Let us pray: “Take up your Cross,” you have said, “if we would your disciples be.” Our hearts leap to be in relationship with you. Then, you continue, “deny yourselves, the world forsake, and humbly follow after me.” You call us into a rich, deep relationship. We confess that we have created excuses for why we are unable to go “with you, with you all the way.” Give to us your grace and power to see beyond our made-up excuses and to put our lives wholly into your care. O God, who be the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, give to us that same Holy Spirit that we may be truly wise and ever enjoy your consolation. Amen.
One moment Jesus is having dinner with the Pharisees asking about whether it is proper to heal on the Sabbath and watching guests take the places of honor, and in the next moment Luke writes that a large crowd is accompanying Jesus. Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem, to his betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion, but the crowd doesn’t seem to know that. “What we are marching for?” someone asks, “I don’t know.” Maybe the crowd thought they were marching for equal rights: equal rights for peasants and landowners, equal rights for Jewish people under Roman Occupation, equal rights for people like Jesus who questioned the motive and the intent of the law instead of blindly reciting and following it. “It’s not a march,” a young child pipes up, “We are in a parade!” Who does not love a parade after all? It is through all this conjecture and excitement that Jesus must explain the path on which he walks. Clearing his throat, he says, “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,” and with that declaration, Jesus begins to suck the excitement right out of the crowd.
In addition to counting only the male members of the household in his address, Jesus makes a declaration aimed for the heart of this crowd—literally. Father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters make up household–the basic social institution of Jesus’ day. Even if hate, or mesio means to “turn your back on” and is not the emotive word one of my children occasionally hurls after being corrected, it is still difficult to comprehend that in order to follow Jesus, one must turn their back on all that is familiar and comforting. One of my favorite television series is “Friends.” There is an episode when one of the main characters reads about her ex-fiancée getting a divorce. She wonders aloud, “What would it have been like if we had gotten married?” That question causes all of the characters to imagine life if a different choice had been made. We are faced with choices every day. Most of the choices we make work out. But when Jesus stops a large, loud crowd by using the words hate and your household in the same phrase, he is talking about a choice with much deeper consequences than our ordinary life choices.
So, what exactly is Jesus saying then? To be clear, he is not saying that we must love him and not anyone else. We all have multiple relationships in which we are involved. We have relationships with our co-workers and friends in the church and community. We have relationships with various generations of our family: parents, siblings, grandparents, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. I once saw something on Facebook that said something like “Choose love: your heart is not a pie.” Choosing to engage more than one relationship is life as most of us know it, and what we also know is that the energy and effort we put into that relationship will change depending on life’s circumstances.
Each week, while our children are in school, Nick and I try to get away and do something together. Why? Because between two children, two churches, a Post-graduate degree program, and a part-time on-call job, it is easy for us to keep busy with life and neglect our relationship. We don’t always get away, and there are certainly times when one or both of us is frustrated because each of us has had to make choices that we know will impact the amount of time we have for one another.
Everyone has relationships and loyalties that we are attempting to balance, and some days we do a better job than others. Occasionally, though, we, too, will find that our relationships and our interests conflict with each other. For example, there are some people who have a difficult time understanding the place of the U.S. flag in a church sanctuary. It raises questions for some: who do we come to worship? God or our nation? For others, the flag is a reminder of the persons who have served our Armed Forces and who do serve in order that we may be free to worship whom and where we desire. I understand the reasons for and against having a national flag in a sanctuary. The point I am trying to make is that we all have to make decisions about how our relationships and interests will impact one another. Jesus is calling the crowds to examine the relationships and interests in their lives and to discern the cost, for them, of becoming a disciple for Christ.
Not everyone is called to be a disciple for Christ. Now, please hear me: everyone receives the invitation into a relationship with God. Everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, class, sexual identity, and/or preferred pronouns is given the gifts and graces to serve as a disciple for Christ. Everyone is invited. What Jesus is calling the crowd here to do, when he offers two short parables of the man who wants to build a tower and the king going out to wage war, is saying that whether you are a blue-collar, shift working, stretching to make ends meet person, or a person with clout, resources, and importance in a community, the choice to follow Jesus will cost you the same: it will require you to rearrange your priorities so that everything and every relationship, and every thought, and every action, and every word filters first through: What is Jesus calling me to do now?
This is a high cost for people like me, who like to think they are in control. To ask God first requires that I be humble, vulnerable, open, aware, and willing because experience has taught me that anything God calls me to will be challenging to one or more other parts of my life. The crowd following Jesus does not understand the self-sacrifice of the journey Jesus is walking. If we are honest with ourselves, none of us likes the word sacrifice. After all, we live in the wealthiest nation in the world. We make up about 5% of the world’s population but we use nearly 25% of our world’s resources. As a church and as a community, some of the most difficult conversations revolve around our personal and church resources and how or if we are going to offer the first fruits of those resources to the Church.
The call to discipleship is a hard call, and that is why we are called to discipleship within a larger community of believers. That is why we gather for worship, for prayer, for study, and for fellowship. It is why we the church are charged with making disciples for the transformation of the world—because as a community of faith, we have each experienced both the deep truth and the abundant grace of God’s love. Those who are willing are called to respond to that love through faithful discipleship.
Each time we baptize a person into the life of the church, whether they are young or old, we—the church: the community who professes to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves—we covenant with the person coming before us to “proclaim the good news and to live according to the example of Christ; to surround the newly baptized person with a community of love and forgiveness so that they may grow in their service to others; to pray for them that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.” In other words, we promise to use our resources in order to engage in a meaningful relationship with those who are baptized into our community. We promise to do this in order that they will grow, and go out into the world offering themselves as a disciple of Christ for others.
This gospel passage begins and ends with hard words. “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Biblical commentators question whether Jesus is using this statement to winnow out the people who do not have what it takes to go all the way to the cross for Jesus. Is this statement a teaching and a resolve for those who have already committed themselves to this call? Are these instructions literal for the crowd? Are they literal for us today?
Maybe. If our time and resources are consumed with possessions—be they tangible or not, then what do we have left to offer to God? This command may not be literal, but it certainly is a command that we ought to heed. When our faith comes into conflict with our security, in whom or in what will we place our trust? When investments are used to deploy arms to support Palestinian occupation in whom or in what will we trust? When we are faced with the choice to serve others or to seek self-preservation, which will we choose? How will we arrive at these decisions? My prayer is that, we as a community of faith and as a community called to be disciples for Christ, will choose to accept that call and that we will choose to live and to act as a community of love and mutual accountability so that others may be transformed through the love and grace of Christ. May it be So.