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“The Cost of Discipleship” 13th Sunday after Pentecost - September 4, 2022

May God’s Word be spoken, may only God’s Word be heard. Amen +

One of the primary liturgical manifestations of Diaconal ministry, which is just really a fancy way of saying, one of the cool things Deacons get to do in the service is proclaim the Gospel, Gospel meaning the Good News. So we process from the altar to be among the congregation, hold high the gospel book and proclaim, “the holy gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, according to Luke”. But honestly, there are times when I walk down there, open up that book, and knowing what I’m about to read, literally want to slam it shut and say, “nope, ain’t got any good news today” and return to my seat behind the altar. Today could well be one of those days!

For me, and perhaps for many of you, it is jarring to hear Jesus say, “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.” Wow… That’s just doesn’t line up with the Jesus who is loving and inclusive and compassionate that we talk about in so many sermons and in our formation and in our prayers. And what I know about myself, is that when I hear something that sets my teeth on edge, or makes me want to bow up my back a bit, that’s when I have to step back and say, okay, what is this reaction saying about me, and am I really hearing the whole story if this is supposed to be Good News?? So when I’m getting these reactions within myself, I have come to learn that is God’s call to me to draw closer to God and dig deeper for the meaning God is conveying to me, and so y’all are stuck with me on this journey this morning.

So let’s set the scene a bit. Jesus has left the relatively small group dinner from last week’s gospel reading (preached so beautifully by Mtr. Miriam) to where in today’s reading it says large crowds were traveling with Jesus, as it seems word of his teachings and healings have begun to spread – maybe he’s even elevated to rock-star status. They see Jesus as a winner, so that somehow joining this parade, they become winners, too. Jesus knows he is on his way to Jerusalem and death on a wooden cross, but the crowd thinks that he is on his way to Jerusalem and a golden crown. After all, how could a true Savior of the people be anything less than royalty or a conqueror in the conventional sense?

Then, it seems that Jesus makes an abrupt halt, turns to them and makes this puzzling statement about hating your family.

Now my 21st century brain is hung up on the word, “hate,” it’s like something I can’t get past. I mean, as Christians, aren’t we supposed to be all about loving family and actually everyone? So then I have to realize Jesus isn’t a 21st century English-speaking preacher, and not knowing how many iterations of his words have been translated and handed down to the New Revised Standard Version of the bible we read today, I learned that this term is the best translation of Semitic hyperbole or exaggeration-for-effect in language his hearers in the crowd understand and interpret differently than we do. Jesus is not calling them or us to hate father and mother, but is instead calling us to a commitment above all other commitments, including commitment to family. The point is not how we relate to members of our family, but how we respond to the call of God.

Whew, am I glad we cleared that up!

Jesus goes on to say, “whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” I think we have a tendency in our culture to think that crucifixion on a cross is uniquely the way Christ died, but that was an often-used, excruciating form of capital punishment meted out by the Romans for whom they deemed the worst of the worst. I can pretty much guarantee you that folks back then didn’t wear crosses around their necks or hang them on their walls. But Jesus knew full well what he was telling them as he faced his own crucifixion in the not-too-far-off future. “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Then follows the example of the builder who fails to estimate the cost of his tower, and the king who fails to estimate the cost of sending his troops into harm’s way. And then Jesus sends us back to that uncomfortable spot he has so many times throughout the gospels by saying, “so therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Dang it!! There he goes again! I feel like the rich young ruler who “went away sad!” This particular Gospel reading is called “The Cost of Discipleship” but I have my doubts about if I am willing or able to pay the cost.

And I instinctively know that Jesus isn’t just talking about our material possessions, but the other attachments in our lives that separate us from entering as deeply as we can into relationship with Christ and with each other. Perhaps it’s our need for control, the substances or habits that numb us from our pain, our pursuits of career or status, the stuff marketers tell us will make us smarter, sexier, and more successful in the world’s eyes.

Telling us to give that all up is an awfully tall order, but if I’m honestly and openly listening to what Jesus is saying, I know it’s true. I know it’s true because when we choose to reorient our lives to the teachings of Christ, to literally turn our lives around and follow his commands to love one another and ourselves, it’s a risk – at times it can be a huge risk. I know that I have had acquaintances, work colleagues, friends, and even family who have come and gone throughout my life because my faith, my answer to God’s call to me, my choices no longer aligned with theirs or their expectations of me. Is it painful? Yeah, sometimes. I think we’ve all had the experience of having that someone in our life not be there for us when we needed them or be disappointed when they didn’t see the world as we do since choosing to follow Christ. In a larger context, we have a whole calendar of folks whom we celebrate their lives and ministries, especially as a part of our Wednesday evening worship, many of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice of their very life for their faith and devotion to be a true disciple of Christ. My prayer is that none of us ever face that but that’s what Jesus is asking us to sign on for!

Now this isn’t at all a guilt trip of judgement about where we score on the discipleship scale, or that is it some kind of pass/fail grade! I believe the discipleship that Christ is calling us to is about willingness and commitment, knowing that it can be messy and imperfect, that in spite of our best and genuine efforts we will stumble, but *here* is where I think we finally get to the Gospel, the Good News for today!

I have been known to criticize the revised common lectionary, and this is another one of those cases, because we have to read on for four more chapters of Luke that aren’t even lectionary readings in the next few weeks, but Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life."