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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Luke 14:25-33
“The Cost”
September 8, 2013 - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

         “What do you think you’re doing?” asked my father-in-law as he sat in a lawn chair watching me use a shovel in our backyard.

         “I’m digging holes for the post foundations,” I said.

         “How do you know that’s where they’re supposed to go?” he asked.

         “I measured them,” I said.

         “But where’s your plan?” he complained. “You can’t just do this without a plan. You knucklehead, you’re going to mess it all up.”

         Dad just couldn’t accept that I was jumping into my porch cover project without any kind of drawing, without a list of materials, without any written plan. The whole concept was in my head. He badgered me until I went back inside, sat down at the kitchen table, and sketched out a rough drawing of the framework, 3 posts and corrugated plastic on top.

         My grumpy father-in-law was right. When I sat down and laid it out on paper, I discovered I hadn’t considered some of the materials and tools I needed. Without some prior thought, considering the scope and cost of my project, I would have found myself in a mess in the middle of it. He went with me to Jerry’s and even bought me a new square and a plumb-line so I could do things “right.”

         Jesus got grumpy with the crowds who showed up in verse 25 of our text. He wanted them and us to realize any big endeavor requires forethought, especially consideration of the cost. His parables are about building a tower and waging a war, but it’s sage advice in any business. Sit down, think it through, and count the cost before you start. Then do it right. Otherwise you may end up in a real mess.

         So He invited the crowds gathering around Him to sit down and carefully consider what they were getting into. Did they have any real grasp of what following Him meant? Were they prepared to pay the cost?

         Verse 26 declares part of the price of following Jesus. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple.” To belong to Christ you must hate your family and yourself. Augustine pointed out the paradox of it. The One who taught us to love our enemies also asked us to hate our families.

         It was a peculiar Semitic idiom, speaking in stark contrasts, exaggerating a distinction to make a point. “Loving” Jesus versus “hating” family really means loving Him more than you love others. It sounds a little softer in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 10 verse 37, where Jesus says, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” You don’t have to hate your family. Just love Jesus more.

         That sounds simple, even easy in many of our comfortable homes, surrounded by fellow Christian family members. But all the first followers of Jesus were Jewish. They did not so much give up their families as their families gave up on them. Faith in Jesus separated them from those who had no faith. Some of you have your own stories about growing up in a non-Christian home and how your faith changed your relationship to your family.

         I remember my mother coming home with a story about how her secretary’s son had told her, “Mom, I need to love Jesus more than I love you.” That woman couldn’t understand it. She thought she’d lost a child when he became a Christian. It drove a wedge between them.

         That wedge still splits families both here and around the world. A wife embraces faith in Christ and a Muslim husband beats her for it. A Hindu boy in India becomes a Christian and he and his family have regular battles over whether he will join in their worship of Hindu gods. A Buddhist woman starts reading the Bible and talking about Jesus and her family just doesn’t understand.

         And Jesus said you need to hate your own life as well. Love Jesus more than life itself. That’s the thought verse 27 carries forward. Jesus asked those who come to Him to come after Him. Don’t just come and receive what Jesus has to give. Go and follow Him, clear up to His Cross and death, if that’s what it takes. You can’t have the benefits of His Cross without accepting your own cross.

         We like to think things are easier for Christians here, in our tolerant and pluralistic culture of freedom of religion. And it often is. That’s why what Jesus said here can be so hard for us to understand. But as Christianity spread around the Roman empire, it was in a tolerant and pluralistic society then as well. Almost any god was welcome in the melting pot of ancient religion. But governments found people who named Jesus and only Jesus as Lord annoying. Have your Jesus, but accept all the other gods too, they thought. That same spirit surrounds us today.

         So following Jesus, being His disciple, can still cost. In some areas, in some families, in some workplaces, it can cost a lot. In Quebec there is a strong movement to ban public sector workers from wearing religious symbols. It could cost you your job to wear your cross earrings to work. Jesus asked us to consider whether we are willing to pay that kind of cost, whatever cost He asks of us.

         Elton Trueblood and others think verses 28-30 might be an example our Lord’s humor. They suppose that there was a real unfinished tower just down the road, and everyone knew who Jesus was talking about when He talked about people saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish it.”

         We can come up with our own local examples. Bob Johnson told me about the plan to straighten and improve Highway 20 between Corvallis and Newport. Engineers failed to take account of the soggy terrain and the threat of landslides. Last year after things had sat incomplete for two years, they had to demolish six sets of bridge pilings that cost millions of dollars. In January, ODOT decided to try again, with an estimate of more than twice the original budget.

         Our own Valley Covenant heating and air conditioning project is underway again, after sitting for several weeks because of costs we didn’t plan for. Yet through the generosity of you His people, God provided what was needed. That’s a good lesson for how we approach what Jesus is saying here about the cost of discipleship. Following Christ is always going to cost us more than we expected.

         Cost overruns in building projects are one thing, but verses 31 to 32 ought to stop us in our tracks. The image of a king, of a government thinking about going to war has a terrible relevance for us right now. Here we are again, trying to weigh the cost versus the benefits of striking out at another country, wanting to do some good for the people of Syria, but completely unable to truly predict the results of action there.

         Verse 31 puts it in terms of trying to decide if a lesser force can defeat a greater force, ten thousand against twenty thousand. The alternative in verse 32 is to surrender, to make peace, to seek terms rather than suffer total loss. With all we know about the cost of modern warfare, we do well to consider ways to make peace as our first alternative.

