anyway. The message of carrying your cross is that the call of discipleship does not mean Christ will only place you in easy situations. We must be willing to be stretched. As we draw a line on our past, make this part of your prayer: give me the strength to do that which I may never choose. As you allow the Lord to stretch you, I guarantee you will find satisfaction, a depth of understanding.
Count the cost, count the cost. You can read two examples in Luke 14:32: , the builder and the king preparing for war, of how important it is to anticipate what might happen. Luke 14:33 is the bottom line. READ. EVERYTHING is yours Lord, my home, my family, my truck, my life, my time… I have nothing that is mine…These are hard verses, showing the depth of commitment the Lord wants.
Maybe someday I will be able to get to this place. Sometimes I feel like the Crusader Army that was baptized. As the whole army immersed themselves in the water, they kept their fighting hand raised above the water ~ I want to follow you and dedicate my life to you, except my fighting arm… except I only want to be a pastor on the west coast. I think I must secretly be in love with a lot of things and patterns and people and I don’t know to what depth I am really able to pray this prayer. The hardest thing about preaching is that sometimes it seems like there are a lot of mountains I can only point to and say I haven’t yet conquered that summit. Lord bring me to the place where I can truly say I give EVERYTHING to you, EVERYTHING is yours, including my fighting hand…. Including _____________
I pray some of you be haunted by these words of scripture. “Haunt us Lord with your challenges so that we might move closer to truly hearing the words and responding. May this be the last day of the past that I will let go of that which I love and follow you, Lord, wherever you may lead, even the cross that I would never choose.” I will be thrilled if somebody comes to me in a month or two and says, “I just want you to know that I asked God to challenge me to let go of the past, and move forward in ways that I never thought possible.” Jesus said, “Those of you who do not give up EVERYTHING you have, cannot be my disciples.” Amen.