9/4/2016 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 14:25-33.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (v. 26). This is the word of the Lord and it is a word that has us scratching our heads. For must we really hate our mother and father in order to be Christian? Must we really hate our own lives in order to be faithful? Doesn’t Jesus teach us that we are to love God, neighbor and self? How is this word of the Lord gospel – that is good news?
We know that Jesus made some strange comments during his ministry and this happens to be one of them. But, we also know that there is always a kernel of truth for all generations, something to be learned from everything Jesus says. And in order to help us get a perspective on what he is trying to tell us this Labor Day weekend, we need a perspective on the circumstances surrounding his comments.
Now, Luke tells us that Jesus is saying these things on his final trip to Jerusalem. A large crowd of supporters accompanies him and Jesus knows trouble waits at the end of the journey. His popularity is limited to the north around the Sea of Galilee. The joyous attitude demonstrated by his companions does not extend to Jerusalem. In that great urban center, the Lord has highly motivated enemies, not enthusiastic friends. Those enemies will plot his arrest, trial, and death by crucifixion. Jesus has told his closest followers about this, but as of yet, they haven’t grasped the significance of what they have been told. An entourage of camp followers accompanying Jesus and the twelve are totally clueless. They think this trip to Jerusalem is like a circus parade. When, in fact, it is the front end of Jesus’ funeral procession. Imagine the scene. A couple hundred people stir a cloud of dust as they head south on the unpaved road. Jesus takes the lead. His apostles come next. James and John, the most ambitious ones, assume positions to his right and left. Occasionally, other apostles push and shove until they walk next to Jesus for a mile or two. Then James and John reassert themselves. Each time the group passes through a village their numbers swell with enthusiastic local fans of the Lord. They know his reputation as a preacher and healer. These folks never intend traveling all the way to Jerusalem. They just want to be part of the parade. They drop out and return home after walking to the next village. Because they joined in, we can hear the story that they tell to the grandchildren – the same type of story that those of us who went to Woodstock or who got to shake hands with the president would tell. “Did I ever tell you about the time I walked with Jesus. Yep, he came right down Main Street. His apostles were with him — James and John, Peter and Andrew. I met them all. When I saw the crowd coming, I jumped up from the breakfast table and walked all the way to Magdala. I didn’t get home that night until after midnight. Was your grandmother upset with me! Though there wasn’t anything to worry about. I had a wonderful time. We laughed and joked. The apostles told us what Jesus had been doing and how we would be blessed if we followed his teachings. I remember the Apostle Peter even gave me his autograph. It was a great day.” Jesus, walking at the head of the parade, overhears the chitchat. The enthusiastic crowd does not grasp the significance of this journey to Jerusalem. In a matter of days, Jesus will be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He will pay the ultimate price for his ministry. There will also be a cost to the followers of the Christ. Stephen, the first deacon in the church, will be stoned to death for teaching of God’s love in Christ Jesus. Several of the apostles will be martyred. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, will be tormented, ridiculed, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and finally put to death for being a follower. For the next couple centuries, many Christians will worship in secret simply to avoid arrest. In the Roman world before the time of Emperor Constantine, being a Christian required more than putting the symbol of a fish on the bumper of your car and attending church a couple times a month. Declaring for Christ opened the possibility of becoming the lunch special for the lions in the Roman arena. [Includes excerpts and paraphrases from Warning To The Clueless Enthusiasts, a sermon by R. Robert Cueni from Sermons On The Gospel Readings: For Sundays In Advent, Christmas, And Epiphany (SermonStudio)]
There is going to be a cost, a significant price to pay for following Jesus, and Jesus wants his followers to understand this. The demands that Jesus makes upon those who would follow him are extreme. Christianity is not a Sunday morning religion. It is a hungering after God to the point of death if need be. It shakes our foundations, topples our priorities, pits us against friend and family, and makes us strangers in this world. We need to understand that there is a cost to discipleship, a price that we must be willing to pay. But too many of us have whitewashed our faith, made Christianity safe and turned following in the footsteps of Christ into an option. We have become parade goers who join in the fun for a little while and then go home feeling satisfied with the stories we can tell our grandchildren – stories about the heyday of youth activities and women’s groups, and the horrors of what confirmation classes used to be like. We don’t take our faith seriously. We are not willing to suffer inconvenience for our faith let alone pick up the cross and follow Jesus in lives of faithful service. We forget that Christianity is costly. It can be an uncomfortable and inconvenient faith. It is life changing and life giving. But most of us don’t take at it any more seriously than the parade goers on Jesus’ way to the cross. Yet, there are some places in the world today in which your faith in Christ Jesus can cost you your life.
‘In Nepal there are 168 people in the court system charged with nothing more than being Christians. Recently a Christian named Abraham was killed in India by a hostile Hindu group. Bishop Dolok of Indonesia returned home to find that Muslim groups had burned down many of his churches, and one pastor’s family was burned to death within the church building. Christians today are the most persecuted religious group in the world, and the persecution is intensifying. Crosses are not cheap everywhere.
Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” In that context, a cross refers to some suffering or sacrifice that you undertake voluntarily out of love for Christ and concern for other people. Carrying a cross will not earn you a ticket to heaven. Those tickets are free gifts from God, paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus on a cross. But, if you have received that free gift of salvation,’ [from Sermons.com] then it makes sense for you to join in the parade, following Christ unceasingly, laboring in his work, knowing that Jesus has your back.
Keep the faith my friends and don’t be afraid to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of your life. Keep the faith my friends, and join the parade of laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. In spite of the cost, get involved in sharing your faith and showing others what it means to be a follower of the Lord and Savior of us all. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.