“Hey, wait a minute, Lord! This is good news? This is the Gospel of our Lord? I mean, Jesus – you want me to give up all of my possessions – every blessing – everything I own? You want me to hate my mother and father? My brother and sister? Well okay – my brother was a little nasty to me when he was 12 and I was 10, and… what? My kids too? You – you even want me to hate my beloved wife Nancy with whom I am well-pleased? I mean, come on Lord. She’s not going to be too happy with me – you know – 31 years of marriage and all – just this past Thursday. You remember. I even took her out to dinner at Gertie’s. And you know I could have spent a lot less money on her by taking her out to lunch at Mardee’s instead!”
Folks – that’s the kind of conversation I want to have with Jesus after reading this lesson from Luke. And let me tell you – if the selection of the readings that we have each week were totally up to me – I would choose only those readings from the Bible that would be easy to preach on – or only those Good News texts that are truly Good News.
But – we ARE on this adventure this summer with Jesus going through the book of Luke. And that means focusing on some of the hard sayings of Jesus. Today’s text is one of those hard saying of Jesus that, quite frankly, we don’t like to hear. We don’t want to listen to this stuff. Can you imagine if I had instructed our greeters to greet everyone who came through our doors this evening/morning with these words: “Hi! Welcome to Zion. You’re going to love the message today. It’s all about Jesus telling us we have to hate our families and give up everything we possess. Have a nice day.”
I think you’d have thought twice – maybe even three times – about coming in here this evening/morning.
And that’s exactly what Jesus wants you to do. He wants you and me to think carefully about what this thing called being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about.
So let’s take a look at that word hate for a moment. I’ve gotta say something about that. The word hate as used here is not so much a word of emotion, of feelings of hatred for someone or something. No. As Jesus uses it here it’s meaning is more one of priority. In other words, to put aside things that might distract you from accomplishing something important.
May I suggest to you that Jesus is demanding that our love for Him – our allegiance to Him – should be so strong – that it is a love and an allegiance that is greater than any other love or allegiance to anyone else that we might have. And that includes love for our husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children – well – you get the idea.
Now, having said all that – if you find that you really do love someone in your life more than you find yourself loving Jesus – let me just tell you that that is not cause for Jesus to boot you out of the Kingdom – and keep you from entering into heaven someday.
What Jesus is asking us for is our allegiance and our commitment to following him. You’ve heard me say this many times before. Being a Christian is more than just going to church on Saturday night/Sunday. Being a Christian is a way of life. And if we are going to be disciples of Jesus Christ – then he wants us to count the cost of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Being a disciple is more than just a matter of convenience. It’s more than just knowing that you are loved by God, that you are forgiven, and it’s certainly more than just hoping to go to heaven some day as important as all of these things are. In other words, there is some sacrifice involved in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The question is, are you and I willing to pay the price – whatever that might be?
Now, here again, I need to say – and I cannot emphasize this enough – your ticket into heaven – your membership if you will in the Kingdom of God – does not depend on the cost that you and I make as disciples of Jesus Christ.
– That price has already been paid.
–That’s something that’s already been given to you as a gift.
–That sacrifice has already been made for you through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In fact, no amount of effort or work or sacrifice on our part can add to the work that Jesus has already done. And that’s good news. If our reading today from Luke’s Gospel doesn’t sound too much like Good News, just remember that at the heart of the Gospel message is that God loves you – Jesus died for you so that your sins are forgiven – and because he lives, we will live also. Now THAT’S Good news. That’s really, really Good News!
But we can’t gloss over what Jesus tells us today. Even if we don’t like to hear it so much – this is what Jesus wants us to hear – what Jesus wants us to know – what Jesus wants us to understand.
In other words, when it comes to following Jesus, he wants us to count the cost. I like what Martin Luther had to say about this. He once said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”
You know, tomorrow/today is the start of Sunday School. It’s also the start of confirmation instructions. And yet, we are not in the Sunday School business. We are not in the confirmation business. Let me share with you a story.
A number of years ago, a pastor by the name of Fred Craddock was chaplain at the Chautauqua Institute for a week. “One morning he told a story from the early years of his ministry in Custer City, Oklahoma, a town of about 450 souls. There were four churches there, a Methodist church, a Baptist church, a Nazarene church, and a Christian church (where Fred served). Each had its share of the population on Wednesday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday evening. Each had a small collection of young people, and the attendance rose and fell according to the weather and whether it was time to harvest the wheat.
“But the most consistent attendance in town was at the little café where all the pickup trucks were parked, and all the men were inside discussing the weather, and the cattle, and the wheat bugs, and the hail, and the wind, and is there going to be a crop. All their wives and sons and daughters were in one of those four churches. The churches had good attendance and poor attendance, but the café had consistently good attendance, better attendance than some of the churches. They were always there - not bad men, but good men, family men, hard-working men.
“Fred says the patron saint of the group that met at the café was named Frank. Frank was seventy-seven when they first met. He was a good, strong man, a pioneer, a rancher and farmer, and a prospering cattle man too. He had been born in a sod house; he had his credentials, and all the men there at the café considered him their patron saint. "Ha! Old Frank will never go to church."
“Fred says, ‘I met Frank on the street one time. He knew I was a preacher, but it has never been my custom to accost people in the name of Jesus, so I just was shaking hands and visiting with him, but he took the offensive. He said, ‘I work hard, I take care of my family and I mind my own business. Far as I'm concerned, everything else is fluff.’ You see what he told me? ‘Leave me alone, I'm not a prospect.’ I didn't bother Frank. That's why the entire church, and the whole town were surprised, and the men at the café church were absolutely bumfuzzled when old Frank, seventy-seven years old, presented himself before me one Sunday morning for baptism. I baptized Frank. Some of the talk in the community was, ‘Frank must be sick. Guess he's scared to meet his maker. They say he's got heart trouble. Going up there and being baptized, well, I never thought ol' Frank would do that, but I guess when you get scared...’ All kinds of stories.
“Dr. Craddock goes on: ‘We were talking the next day after his baptism, and I said, ‘Uh, Frank, you remember that little saying you used to give me so much: ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, I mind my own business?’’
“He said, ‘Yeah, I remember. I said that a lot.’
“I said, ‘You still say that?’
“He said, ‘Yeah.’
“I said, ‘"Then what's the difference?’
“He said, ‘I didn't know then what my business was.’”
Folks – it’s important for us to know what business we’re in. If you’re with us here for the first time today – or you’ve been here your whole life – I want you to know that we at Zion Lutheran Church are in the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ. And everything we do – from worship and Sunday School and confirmation instructions – to making sure the trash gets taken out every week – everything we do is designed to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything we do is designed to bring glory to God – for the benefit of others – and for our own good. That’s what our business is – to make disciples of Jesus Christ. And that includes evangelism – that is – introducing everyone we know – everyone who is willing to listen – to Jesus Christ – and then being – and showing others – what it means to be the followers that Jesus wants us to be.
And it may very well cost you something. You MAY have to give something or some things up. And I’m not talking about a giving up something for Lent kind of thing. I’m talking about anything – absolutely anything – that keeps you and me from being everything God wants us to be. It means making choices – setting our priorities – putting away the distractions – in short – it calls for discipline. In fact if you’ll notice – discipline and disciple are pretty much the same word.
It is this kind of Christianity Jesus is looking for. It’s not just something we do – or that we are – when it’s convenient. Faith in Jesus Christ – trusting Jesus Christ – being a disciple of Jesus Christ – is a way of life.
Jesus is looking for disciples. He is looking for people who will count the cost. People who will say, “Yes!” to the invitation when Jesus says, “Come. Follow me.”