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Sermon for September 5, 2010

Luke 14:25-35 (15th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 5, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 14:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

            The words jar our modern ears.  What could Jesus have possibly meant when He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”?  Jesus makes Christianity sound hard, very hard.  He uses words like “hate” and “cross-bearing.”  So what’s really going on here?

            Great crowds accompanied Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem.  It’s more than likely that some of them were thinking about becoming disciples of Jesus.  Only Jesus, the divine Son of God, would have known what was in the hearts and minds of the crowd members, and so He turned and said to the crowd as a whole those hard to hear and understand words, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  Jesus wants to make clear for those considering following Him what Christian discipleship involves.  In other words Jesus says to the crowd, “Consider the radical demands of following me.  Count the cost, and be ready to meet those demands.” 

            Do we, sitting here in 2010, consider the radical demands placed on us by the Christian faith?  Do we truly count the cost of being Jesus’ disciples in this 21st Century?  Far too many “Christians” mistakenly believe that Christianity is an easy, cushy, simple way to get to heaven without too much effort.  All you have to do is believe in Jesus, go to church a few times a year, try to be nice to people, get forgiven when you mess up, do a few helpful things for the church and the community, and bingo!  You’re in.  There is very little truth there.  In fact, in light of today’s text, it’s a terribly distorted truth.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, being a Christian, means being ready to give up anything if duty to God calls for it.  And that’s not easy. 

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  Jesus IS NOT advocating hatred of our family in this verse.  In a first-century Jewish world, this was the common and very powerful way of saying “not love more than.”  To hate one thing and to love another gives preference to the thing loved more.  God does not expect us to be cruel to the family He has given us, but rather to love Him first.  Jesus is saying to Christian disciples that, if things come to the point where there has to be a choice made between Him and our family, we’re to choose Him.  Obviously, that’s not easy, cushy, or simple.  It’s painful—much like bearing a cross. 

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  In common usage a cross is any trouble that comes our way.  But in the strict sense of the word a cross is the trouble that comes our way precisely because we are Jesus’ disciples, because we are Christians.  Facing a choice between loving family more or loving Christ more is bearing a cross.  Experiencing ridicule for Christian behavior is bearing a cross.  Losing a job because of commitment to Christian principle is bearing a cross.  Being nagged by the sharpened conscience that the Christian faith develops within you is bearing a cross.  These, and others, are the crosses we must bear if we are Jesus’ disciples.  And cross-bearing is not simple, cushy, or easy. 

So has our text destroyed the popular understanding about an “easy” Christianity that makes everything happy and rose-colored in this world?  Has our text wiped out the idea that a Christian has a better life in this world, filled with less trouble and hardship that the non-Christian?  You bet it has!  Jesus wants us to have a firm grip on Christian reality.  He wants us to truly count the cost and realize what being His disciple really involves.  Being a disciple necessitates the readiness to give up anything if duty to God calls for it, whether that be a family member, a job, a friend, or a lifestyle that we enjoyed.  Being a disciple demands that we bear the cross of trouble and suffering for the name of Jesus.  That’s reality.  That’s Christianity. 

You see, being a Christian means more than joining an organization called the church.  Being a disciple of Jesus is more than having your name on a membership roster or your picture in the congregational directory that is coming out this year.  It’s more than just being baptized, confirmed, married, and buried under the auspices of the church.  Being a disciple is more than just subscribing to a body of teachings.  Christianity is a life to take and live 100% under the gracious love and authority of God.  And God doesn’t want half.  He wants all.  And He deserves all. 

Sounds too difficult, doesn’t it.  Reality can be that way—much harder than what we imagine.  After all, this world isn’t too bad a place to live in.  And with a little luck we could experience 70 or 80 years or more of it.  Maybe we can enjoy this and heaven too!  Then along comes Jesus and pricks the bubble of our imagination.  Pop!  Discouraged, we cry out, “Lord, I can’t build that tower.  I can’t fight that enemy.  They are too much for me.  I’m helpless!”  If that’s our feeling, good!  Of course we can’t build that tower and fight that enemy.  That’s exactly the feeling our Lord wants to arouse in us: “Lord, I’m helpless.  You take over from here.”  God wants us to let Him take over through Jesus Christ.  That is discipleship.  That is what is mean by forsaking all that we have—giving up our self to God through the power of the Holy Spirit working through Baptism and the Word. 

Consider the demands that our salvation placed on Jesus Himself.  He gave up all things for you and me.  He gave up His very own perfect life into death so that in Baptism you and I could die to sin and rise with Jesus Christ into the new life of Christian discipleship.  Jesus ascended into heaven so that He could give us the Holy Spirit to be with us and to conform our lives to Christ as we live as His disciples, loving Him above all things, being ready to give up all things for Jesus’ sake, even as we take up the crosses that we must face.  Baptized, we are crucified to the world and to the world to us. (Gal. 6:14)  Through the Holy Spirit working through our Baptism and God’s Word, we have all the resources necessary to remain faithful in our discipleship, bearing our crosses with patience and trust, until we are granted deliverance, peace, and health. 

Being a Christian disciple means being ready to give up everything if duty to God calls for it.  It means bearing the cross and truly following Jesus in faith and in living the faith.  We have been given the resources in Word and Sacrament, given the Holy Spirit, who enables us to count the cost of discipleship and then to go forth in the power of Christ living the life of discipleship.  And so we pray: 

Lord, make possible for us by grace what is impossible to us by nature.  You know how little we can bear, and how quickly we become discouraged by a little adversity.  We pray You, make every trial lovely and desirable to us for Your Name’s sake, since suffering and affliction for Your sake is so profitable to the health of our soul.[1]  Amen.


[1] Thomas A Kempis.  The Imitation of Christ. Penguin Classics, page 118.

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