Text: Luke 14:25-35
Date: Proper 18 (Sept. 4-10) Pentecost XV + 9/9/07
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, as we say in our Lutheran Confessions, all about the justification of the sinner by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, that is, if the forgiveness of sins and salvation is (bottom line) a totally free gift that is neither earned nor deserved, then it would seem to follow that becoming and being a Christian is a relatively easy thing, not too much different, say, than registering your alliance with a particular political party, or choosing between white or chocolate milk or regular or decaf coffee. And, I’m afraid, that’s just how many people view religion in general and faith or spirituality in particular. How many people see little difference, for example, whether a person claims to be a Lutheran or a Methodist, a Roman Catholic or Baptist, or even a Jew, a Mormon or a Muslim? Aren’t all religions equally valid? Don’t we all essentially worship the same God? Aren’t religious differences only, after all, over man-made things, different interpretations, social backgrounds or styles? The confessing Christian, however, who understands the doctrine of the Trinity and of Justification, cannot in all honesty rationally agree with such empty attitudes. In our post-modern age of relativism, where everything is only in the realm of personal preference or opinion and there is no such thing as objective truth, as soon as you believe or claim that there is right or wrong teaching you set yourself up for conflict or criticism of being unfairly judgmental.
St. Luke’s Gospel describes the earthly ministry of our Lord as a journey. From the day of His baptism in the Jordan River by a reluctant John the Baptist, all of His preaching, teaching and mighty works of healing, His reaching out not only to the poor and the outcast of society but also to those who increasingly counted themselves as His enemies, His calling of disciples and especially the Twelve whom He would eventually commission as Apostles and the office of the ministry, all of this was done with His primary goal in mind: the liberating of the creation from its slavery to sin and death by means of His own vicarious sacrifice and death by crucifixion in Jerusalem. In documenting that journey the Evangelist also means to describe the Way of salvation, the journey of repentance and faith of the Christian. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks to the great crowds journeying with Him to teach them that to follow Him, to be saved by faith in Him, is not an easy thing at all but means to be transformed into His image by sharing in His destiny. In our text Jesus speaks of three challenges, barriers or entailments of discipleship, namely, hating family, carrying the cross and leaving possessions behind. With this text in our hearing today, therefore, I am required to bring these challenges, this “cost of discipleship” to you and for you to consider and learn.
Do you consider yourself to be a Christian, a disciple, a learner, a follower and believer in Jesus Christ? In order to help us to seriously consider the consequences and conditions of discipleship our Lord challenges us with three statements. We are to see ourselves in the crowd that was “journeying with him.” How is your Christian journey going?
The challenges of the Christian life made me think of my 1995 Dodge Intrepid with its 220,000 miles on it. As long as it appears and feels like it’s running well I don’t think much about the inner workings, the transmission, the oil, the coolant system, the brakes and tires. Of course I know that unless I do give these details some thought from time to time (changing the oil every 3,000 miles, checking the air pressure in the tires, having seemingly little changes checked out before they become big things), it is very likely that there will be more major repairs in the future. In a similar way the journey of the Christian faith encounters many things that sometimes are smaller challenges but can at other times require major adjustments or repairs if we are to complete our journey to the eschatological banquet, the goal of eternal life in the resurrection.
So Jesus stops in his tracks, turns around to us and says you are not able to be a disciple of His if, first, you do not hate your own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even your own life. You are not able to be a disciple of Jesus if you do not carry your own cross and come after Him. You are not able to be a disciple of Jesus if you do not renounce all your own possessions. These comments shock us and make us ask if they don’t somehow contradict the idea of salvation and forgiveness as a free gift by faith alone without any works or qualifications on our part.
“Hate” is a pretty strong word. What does Jesus mean that we are to “hate” even those of our own family? Is He just over-stating the case to make a point? At least in Matthew’s Gospel he reports Jesus’ softer words meaning only to “not love more than” when He says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” [Matthew 10:37 (ESV)]. Obviously Jesus is not contradicting the Fourth Commandment, “honor your father and mother.” “Hate” here as in the Torah of the Old Testament is the opposite of “love.” When it comes to salvation and the kingdom of God there are only two roads, either into the kingdom or away from it. Such radical loyalty is the way of Christ. When a person sees the family of God, where membership is by grace through faith through catechesis and Baptism, as of first importance, only then can you properly fear and love God and rightly love and honor your fellow Christian and human family.
More mysterious, when you think about it, is Jesus’ call to carry your own cross and be coming after Him. It’s mysterious because, when He said these words, He Himself had not yet come to His crucifixion, and no one even suspected that this might be His destiny. In the Roman Empire of the time people were familiar with the punishment of crucifixion and how the condemned person was required to carry his own cross to his death. Cross bearing refers to the rejection and even persecution by the world for the sake of the confession of faith in Jesus Christ. Such rejection and persecution comes in many forms. Not all suffering is cross bearing, for we all suffer the trials that are but common to all in this sinful world. Few of us in our country as yet suffer martyrdom for the faith. But more and more of us suffer the rejection and persecution of the world more and more in our day and society that seems to believe, for instance, while it is wrong to criticize Muslims, Christians and the Christian Church is easily ridiculed in the public square. And what seems to combine the first two statements is when you are criticized for your faith even from within the family of the church, especially when your confession runs counter to the latest fads or movements pushed in the name of “evangelism” and the numerical growth of the church.
The third entailment of discipleship, says Jesus, is the renouncing of possessions. Not, of course, that possessions are necessarily evil in themselves, but the proper use and value placed on possessions are a main theme of Jesus’ catechesis, since possessions can be one of the greatest threats to discipleship. They are like the thorns and weeds of worry and anxiety and the riches and pleasure of the world of another parable of Jesus that choke faith.
Jesus concludes His challenging words by saying, “The one having ears to hear, let him hear.” Though you’ve heard these words before, we need to be reminded as long as the temptations exist to tear us away from faith. We are once again called here to become hearers of the Word who follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to the cross, and beyond that to the empty tomb and the heavenly exodus. We are to take seriously the nature of Jesus’ call into a new family, carry our cross, and renounce our allegiance or addictions to possessions. We’re on a journey. And that road to heaven leads through Calvary—for Jesus, and for us, too.
You have been baptized into the Lord’s death. In baptism we are called to die to the world and be made alive to God. The challenge is to take up our cross and, in daily repentance and faith, to say with the Apostle Paul,
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” [Galatians 2:19-20 (ESV)].