9/8/2019 Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 14: 25-33.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
(Singling out one of the parishioners); “Good morning Rob, how would you like to take a trip go to France? No, really, I have an opportunity to go to Paris and I thought you might want to go with me. So, do you want to come along?” (Parishioner asks: ‘How much will it cost?’) “How much will it cost? Ah…, let me check and get back to you”. Rather obvious question, no? I mean would anyone agree to a trip to Europe without knowing the cost of airfare, hotel, and meals? What about the date the trip departs, how long we would be out of the country, and most importantly how do we convince our spouses to let us go?
No rational person would agree to participate in anything as important as an overseas trip without first inquiring as to the cost. Even if that traveling gnome or Captain Obvious from those ubiquitous travel sites ensured us of the lowest fare, we would still be compelled to know the total price tag before we would agree to embark on such a costly endeavor.
Luke tells us this morning that ‘large crowds’ were travelling with Jesus. By this time in his ministry Christ had become quite well-known and popular in certain circles. Potential disciples were following him throughout Galilee, and they were eager to hear him preach the coming kingdom; they wanted to see him perform miracles, and like many people today, they wanted to be part of the ‘in crowd’. Rather like groupies following rock stars around from concert to concert. But if any of them were considering becoming a genuine follower of Jesus, a disciple like the twelve, he wanted them to be fully aware of what that choice would cost them. He knows it’s time to thin out the crowd of would-be disciples. Jesus tells them they must ‘hate’ father, mother, wife, and children. At first glance this seems pretty harsh. After all Jesus repeatedly tells us we must honor our parents, love our spouses, and to suffer the little children to come to him. The Greek word translated here as ‘hate’ is from a Hebrew expression referring to comparison. Its ancient meaning was to ‘love less’. It’s like saying ‘Suzie hates cookies, but loves ice cream’. She obviously does like cookies, but they come in second when ice cream is involved. A big dish of Rocky Road ice cream is preferred over a few chocolate chip cookies. The message is that if the decision is made to follow Christ, everything else becomes secondary, even the life of the believer. The would-be followers are told they must ‘carry the cross.’ This doesn’t refer to each person’s individual burdens, but is in reference to the Roman policy of requiring the condemned to carry the beam of their cross to the crucifixion site. Christ is telling the crowd they must be willing to share in his suffering, to be willing to follow him unto death. He wants to be sure that potential followers know they must be willing to see their discipleship through ‘to the end’. In essence, Jesus is quoting for the people ‘the cost of discipleship’.
Rather like confirming one’s travel plans before the journey begins. And being willing to pay full fare, with no discounts.
Christ tells these first century Judeans that they must fulfill all these requirements…and, ‘give up all their possessions’. As incredible as that must have sounded to those ancient people, consider what we are asked to surrender today. A good number of them lived hand to mouth and had nearly nothing in the way of ‘possessions’. What then are we asked to relinquish if we are to answer the call to true discipleship? No one can answer that for us; each of us must resolve this matter for ourselves. Yet I submit that very few, if any of us will ever abandon our family, take up the cross and give up all our worldly possessions. However, each of us must, at some point in our faith journey determine just what the cost of our discipleship is, and how much we are willing to pay.
In 1937, at the beginning of the rise of Nazism, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the dissident German Lutheran pastor coined the term ‘cheap grace’. He described this as grace without price; grace without cost. The essence of this view of grace, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been satisfied, everything can be had for nothing. ‘Cheap grace’. In forgiving his children God paid the price with the life of his only son. In his obedience to the Father Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Bonhoeffer wrote that since God the father and God the son have already paid the price for our salvation, we then are left to decide how to respond to this forgiveness. Do we recognize the enormous value of the gift we have been given and strive to live lives of discipleship or do we tell ourselves that the price has been paid and therefore there is no cost to us? Do we buy into the concept of ‘cheap grace’?
