Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 5, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
Sermon: "The Choice is Ours"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not site down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
The Choice is Ours
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 5, 2004
The teenager was staring at an ad in the Sunday papers. He was sharing some information concerning the ad with a friend. The advertisement was for cd's. A company was offering twenty cd's for a penny. That's right just sign the agreement and send in one penny with your order and choose any twenty cd's you would like. The teenager who was staring at the add told his friend not to place an order. He had already done so. He found out the fine print held a greater commitment. The agreement was once a person joined this club they had to order five cd's a month for the next year at full price. The teenager who was already a member of the club had not read the fine print and he did not like the commitment. He wanted out and there was no way out. He was stuck. He was upset about the money he was having to spend, but he was more upset at himself. He was upset with himself for committing to an agreement before he understood the full extent of the ramifications.
Have we ever felt like this teenager? Have we ever committed ourselves to something and then regretted our involvement? For example, have we ever joined a club or organization and we really did not understand what it was about? Or perhaps we said yes to a project and then realized we had bitten off more than we could chew? When we get in those situations we feel bad. We feel bad for several reasons. First, we are upset with ourselves for taking on a project we really don't feel we can finish. We don't like starting something we can't finish. Secondly, we don't like failing. Third, we don't like being labeled a quitter or being someone who doesn't follow through in the eyes of others. In short, when we say we will do something we really want to be able to complete it well. We want to see the project or activity all the way to the end.
If we look at the Gospel lesson we see Jesus calling for commitment. We have to look deeper than the first few verses concerning family. We tend to get caught there. We don't like the word hate and family in the same sentence. They don't go together for us at all. Hate in our culture means anger and hostility. When we think of hate we think of people battered and bruised, beaten and even killed. Hate in the ancient world had a different connotation. In ancient times hate meant that if there was a conflict one had to choose the commitment over everything else. If one stated they were committed to their relationship with God and a conflict arose in the family, then the choice had to go with the commitment and not the family. Hate was not about beating and bruising. Hate was about choosing between two valuable relationships.
Why does Jesus talk about choosing between these two? These words don't mean a great deal if we don't understand the context of the situation. Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem. In Luke's Gospel Jesus is committed to following through with his ministry. His ministry involves the cross. While he is traveling he has been teaching, healing and preaching. As a result, he has drawn a large crowd. This crowd has begun to follow him. We are no longer talking about twelve apostles. We are talking about a large number of people. They know Jesus is good. They know Jesus is something more than they understand. So, they follow the man from Galilee. They might be following because they think he is the Messiah. They might be following because they sense something good about him. They might be following him because they are drawn to the presence of God they feel emanating from him. Some might just be along for the ride, just following the crowd. We don't know all of the possible reasons. Whatever the reason they are following Jesus and he is going to Jerusalem to be crucified.
They do not understand fully what is happening here. They say they are committed to following him. Jesus does not want them to follow him blindly. He wants them to know what the consequences may be. There may be dissension. In following Jesus they might have to give up some other things. In fact, most of them will give up some of the ways they act ordinarily. They might have problems with their families and friends. I know of people who have decided to become committed to a relationship with God. They have changed some of their ways. Members of the family did not want them to change. Basically, the family said you must choose. The people still love their families, but the family does not understand them and did not want them to change. Now, the person has to choose between their commitment to Christ and their commitment to family.
Jesus even takes it one step further. He knows there will be challenges to anyone who follows God. He invites them to count the cost now. He invites the crowd following him to see if they are willing to be committed to God. Therefore, we have the parables about the king. Jesus is asking each of his disciples, each of us, to count the cost and make up our minds.
We are the crowd today. Do we understand what God is asking of us? God wants our love, our loyalty, and our commitment to following our creator, our companion and our friend. God wants it all. God wants everything we have. Are we willing to give God all that we have and trust in God to take care of us?
I know, we say to ourselves, God helps them who help themselves. We have used that saying to try and take charge of our lives. We have used that saying not to help those in need. They should lift themselves up. Deep down we know that saying is our cop out. We don't want to give God our all, because deep down we want control of our own destiny. The funny thing is we never had control of our destiny to begin with. We don't have it now and we won't have it tomorrow. We can not add one more minute to our lives. We can't control what actions will affect our lives. The events of 9/11 are stark examples of just how powerless we are in the world around us. So, we are faced with the question where are we committed? Do we trust our own decisions and our own lives? Do we trust in the world around us? Do we trust in the one who created us and loves us? We have a choice to make. Jesus calls us to make that choice each and every day. We are asked to count the cost and make the decision. God does not want us to choose lightly or without all of the information. Following God means total discipleship and commitment. The world won't like it if we choose God. The world does not have to live with the consequences of our choice, we do. We can live for God or we can live totally for ourselves in the world. The choice is ours.
Choose this day whom you would serve?