"Counting the Cost"

Rev. Sarah Buteux                                                                    

September 8, 2013

Luke 14: 25-33

 

The coming of September marks the end of summer, the beginning of school, and – if you are a parent with children of a certain age - the need to fill out many, many, many forms.

 

And you all may be better at this then I am, but I can never seem to fill out forms like these in one sitting.

 

I can get through our contact information just fine, in large part because I’ve had to write it over and over and over again.

 

With a little effort I can typically recall certain details…you know, like my children’s birthdates.

 

I’m good when it comes to the names of our emergency contacts, doctors, and insurance providers.

 

But the whole process breaks down when I have to start listing numbers: phone numbers, account numbers, zip codes, and dates. Invariably, I have to set the forms aside and go find my phone, look things up on the web, raid Andrew’s wallet for little plastic cards, and call people I’d really rather not bother.

 

But even after all that, I’m still not done. There are still all these little boxes to check. Would you like to sign your child up for dance? Are they eligible for a free lunch? If your child is in distress can we administer CPR? Are you able to volunteer on the following dates?

 

If your child receives an award can their picture appear in the paper? What about on our web site? Can they self-administer an epi-pen in the event of an allergic reaction? Can you administer brownies in the event of a bake sale?

 

It’s funny, but all of a sudden these forms - these forms which looked so straightforward when I pulled them out of the backpack - become like little minefields. They are riddled with blanks, open to question, always awaiting more information - not just about who we are or where we live - but who we trust, what we value, how we plan to go about our days and live out our lives.

 

And as excited as I am about a new school year starting and as grateful as I am to all those people who have thought all these things through in such excruciating detail the better to care for my children, I confess that it always takes me way too long to fill these forms out. Way too long. And when I do there are always blanks that I fail -fail in every sense of the word - to fulfill.

 

Which is to say, I’m probably never going to win a “Parent of the Year” award from the PGO, in large part because I’ve decided to invest my energy here in the church.

 

I’d like to think it’s for the sake of my children and yours, all of God’s children in fact, but if today’s reading is any indication, I won’t be winning any “Disciple of the Year” awards on this end either. 

 

In fact, if Jesus had passed out sign up forms two thousand years ago right after delivering the little sermon you heard this morning, as much as I would have wanted to count myself as one of his disciples, I would have been hard pressed to check off all the boxes on his list too.

 

I would have told him where I lived.  I could have told him who to call in case of an emergency. But if discipleship truly requires hating one’s family, giving away all one’s possessions, and taking up the cross to follow in Jesus’ footsteps – Lord have mercy - I simply don’t have what it takes.

 

I would have been flipping that form over, scouring it for fine print. I would have wanted to know if he really meant what he was saying, if he was literally saying what he meant.

 

I would have wanted to know if there was any sort of work from home plan: ways I could support the cause without putting my house, my family, my person at risk?

 

Maybe a lay-a- way option?

 

Because seriously, if that’s the cost, the true cost of discipleship, it’s too high. It’s just too high. I’m out. I fold. “Can’t do it Captain.” (That’s my Scotty from Star Trek. Yeah, ok, moving on).

 

I love my family and they need me.  I love my family and the life we have built here, and something tells me that you do too. In fact, everything about you tells me that you do too. It’s part of why I love you all as much as I do.

 

So believe me when I say that I wish I could tell you that Jesus didn’t really mean what he was saying back then, or that what he was saying didn’t really mean then what it means right now. I wish I could tell you that he was just exaggerating to get people’s attention. And maybe he was… a little.

 

I wish I could tell you it’s simply a trick of the Greek - that the softer side of Jesus has simply been lost in translation - but that simply wouldn’t be true. His words about hating your family were as offensive to their ears back then as I trust they are to your ears right now.

 

It’s true that the word “hate” here – misein in the Greek -has more to do with action then emotion. By which I mean, that Jesus is not asking his disciples to feel hostility toward their families. He’s not asking them to be angry with their families or mean to their kin. No.

 

But he is asking his disciples to act in a way that most everyone, back then and right now, would perceive as hateful, and in many ways that’s worse.[1]

 

I mean, given the choice, would you rather that people felt love for you or showed love to you? I’m going to go for showing, myself. But our ability to show the most love to those we love the most is severely compromised when we choose to follow Jesus, at least it is if we make following Jesus our first priority.

 

Think about it. As followers of Christ we are not to privilege, promote, or protect ourselves, or those we love, over and above others. Right? As followers of Christ we are not to take care of our own first and then share what’s left over with others. 

 

No. We are to be servants of all. We are to put others first in the hopes that if we all share there will be enough to go around. That’s just part of the deal when you sign up to follow Jesus. I don’t think I’m saying anything you haven’t heard before.

