Sunday 4

2ND SERMON

EVENING HOLY COMMUNION             PREACHER   REV LYNN MCKEON

Jeremiah 18: 1-11,
Luke 14: 25-33

For many of us there are a number of variables that come into play while shopping that will determine whether or not we’ll end up walking out of the store with any given item.  It may start off with which store we’re even willing to shop at; we may not even be willing to buy an item at certain stores or retailers.  And, when it comes to shopping, some may also give a lot of consideration to the colour or model options available; if it doesn’t come in a certain colour, or with certain features, then it may be out of the question. Others will make a purchase based on name brands, because they have found certain brands have a better reputation or tend to last longer than others.  Yet even with all these variables, there may be one consideration that will be a bigger factor than all the others in determining whether an item will be purchased or not: price.  Quite simply, no matter what colour or brand, no matter what store is selling it, if the item is more expensive than we are willing to pay for it, then it won’t ever make the jump from the shelf to our shopping basket.  More often than not, it simply comes down to cost.

Cost is precisely what Jesus warns about in our gospel reading this evening.  Discipleship is expensive. The healing dinner party had come to a close and Jesus was now traveling about, but as was often the case, he wasn’t alone.  And, as Luke informs us, it wasn’t as if he had only a few fans following him around, but “large crowds were traveling with Jesus” (v.25).  Knowing that there were always a variety of reasons for which people expressed interest in Jesus, he made use of the opportunity with such large crowds to clarify the cost of being his follower.

Stop there for a moment and notice how Jesus used this opportunity, and what it reflects about him.  If Jesus’ life and ministry were to be about a popularity contest or merely how many followers he could rack up, having large crowds accompany him would have been a great chance to butter up the masses by saying whatever itching ears wanted to hear. Surely Jesus could have smooth-talked his way into their hearts if he so desired. But Jesus shows us that he is always interested only in speaking what needs to be heard, even if it may not be what the crowds want to hear.  His warning: Discipleship is expensive, was a blunt teaching that was not easy to accept.  Nevertheless, in full disclosure, Jesus was telling the crowds to count the cost before they committed to clinging to him as their Saviour.

So just what is the cost of following Jesus?  How expensive is discipleship?  The quick and easy answer is that it could cost everything that one has, and that the follower of Jesus must be willing and ready to part with anything if it compromises his relationship with Jesus.  Jesus’ warning could be broken down this way: his disciples must be willing to reconsider relationships, carry their crosses, and part with possessions. 

To reconsider relationships is simply to prioritise earthly relationships and one’s relationship with Jesus.  On the one hand, it’s really quite simple: the relationship with Jesus is most important, and every other relationship imaginable comes after that.  In fact Jesus stated it more strongly, using the word “hate” to depict how strongly the follower of Jesus feels about keeping Jesus first in life.  If anyone – even family members – threaten the believer’s relationship with Jesus, then the believer is not simply indifferent toward them, but must fully guard against that relationship and the threat it poses.  Moreover, it isn’t just the love of others that potentially threatens one’s connection to Jesus, but even love of self.  To reconsider relationships is to accept the harsh truth that no earthly relationship must ever be allowed to drive a wedge between one’s relationship with Jesus.

In addition to reconsidering relationships, the followers of Jesus must be willing to carry their crosses.  “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (v.27).  A cross can be any struggle the Christian has that comes in one manner or another because of his or her faith. The challenge and tension of living in a way that reflects God’s will versus living in a way that is acceptable to the world may be a cross the Christian bears.  Whatever the cross, Jesus says that it is something that his followers will lift up and carry, not hide away and bury.

Finally, the follower of Jesus will also be willing to part with possessions. Admittedly, this would be a lot easier if not for one thing: God is so abundantly gracious to us. God’s giving to us is not a “good-enough-to-get-by” type of giving, but a “here, take what you need… and then double it” type of giving.  Most of us, if left with even a fraction of what we now receive from the Lord, would still be wealthier than the vast majority of the world.  But such material blessings can potentially provide a snare, one that perhaps God allows in our lives to test our faith and see how willing we are to part with possessions for his sake. 

Discipleship is expensive, isn’t it?  That’s why Jesus continued with two stories to illustrate the importance of counting the cost before going “all in” with Christianity.  No one would embark on a building project without first figuring out how much it would cost and determining if he could afford it.  No one goes to war severely outnumbered, but makes sure he has a large enough army to give him a winning chance.  In the same way, how foolish one looks who is one day the most zealous Christian on earth, only to be ashamed a short time later because of an inability to part with someone or something in this world that seeks to trump Jesus in priority and importance!  Only a fool jumps into something without first considering what all it involves, and if any sacrifice is required, then he must be willing to make it.

Really what Jesus is illustrating in our verses today he also illustrated through the parable of the Sower and the seed (cf. Luke 8). Remember that some of that seed fell on soil and immediately shot up out of the ground. However, shortly thereafter, either because of a weak root system due to rocky soil, or being choked out by weeds that grew up right alongside, what sprouted quickly wilted and died.  The presence of worldly cares and concerns and a lack of a deeply established root system did not allow that faith to take off and bear an abundant crop.  That, Jesus said, is what happens when one fails to count the cost: there is a real danger that all might be lost.

Yes, Discipleship is expensive.  But you know what?  We haven’t even gotten to the real cost yet.  Yes, Jesus asks us to give up much, indeed everything, for his sake.  But even everything we have is nothing but a drop in the ocean compared to the real cost of discipleship.  Suppose we reconsidered our relationships and perfectly prioritised them so that God has top billing in our lives as he deserves.  Imagine if we readily carried our cross each and every time it presented itself, and willingly parted with all possessions that threatened to stake a claim on our hearts.  If we could do all of those things, and do them just as Jesus here warns us to, would we then have the security of heaven?  We wouldn’t, because our security doesn’t rest with us, but with Jesus. You see, Discipleship is expensive, but not merely because of what God asks of us; rather, it is expensive because of what God gives to us. 

Discipleship is expensive because the price God paid to make us his was the life of his only Son. His blood is priceless, so precious because it is pure and untainted by sin.  When he bled for you and me, the blood he shed was more valuable than the largest diamond, the purest gold, the most refined silver, indeed more precious than anything else in the world. 

And, making it even more valuable was the fact that it was one-of-a-kind.  Why are people willing to fork over millions of pounds for original works of art, when there are more than enough replicas, fakes, and forgeries that look nearly identical?  Because the original is a one-of-a-kind.  There may be replicas, there may be fakes, but there is only one original.  So also, there is only one Saviour: Jesus. That makes him even more precious to us, even though what he accomplished and achieved for us – forgiveness and salvation – doesn’t cost us a thing! It cost a Father his Son. It cost a Father his dearly-beloved Son. How can we forget the Father’s expression of that love, full of pride as he voiced his love and approval from heaven at Jesus’ baptism and again at the Transfiguration?  Do not think of God as some cold, unfeeling, emotionless divine being who was indifferent to the plight of his Son – far from it!  We witness God’s compassion and love for others as he expresses them throughout the life of Jesus.  Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.  His heart went out to the diseased and the downtrodden.  God’s heart beats with care and concern for others, and if for others, then surely also for his own and only Son.

Discipleship is expensive. Yes, Jesus wants us to count the cost as we follow him so that we don’t have any unrealistic expectations about how challenging it will be. But even more than that, Jesus wants us to know it’s expensive because the price for being called his disciples was his own death.  He paid that price.  He made us his.  Let that be enough to work in our hearts a willingness to give up everything for him who gave up everything for us first.