Summit Presbyterian Church September 9, 2007
“NO COST TOO HIGH” Delivered by Jim Eby Luke 14:25-33
These conditions of discipleship are unbelievable, aren't they? "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." That's bad enough without that closing requirement: "So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." Not just one or two treasured things, but all possessions.
Is that what it costs to enter the ranks? I thought Jesus come to invite all people, everyone, to follow him, to enter that relationship of being children of God. Is he really saying we have to hate our families, that we have to live lives of austere poverty?
There was a time when the cult movements were a threat to our society because they preached that message, and demanded literal obedience to their interpretation of this passage. They were in error.
As Christians, our understanding of this passage is tied to our understanding of John 3:16 and 17, that God loves the cosmos so much that he sent Jesus to save it, and not to destroy it, and that God provides in Jesus the way that all of us can be brought back into a life full of hope and meaning and significance.
It is not hating the family that marks the disciple of Jesus. Instead, it is putting first things first, beginning with our accountability to God through Jesus Christ, and then being accountable to the family and other members of the human community.
We can fall into the trap of worshiping our family relationships. We can sacrifice ourselves for our parents, or for our children. We can place their needs above everything else. But the time comes when they no longer need us, or the situation occurs when they let us down or we feel we have been deserted; and we feel betrayed, for that which we worshipped has proved to be simply human. And we reap the pain and frustration and disappointment of idolatry.
Jesus says "I must come first. Learn to live the way I live, learn to love the way I love." And as we do that, as we journey with him, he gives his disciples family as their support group. He gives us mother and fathers to nurture us and to provide relationships so we can nurture others in return. But it's a different relationship now. They are older and more experienced than we, but they are not idols to be worshiped; they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They have become more than just authority figures; they are the experienced ones who can point out the stone where we could bruise our heel, they can help us see the roots that would trip us, and they can help us grow in our wonder and amazement of the beauty of God's creation. They can't do that if we keep them on a pedestal. But they can do that if they are brothers and sisters in Christ.
And that's what I believe Jesus means in his hard saying. He points out so clearly that our children are not our possessions. We don't own them. They are not extensions of our skills and abilities. They are not our last, best chance to accomplish what we were not able to accomplish in our childhood. Instead, our children are our younger brothers and sisters in Christ, not to be worshiped or adored, but to be valued and encouraged as we journey together on this pilgrimage of discipleship.
Will Willimon, Dean of Chapel at Duke University, tells of the time he got a call from a very, very upset parent. "I hold you personally responsible for this," the father said. "Me?" Will asked. The father was upset because his graduate school bound daughter had just informed him she was going to chuck it all ("throw it all away" was the way the father described it) and go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti.
"Isn't that absurd!" shouted the father. "A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she's going to dig ditches in Haiti....You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible," he said.
"Me? What have I done?"
"You ingratiated yourself with her, filled her head with all that religion stuff. She likes you, that's why she's doing all this foolishness," he said.
"Now look," Will said, struggling to keep his ministerial composure. "Weren't you the one who had her baptized?"
"Why, yes," the father said.
"And then, didn't you read her Bible stories, take her to Sunday School, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship to ski in Vale?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"Don't but me," Will said. "It's all your fault that she believed all that stuff, that she's gone and thrown it all away on Jesus, not mine. You're the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me."
"But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian," the father said, meekly.
"Sorry. You've messed up and made a disciple," Will concluded.
These words of Jesus are hard words. This call to commitment demands our all. From time to time, we need to be reminded of that fact, because we are tempted to believe there is an easy way, and that can lead us to becoming an admirer of Jesus instead of the disciple we are called to be.
In one of my graduate school courses on communication, our professor told of the historical account of a suit filed against Western Union in it's very early days. A woman of wealth went to Europe, and while she was touring, discovered a magnificent diamond. So she wired her husband the message, "Found magnificent diamond. Only $5,000. May I buy it? Your loving wife." Her husband wired her back immediately and she went and purchased that diamond. You can imagine how flabbergasted she was when her husband became irate when she showed him her purchase. "I wired you distinct instructions," he said, "that you were not to purchase that diamond." "But I have your wire right here," she said. "Read it for yourself."
He did. And then he went to his lawyer, and eventually won the lawsuit against Western Union who had to pay the price of the purchase of the diamond because they left out a comma after the first word. The telegram the woman received read, "No price too high. Your loving husband." It was after that Western Union began printing all the punctuation marks in messages they were asked to send across their telegraph wires. It was very expensive when they left out the comma.
Jesus confronts us, this morning as he did those other would-be-disciples so long ago. He says clearly, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers an sister, even his own life, the cannot be a disciple of mine. No one who does not carry his cross and come with me can be a disciple of mine....So also, none of you can be a disciple of mine without parting with all his possessions."
Listen to the invitation from Jesus. Count the cost. And then, purposefully leave out the comma, so your response is, "No cost too high." Join us at the table and let us be on the journey together. Amen.
God, help us hear what Jesus has told us about your love for us. Then give us ears to hear the cost of discipleship. And by your Spirit, give us the strength to give up anything we think we own. Help us to depend on your grace and your gifts alone. In the name of our Lord and Savior, through whom you have given us everything we need, we ask it. Amen.