 

But what if there’s not? What if there’s not enough to go around, and it’s your kid who is left hungry? What if there’s not, and it’s your parent that gets left alone?  What if there’s one spot and you have to choose whether or not to advance your spouse or someone else?

 

It is a hateful thing to disregard your kin, your own flesh and blood; a hateful thing to feel no more a sense of obligation toward them than you would to any other. It just is.

 

And yet, one of the most radical features of Jesus’ teaching is that we are all kin to one another, all brothers and sisters in Christ, all children of one Father who art in heaven; that who I am and all I have belongs no more to me and mine than it does to you and yours.

 

If I have, and you need, then I give. Forget about college, retirement, the mortgage. If you have, and I need, then you give.

 

That’s how Jesus would have us operate, and it’s not just radical, it can very easily be felt as hateful toward our families, as a disservice to those who are counting on us, as a rejection of those we have been raised to honor and protect above all else.

 

And that’s just the stuff. The material. I haven’t even gotten to the cross.

 

We all know that when people escape calamity – war, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados – that if they can at least make it through with their family intact it doesn’t matter if they lost everything. Most of the stuff can be replaced.

 

But a partner, a parent, a child…? No.

 

What a hateful thing, then, to willfully put one’s self or one’s family in danger.

 

Jesus knew that. He knew his way was dangerous. Jesus knew what he was about and he knew where he was headed. Jesus knew, and he was not about to drag people down that road before they knew full well just what it might cost them.

 

When you think about it, it’s a miracle that none of his disciples died with him on the cross in 33 AD.

 

And yet by the time Luke was writing these words down, some 30-50 years later, Jesus’ disciples were dying, dying because they had the audacity to claim Jesus rather than Caesar as their Lord, the God of heaven as their Father rather than the emperor of Rome.

 

Only when the authorities came, it was never for just one of them. In an effort to root out such heresy, when they suspected that a man or a woman had become a Christian, the Romans didn’t just arrest the believer, they took their entire household off to prison as well.[2]

 

The cost was high for those first Christians…too high. For those who would follow in the way of Jesus, for those truly bent on changing the world for the better, it always is.

 

I think of Corrie Ten Boom whose father died in prison and whose sister died at Ravensbruck; died because as a family they had chosen to shelter Jews during the holocaust.

 

I think of Ruby Bridges and her family, of what they must have gone through every day that they sent their little 6 year old girl off – under the protection of Federal Marshalls -to desegregate her school with her own little body. 

 

How many well meaning people do you suppose took the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. aside and told him to lay off, told him to stand down, told him not to push so hard – not because he was wrong - but for the sake of his children?

 

How many people probably said the same thing to Aung San Suu Kyi, when she left her family behind for all the families of Burma?

 

When people choose to sacrifice themselves for a cause greater than themselves there is always a cost. There is damage; damage borne not just by the one who stands up for justice, but collateral damage borne by the ones they love.

 

It’s not fair and it’s not right, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

 

You know, I don’t like Jesus’ words this morning any more than you do, but I am at least grateful for his honesty.

 

I am grateful to him and to all those who have ostensibly turned their backs on their families - the ones they loved the most- in order to show that love, real love, true love, God’s love, knows no boundaries, that all children are God’s children, that all families are one.

 

That all we are and all we have is meant to be shared; shared with one another, no matter how other we might seem.

 

You wouldn’t think such an idea would bring out so much hatred and violence in people. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard.

 

But it does and it is.

 

Given this… you might not be any more ready to check off the boxes on Jesus’ discipleship check-list than I am.

 

Honestly, I don’t know if I have what it takes to build this tower or see this battle through.

 

I don’t know if I have what it takes to be a true disciple, and frankly that’s hard to admit. 

 

But I do know this: I know that I am not alone.

 

Thanks to this Jesus, I have more brothers and sisters by my side than my parents could ever have provided. 

 

Thanks to this Jesus, I have more children to live for than I ever could have borne.

 

Thanks to this Jesus I am willing to try and move forward down this path trusting that if I can’t carry the cross the whole way then he will come and carry it too; carry it with me when I falter, carry it for me when I fail.

 

Carry me and carry you…now, and forever…all the way home.[3]

 

Thanks be to God. Amen and amen.

 

[1] Thanks to Sarah Dylan Breuer for the etymological and historical information provided here. http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2007/09/proper-18-year-.html

[2] This information found in Barbara Brown Taylor’s, “High Priced Discipleship” from “Bread of Angels” p 48

[3] I am indebted to Barbara Brown Taylor’s, “High Priced Discipleship” from “Bread of Angels” p 48 not for these exact words, but for the truth she first taught and the truths I hope here to convey.