So we have a dichotomy, a spiritual paradox; we live in tension between cheap grace and costly discipleship. But we’re not the first to struggle with this quandary. Paul wrote of the conflict between ‘faith and works’ in his letter to the Galatians within 20 years of the resurrection, wherein he stated we are justified by faith and not the works of the law.
Luther reiterated Paul in 1517, going so far as to nail his commentary to the church door. Bottom line, we really don’t have to do anything to pay for our salvation. But because we are aware of the cost to God and Jesus, and because we recognize the immeasurable value of what we have been given, we will surely want to respond with faithful actions that express our thanks for God’s grace and Christ’s selfless love.
We are compelled to do those things which we know are needed in the world; give to the poor, feed the hungry, aid the oppressed. Care for the sick, visit the lonely, show compassion for the disenfranchised. These are not the marks of ‘cheap grace’; they are the deeds of those who practice costly discipleship. And when we get down to it, how much do these acts really cost? It’s not a matter of expense, but an understanding of, and a response to, the need. We really are fully aware of the cost of following Christ. It’s not abandoning family, hating relatives, and selling all that we own. Unlike the crowds of the curious following Jesus we are well aware of the cost of true discipleship; we are witnesses to Christ’s passion and the resurrection. We just have to decide whether we are willing to pay that cost. It’s really nothing more than being fully committed to living our lives with God at the center. Just as Jesus did. His entire time on earth was spent in obedience to God’s will. If we affirm that we are truly committed to following Christ then the cost of our discipleship is a willingness to emulate his obedience to the Father. The cost of our discipleship is a total devotion to following the Way of Jesus.
In doing this there was a genuine risk to first century Christians. They were expelled from the synagogue, persecuted, and often martyred for their faith. The cost of discipleship today remains very dear indeed, in most Middle Eastern countries, China, India, and many African nations. Christ’s admonition to ‘take up the cross’ has keen meaning for Christians living out their faith in these places. Yet these followers of Christ are fully aware of the cost and are willing to pay it in order to fulfill their obligation to live God-centered lives.
They gather to worship in secret places, using smuggled bibles and donated hymnals. Many fear for their lives.
Their cost is indeed high; what is ours? Simply this; to live as God commands. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with our heart, soul, and mind; then to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two he said, hang all the law. In Jesus’ admonition to the crowds in Luke, in rather stark terms he laid out for them what was expected if they chose to follow Him. In essence they were told to ‘look before they leap’. To measure the cost and accept the consequences. As confessing Christians it’s assumed we have done this. We know what we are expected to do, how we are to live, and how we are called to serve. Piece of cake, right? Maybe not. Outside these walls, out in the world is where our discipleship is measured. In a moment we will come to the Lord’s table. I dare say each of us will be fully committed to our discipleship as we partake of the bread and wine. But a lot can transpire between the altar and the door. Life happens, and the burdens of our day-to-day existence can very easily cause us to forget that we made a commitment to place Jesus above all else. We may be tempted to pay a lower cost of discipleship, to look for a 20%-off sale, to hope for a bargain-basement price. There is that ‘cheap grace’ again.
Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy for his first followers, and he surely knows it’s not easy for us now. He asks only that we strive to make the payments when we can, not to fall too far behind on our obligations to serve others, not to go into arrears. He knows we will stumble and fall. We will be selfish and place our possessions above our love for him. Even Peter, Jesus’ number one guy had his share of doubt and weak faith. But the truly amazing part of our relationship with God is that even when we fail, God doesn’t. We might be willing on any given day to fork over only a small percentage of the cost of our discipleship, as evidenced by how we treat those we travel this life alongside. But God’s willingness to bestow his grace on us is unlimited. He simply calls on us to try to meet our obligations as best we can, in spite of our brokenness.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, let our lives and actions reflect our willingness to be counted among those who have ‘taken up the cross’. Let us be seen as people who are willing each day to try to pay the cost of our discipleship through our service to others.
And the people of God say…Amen!
And may we never be persuaded to succumb to ‘cheap grace’.