Sunday, June 7, 2009

Counting the Cost - Adjusting Your Life to God

The silver haired minister sat and stared at the rural Baptist congregation in the mountains of North Carolina in the moments for he was to deliver his sermon. They had gathered in that same weathered white clapboard church week after week for years. He knew their lives and had listened to their stories. He also knew how they would hear his message for the morning. They liked sermons that affirmed and encouraged them. They liked Jesus stories where he healed the hurting and fed the hungry. They like stories like David and Goliath and about how Moses led the people out of Egypt. He was also keenly aware of the kind of sermons that they struggled with. So he slowly rose from his seat and walked to the pulpit and said; “Today we are going to hear from Jesus. His words today are not gentle. Don’t get mad at me. It’s Jesus who said’em and Jesus who tells us to follow’em. My job is to preach the whole of the Bible, not just the parts we like. So listen up close and hear some hard words from Jesus.” And with that said he took a deep sigh, took one more look around the room, and began his message for the morning.

I can appreciate the moment. Some of the things Jesus says calls us and demands of us in significant ways. Over these past couple of weeks in our Experiencing God journey we have been asked to listen for God’s voice, to dare to respond, and now to count the cost – of adjusting our life to God and God’s will. This is no easy task. It is so much easier to keep doing what we have always been doing; to live and operate out of our comfort zone.

Our problem is that this one named Jesus sometimes confronts with words that can shake us to our foundation – that can cause a spiritual lifequake – that demands us look at everything with fresh eyes. But our reality is that "Some churches, preachers and TV programs present the gospel as though they were selling a used car," writes R. Alan Culpepper of Mercer University. No money down! Attractive terms! Low, low monthly payments! "They make it sound as easy as possible, as though no real commitment were required. Jesus' call was far different. He was not looking for superficial commitment or a crowd of tagalongs. Instead, he required his followers to be totally committed if they were going to follow at all"
[i] We hear this call loud and clear in Luke 14:25-33. Join with me on a roadside with Jesus.25-27One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, "Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple.

The crowds following Jesus began to grow. Some were drawn by the miracles and others were captivated by the way we spoke with such authority. Jesus understood that many in the crowed followed just for the show. He wanted them to understand the cost of discipleship – the real price for followship.

Jesus starts at their place of primary identity, their family. In the first century world your name, your home, your culture, your religion, your sense of community, and most often even your occupation was determined by your family. Jesus tells them that if they want to be one of His, they had to be willing to walk away from their family identity and base on their identity on their choice to follow. Even in our 21st century world this still seems hard. My family is so very important to me. This seems too great a price. Would I be willing to go wherever God calls and do whatever I understand he calls me to do even if that seperates from family. We did it when we moved to SEAsia. God blessed, but it was not without sacrifice. I can imagine that first century crowd stirring uncomfortably as they heard his words.

Jesus continues; Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple. Next he tells the crowd that they have to be ready to pick up a cross to follow Him. “When Luke’s audience heard “bear your cross” or ‘shoulder your cross (added tco)’ they did not first think of adding additional responsibilities or bearing up under some burden….they heard it as a call to put their lives on the line as a consequence for following Jesus.”
[ii]. This kind of faith is not some idealized understanding of faith. We heard a testimony of this kind of faith from Matthew earlier in our service. Let’s be honest, few of us have been asked to face arrest or had rocks hurdled at them for the sake of the gospel. The faith of the global Christians challenges us and inspires us. They remind us that what Jesus is talking about is not an inconvenient faith, but the kind of faith where we are willing to put everything on the line.

Scholars debate if the purpose of these hard words were to shake up the lukewarm disciples or dissuade the perspective followers in the crowd from joining him if they were not ready to adjust their lives and the way of living to God.
[iii] I think probably some truth in both perspectives. I believe that Jesus wanted both his disciples and the crowd to seriously count the cost of a God-centered life. He gives them two pictures to help them understand.

28-30"Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: 'He started something he couldn't finish.'

31-32"Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can't, won't he send an emissary and work out a truce?

I could not help but laugh out loud when I read one of the commentators recommending the proclaimer encourage the congregation to consider what it might look like to count the cost of the renovation of a historic church or for a church to move boldly out in missions. I thought to myself – this is our everyday world. The haunting question was whether in the counting of the cost we count in our count out faith.

The amazing part of the two images that Jesus offers is that the one who begins is more focused on being embarrassed or failure than they are about faith. Jesus’ words are not an edict to make sure we can succeed before we try bold things for God, but rather that we are prepared to follow through regardless of the cost. How do I know this? Hear the words Jesus claims at the close of the two images; 33"Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can't be my disciple. This week we chose Eugene Petersons interpretative translation to help us look at this passage. But I think that this last line in even clearer in the New International Version. It reads; 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Jesus wanted the crowd – and us – to understand that he calls people to a sacrificial faith. In simplest terms; becoming a committed disciple means moving from a faith of convenience to a faith that follows Jesus, wherever he leads regardless of the cost.

I can imagine how quiet the crowd must gotten as they listened to Jesus’ words. I can only begin to imagine the look on peoples’ faces as they processed what Jesus had to say. They had to wonder if Jesus really meant that they had to be willing to walk away from everything for the sake of following God’s will or they could not be one of Jesus’ disciples. In my mind’s eye I can see people begin to slip away from the crowd and slip away from Jesus because the price was just too high.
· I wonder how many of us in this room wonder if God really expects us to be willing to put following God ahead of everyone and everything else.
· I wonder how many of us would like to slip away and claim the cultural understanding of faith that demands less of us and promises us that our best life now.
· I have to wonder if we ready to hear God’s voice, to boldly say “yes,” even when we understand the cost.

This week our Experience God sessions will ask us to be ready to adjust our lives and be ready to count the cost so we can respond to Gods voice. How will we answer?


[i] Culpepper, R. Alan, “The Gospel of Luke," The New Interpreter's Bible [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995], 293. Ref. in Homiletics, “Deep- Discount Disciples”
[ii] Vinson, Richard B., “Luke,” Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon: Smyth and Helwys Pub. 2008), p.493.
[iii] Influenced by “Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons” at www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/sunday23cg.html.

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