May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be always acceptable and pleasing in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
I wonder what it is that you find costly in your life. I am sure that for some of us it will mean expensive. Expensive because it is an item we need to buy that we haven’t budgeted for or it is an item that can only be bought in a certain shop. It may be that we like to buy branded goods because we believe that certain brands have a better reputation or tend to last longer than others or are just the latest fashion. Sometimes quite simply it will not matter what brand, what item, how trendy the label is, we will not be buying it because of the cost. When all three children were at school, buying school shoes was costly and I used to dread the trip to the shoe shop as a result. I can’t have been the only one who dreaded this trip, as the shop started giving out a bottle of wine to each customer if they spent over £100. It helped to soften the blow a little I suppose!! Alternatively, costly may mean to you time spent away from family and friends due to work commitments or caring for elderly relatives. Costly may mean not being able to do what you want to do because of ill health or other reasons beyond our control. It may mean giving up your precious few minutes rest time in a day that is already very busy. I am sure we can all think of many more examples of things we find costly in our own lives.
Cost is precisely what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus is saying that true discipleship is costly.
According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. The gospel writer tells us that large crowds were following Jesus; clamouring for his attention; pleading for his healing touch; anxiously waiting for the next miracle; and pledging to follow Jesus where ever he was going; hoping against all hope that Jesus could save them from all their problems. Only Jesus knows where they are going. Only Jesus knows that he is on his way to Jerusalem, headed straight for the cross. Only Jesus knows what horror lies ahead.
Jesus looks out at the large crowds who were travelling with him. At that moment, to them, he may well be their Saviour, the person they have been looking for. The solution to their problems and the person they will follow to the ends of the earth. But Jesus knows that the people followed him for a variety of reasons. So with such a large crowd about and, after all, only Jesus knew exactly what following him was going to mean, he asks the crowds to think carefully before they follow him any further.
So Jesus cautions the crowd about how costly discipleship really is: “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.” It is that simple and yet it is that difficult. Jesus’ words don’t just sound black and white. They are black and white. It is all or nothing. They are either with him on this journey to the end whatever the cost or they quit now. They must count the cost before they commit to clinging to him as their Saviour.
They are challenging and uncomfortable words for us also. I belong to a large, complicated, blended family. We all get along pretty well and I love each and every one of them for who they are. Yes I even love my brother who at the age of 42 still finds it hilariously funny to wrap my birthday present in used Christmas paper each year as it falls so close to Christmas. I enjoy the things I do in life as well, so can I still be a disciple of Jesus? Does Jesus really expect discipleship to start with hating one’s family and one’s life?
Jesus is using the word hate I believe for its shock value. He is using it to make the crowd stop and think, just as it should make us stop and think. Hate is a strong word and I am sure if I asked you all for a definition of hate you would all come up with slightly different variations. According to the dictionary the word “hate” is defined as “intense hostility and aversion; distaste coupled with sustained ill will”. Well if that’s what Jesus is asking for — then count me out. I am not prepared to summon up intense hostility, aversion and distaste coupled with sustained ill will against my family or the good things I enjoy in my life to be a disciple. No way! However it may be that the writer of the Gospel of Luke uses a Greek phrase, for hate, that comes from a Semitic expression meaning, “to love less, to turn away from or detach oneself from.” Even with this meaning Jesus is still saying he comes first. No one, no cost, no thing is to take precedence over or interfere with our relationship with him. Nothing is more important because it is our relationship with Jesus that shapes, defines, determines and characterizes all our other relationships, all aspects of our lives, who we are, what we say, and what we do.
I wonder how many of you watched any of the coverage of the Olympic Games in Rio or are looking forward to the Paralympics? I thoroughly enjoyed watching various sports and none more so than the women’s hockey. I have always loved playing hockey and was lucky enough to represent my school, Sevenoaks Ladies and my University team in my younger days. While I played five times a week at one point, I wouldn’t say I trained hard. It was not the be all and end all of my life and it was not always a priority. Playing hockey was not costly for me. However, during the Rio Olympic Games I gained a little insight in to just what sacrifices the players of the women’s hockey team had been through not only just to be at the games but to win gold. A former pupil of mine was part of the team and, through her mum’s blog and various documentaries; it was possible to see the gruelling schedule of training, fitness sessions, dietary restrictions, battling with injury which they tolerated seven days a week and 52 weeks a year. It was relentless with the players often being away from family and friends for long periods of time and unable to have any kind of break from routine, not even Christmas Day. The televised games hid the effort and sacrifice that had gone on behind the scenes in order for them to pursue their dream to win gold. Winning the gold medal came first before anything else and was certainly costly for each player. I was also moved by the interview that Mo Farah gave after winning his gold medals. How he spoke about seeing his children again after many months of being away from them while he was training. You could not help but see what cost that had been to him, a man who obviously loves his family deeply.
So just what is the cost of following Jesus? How costly is discipleship? The quick and easy answer is to say that it could cost us everything that we have, and that a disciple must be willing and ready to part with anything if it compromises his or her relationship with Jesus. Jesus’ stark warning could be broken down this way: that disciples must be willing to reconsider relationships, carry their crosses, and part with their possessions.
To reconsider relationships is simply to prioritize our earthly relationships and also a disciple’s relationship with Jesus. Moreover, it isn’t just the love of others that potentially threatens a disciple’s connection to Jesus, but it can even be the love of self in all its forms. To reconsider relationships is to accept the harsh truth that no earthly relationship must ever be allowed to drive a wedge between any disciple and 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”. A cross can be any struggle the Christian has that comes in one manner or another because of his or her faith. We call to mind those Christians who are persecuted throughout the world for their faith and so often lose their lives because of it. Whatever the cross, Jesus says that it is something that his followers must lift up and carry, not hide away and bury.
Finally, a disciple of Jesus should also be willing to part with possessions. We live in a world where material possessions are ever important. Technology seems to advance so quickly that it appears as soon as you have bought one item it is replaced with another one which is better. By turning away from such worldly things towards God we are able to see what God provides for us so abundantly. God’s giving to us as his disciples 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.
Discipleship is costly; Yes, Jesus wants us to count the cost as we follow him so that we do not have any unrealistic expectations about how challenging it will be. But even more than that, Jesus wants us to know it’s costly because the price for being called his disciples was his own death. He paid that price on the cross. He made us his.
As we leave here today what is the one thing, large or small, that you could do or give up that changes your priorities, that reorders your relationships and that gives precedence to Christ in your life today. If we are prepared to do that, to count the cost, to pay the price and let God fully enter our lives then Kingdom of God awaits us.