         Jesus knew what He was doing when he chose these examples. It’s not too hard to count the cost if you are buying a new couch or a new laptop computer, though you might overlook items like shipping or maintenance plans. But building and warfare are inherently unpredictable in regard to the cost. The best planning is paradoxical. Plan on more than you planned on. And that applies even more to the cost of discipleship.

         Build a building or wage a war and even the best planning will not account for the full cost, will not predict every sacrifice that will be required. Following Jesus is a spiritual project, a spiritual campaign with a cost beyond measure.

         Which is exactly what He concludes in verse 33. Counting the cost of discipleship goes way beyond practicality and planning. The price of following Jesus can’t be calculated. You just have to plan on giving up everything. “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” That’s the real price. Not some portion of what you have, not some percentage which you can reasonably afford with careful budgeting, but everything. Everything. All you’ve got. The whole enchilada. The works. Every bit of it. Think bankruptcy. That’s what Jesus costs.

         I’m reminded of an old joke about a simplified income tax Form 1040. It has two lines:

         1.      How much did you make last year? ____________
         2.      Send it to us.

That’s the price of coming to Jesus. What have you got? Give it to Him. Plan on nothing less. The cost of discipleship is forever beyond us, forever immeasurable, forever impossible to predict. The only way to accurately forecast that cost is to plan on giving Him everything.

         We try to give you a little hint of that if you become a member here in this church. Last week when we welcomed Takayo into membership we asked her if she planned to give up some of her time, to come to worship and listen to the Bible and to share her faith. She said she would. We asked her if she would support the ministry here, give up some of her money for what we and our denomination do for the Lord. She said she would. She wants to follow Jesus in this church and it costs.

         But some people just don’t reckon on what it costs over the long haul. I talked to an old member this past week. They haven’t been here in years. They made those same promises but haven’t kept them. So he told me, “Just take us off the roll. We’re too busy.” He’s still friendly, that’s not the problem. They aren’t going to church anywhere else. He and his wife just slowly dropped out, got busy with other things, quit being willing to pay the cost of following Jesus with the rest of us.

         I hope, though, that we won’t imagine that the cost is as simple as showing up on Sunday morning or clicking an automatic payment button for your offering. Those are good, those are definitely part of what it takes to follow Jesus. But these parables of building and war show us that it is also far, far more. None of us really knows just what our Lord will ask of us in the long run.

         Following Jesus costs so much because we are repaying a debt that can’t be repaid. In our lesson from Philemon, Paul gently chided one Christian to forgive another Christian and charge the debt between them to Paul. But then he added, “I say nothing about you owing me even your own self.” He invited Philemon to add up the cost of being reconciled to someone who had betrayed him, but then to count that cost against the value of his own Christian faith taught to him by Paul.

         That’s exactly where we all are in relation to Jesus. Jesus asks us to give up everything for Him because He has already given up so much more for us. He asks for our lives, for us to carry our own crosses, because He gave up His life on His Cross for us. It’s not that we can pay Jesus back, anymore than Philemon could have paid Paul back for his faith. It’s that what Jesus did for us is worth everything we have and more.

         When I was in graduate school there was a federal program to subsidize housing for low income people. As a student I qualified. For a year and a half, every month I received a check for about 75% of my rent. It made the difference between living on Kraft dinner like some of my friends versus getting to enjoy some meat and even a pizza now and then. I paid, but the subsidy paid much more. Jesus pays the incredible subsidy needed for our salvation, much more than anything we contribute.

         We don’t know what the cost will be. Like our text from Jeremiah suggested, we are clay in the potter’s hands. We don’t know exactly what He wants to make out of us, what He wants from us. Yet as Psalm 139 told us, He knows. He knows our beginning and our end. He knows the cost and it’s beyond our calculation. Yet the psalmist concluded, when “I come to the end—I am still with you,” still with the Lord who asks you to follow Him, whatever the cost.

         Christianity Today has a cover article this month about Christians who follow Jesus into slums, into lives of ministry with the most desperately poor people of the world. It tells of Kao who works with Servant Partners in a slum in Bangkok helping people who’ve been evicted to find new homes. Her mother back home in New Jersey worries about her. Kao has been attacked and bitten by dogs. Yet she stays there, following Jesus, and paying the cost.

         What’s the cost for you? What are you being asked to give? When you sit down to consider it all, what are you willing to give?

         If you are new to all this, then Jesus may just be calling you back to church next Sunday, asking you to give up a couple hours to learn more about Him. Or He may be telling you now is the time to go all in, to give your heart and life to Him and become His follower for real and for good.

         You may have been following Jesus a long time, but like the man I talked to last week, you’re a little tired, a little stretched by your giving, a little too busy to keep doing what you’ve done for Jesus. Jesus is reminding you here that He has already given everything for you, and that what He’s asking of you now is not too much, but only the true and right cost of your discipleship.

         And for all of us, let’s keep counting the cost, looking for where Jesus is leading, for what He’s asking. We don’t know exactly what that will be. We can’t plan on it except to know that it will cost more and be different from what we planned. Yet it’s all worth it. My grumpy father-in-law helped me build a porch cover that, as far as I know, is still standing 20 years later. Let a bit of grumpiness from Jesus here help you build something, build a life, that will last forever.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated September 8, 2013