Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Lk. 14:25-33[1]
  I think most of us embrace the Christian faith with some kind of notion of what we’re going to get out of it.  Whether it’s an eternity of bliss in “heaven,” or whether it’s a better, happier, more fulfilled life here and now, we all have some expectation of what we’re going to get out of it.  Unfortunately when we make these assumptions, we forget that the one we follow as Lord met a completely different outcome, at least in this life.  We follow a Savior who was ultimately crucified.  And Jesus warned those who would follow him that they would experience a similar fate if they did so.  But we have so domesticated the Christian faith that we have turned it into just another way of getting what we want out of life.
  In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus warned all those who would follow him that they must be willing to “carry the cross.”  Anyone not willing to do so “cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 13:27).  This is something that all of the Gospels make clear.  But what they don’t spell out quite so well is exactly what that means for us in terms of specifics.  In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus says that it means things like “hating” your family, and even life itself (Lk. 13:26).  It means “giving up all your possessions” (Lk. 13:33).[2]  I would say these aren’t the outcomes most of us envisioned when we began our journey of faith.
  To reinforce the importance of this, Jesus tells two short parables about what it means to “count the cost” of following him.  One has to do with building a tower.  Jesus says that nobody builds a tower without making sure it’s possible to finish construction.  But the example is one that is ridiculous--one who can only finish the foundation, and then runs out of resources.  Nobody would do such a foolish thing.  And even if someone could only complete two-thirds of the building, if they ran out of money, they would surely borrow to finish the project.  It seems that Jesus is exaggerating on purpose.  But why?
  The same thing is true with the other parable.  A king going out to war ought to have good sense enough to know whether he can defeat his opponent with a force half the size.  But in real life, Kings borrowed heavily to hire more troops if their own armies were lacking.  And they repaid the debts by imposing heavy taxes on conquered nations once they had defeated them.  So once again, it would seem that Jesus is exaggerating on purpose.  The question is why he would do that.  The fact of the matter is, Jesus often spoke ironically in order to make people think through things a little more deeply.[3]
  I think one of the lessons Jesus may have been trying to teach is that you can never really know the outcomes of what you start.  Even if someone invested all their resources in building a magnificent tower, they could never know what might happen to that tower.  It could be destroyed the very next year by a fire, or by a massive storm.  The same thing holds true for a King going to war.  He cannot know whether the conquered people will mount a rebellion against him.  Or, as often happened in the ancient world, whether he has stretched his armies too thin, and has left himself vulnerable to attack from a new contender.  The reality is, even if the builder or the King do a perfect job of preparing to pay the cost of success in their respective ventures, they cannot know what the ultimate outcomes will be.
  I began my Christian journey almost forty years ago.  I can say that my expectations now are vastly different from what they were then.  I made it my goal to try my best to do the right thing.  I tried at every fork in the road to discern what God was leading me to do.  I tried to serve God and others to the best of my ability.  And up to about fifteen years ago, I believed that all that would mean that I would spend my life teaching the Bible to Seminary students.  I counted the cost on many occasions, and made the sacrifices that were necessary to follow the path that I believed God wanted me to follow.  But I must say that I could never have anticipated the twists and turns my life would take.  And, the truth of the matter is that some of them were hard and painful.  But at the same time, some of them have brought me to joys that I would never have expected.  You can never really know the outcome of your choices, particularly the choice to follow Jesus in discipleship.[4]  For my part, in the words of Maya Angelou, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.
  When it comes to the choices we make in life, there are some things that are right for us to choose regardless of the outcome.[5]  I think that’s also a part of what Jesus may have been trying to teach us.  I don’t believe Jesus literally expected us to “hate” our families.  But our choices must reflect the utmost importance of following Christ.[6]  And so we choose to love and serve those around us because it is the right thing to do.  We choose to make sacrifices for the sake of God’s kingdom because it’s the right thing to do.  We choose to follow Jesus because it is the right thing to do--regardless of the outcomes.[7] If we didn’t act or make a decision or choose to take a risk without knowing fully the outcome of our choices, we’d never do anything in life that’s worth doing.  I think Jesus wanted us to follow him with that in mind, knowing that we can never know where the path will lead us, understanding that we can count the cost, but we cannot fully know the outcome of our faith this side of eternity.

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/8/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Stanley Hauerwas, “Hating Mothers as the Way to Peace,” Journal for Preachers 11 (Pentecost 1988): 19, says that the point of these sayings is that “if Jesus is the Messiah, it is surely absurd to think we can follow Jesus while clinging to the attachments of the old age. Rather, to be his disciple means that all our past, all our loves ... are now put in a new context.”
[3] Cf. J. Duncan M. Derrett, "NISI DOMINUS AEDIFICAVERIT DOMUM : Towers And Wars (Lk XIV 28-32),” Novum Testamentum 19 (Oct 1977): 249, where he observes, “The suggestion, that one must commence only when one has absolutely within one's power the means to complete, does not fit with real life at any period of history; and to illustrate minute calculation as these parables do and then to use the illustrations in this way is really ridiculous. Perhaps there is an element of irony in the stories which the centuries have left buried ?”
[4] Cf. R. Alan Culpepper,  “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:293: “no one can know whether he or she will be able to fulfill a commitment to discipleship.  Jesus was not asking for a guarantee of complete fidelity in advance, however.  If he had, no one would qualify to be a disciple.”
[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 204, where he expresses the value of the decision to follow Jesus in discipleship: “Anyone who participates in ‘Christ’s sufferings’” becomes a witness “to the coming truth against the ruling lie, to coming justice and righteousness against the prevailing injustice, and to coming life against the tyranny of death.”
[6] Cf. Carson Brisson, “Luke 14:25-27,” Interpretation 61 (July 2007):  331, where he says that the call to “hate” one’s own family reflects “the radical nature of the subordination of all other values and relationships a disciple must practice if she or he would respond faithfully to God's dawning reign. What is required is allegiance to Jesus above all other concerns or commitments.” Cf. similarly Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.4:262 and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 1062.  See further Fred Craddock, Luke, 181, “In sum, his word is, Think about what your are doing and decide if you are willing to stay with me all the way.” Cf. also Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51–24:53, 1284–85, where he reminds us that in a First-Century Jewish context Christians may have literally been alienated from family and friends by their choice to follow Jesus.
[7] Cf. Brisson, “Luke 14:25-27,” 332, where he says, “The call really is to cross bearing. This call truly is impossible for men and women, but possible with God. Some hear the call, but remain committed to hearth or home or to a myriad of other good but penultimate claims. They are convinced that in those things their true life resides. Others hear the call and cast their lot with Jesus above any and all other claims, whatever shape that takes. To them it is revealed, and it can be revealed in no other way than by taking up ‘the cross’ and following Jesus, that this invitation is actually to receive their very lives back as more than they could ever have otherwise imagined they could be.”

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