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
“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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj