Saturday, September 08, 2007

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

Luke 14:25-33

St. Francis of Assisi was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, a soldier home from the crusades, and a playboy. He wasn’t what you’d call religious, but one day he had a mystical experience that changed his life. This experience was so profound that he exchanged his life of leisure for a life of poverty and celibacy. And at least in the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, he gets so carried away that begins throwing bolts of cloth out the window of his father's business. He changed so drastically that both family and friends thought he’d gone mad. His embarrassed father even locked him in the cellar hoping Francis would come to his senses. When that didn’t work, Francis’ father went to the bishop for help — maybe to have him deprogrammed! The bishop told Francis to either use his family’s fortune wisely or give it up. And that’s what Francis did. He tore off his clothing and renounced his inheritance. As he read through the Gospel of Matthew, he began to hear a call to be like Jesus and become a wandering preacher. Amazingly, others looked to his example and joined him in his spiritual quest, giving birth to the Franciscan Order.

Deanna also had mystical experiences that changed her life. She was, until recently, a teacher at Cheryl’s school. We had her over to dinner recently, after she shared with Cheryl a change in her life plans. Like Francis she heard the call to give up "normal life" and devote herself completely to God. In her case that means joining a Discalced Carmelite Convent and devoting her life to prayer. If she stays with the order, she will essentially cut herself off from family and friends for the rest of her life. As she shared her experiences with us we could tell that this is a sincere decision, but I must confess it is difficult to fathom.
Both Francis and Deanna heard the call to take up the cross and follow Jesus in radical ways. They counted the cost and decided that the benefits outweighed the deficits.

I. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, HATE MY FAMILY?

Our text this morning is a call to follow Jesus as his disciples. The Good News Bible kind of softens the blow, but in more formal translations like the NRSV, the passage hits us right between the eyes:

"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."

If you’re like me, you wish Luke would have left that out of his gospel, because it’s so harsh and unrealistic. But it’s this passage and its Matthean parallel that stand at the heart of the decisions made by Francis and Deanna. In fact, Deanna shared that it was Matthew’s version of this statement that helped her understand her calling to devote herself completely to God.

Like I said, there have been attempts to soften the blow of this passage. Consider how the Good News Bible puts it:

"Those who come to me cannot be my disciple unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, etc."

Now that doesn’t sound so bad. Surely I can love God more than my family and my friends. Besides, Jesus was known to exaggerate things. Still, the use of the word hate to describe this contrast between our loyalty to God and our loyalty to family has to make us feel uncomfortable.

I thought Jesus was the patron of family values? Surely he isn’t calling us to loathe and despise our families. I hope that this is hyperbole, but even if it is, Jesus reminds us that being his disciple costs us everything. Bonhoeffer speaks of the call to discipleship being an invitation to death.
Our response to this call can even require a sacrifice from others. Deanna shared with us her brother’s reaction. He’s having a hard time with her decision, precisely because she’s asking him to make a sacrifice that he’d rather not make. Her decision to enter the cloister means that he will be cut off from her as well. I understand completely his concerns.

II. COUNTING THE COST
What I hope we hear in this passage is a call to consider the cost in being a Christian. Being a Christian can cost us our family, our friends, our jobs, our place in society. That’s less so here in America, but in many other places in the world, to be a Christian is to die as far as your family and culture are concerned.

To get his point across, Jesus tells a little story about a builder of a tower. Before beginning this task, Jesus says that the builder will sit down and consider the cost, because no one wants to suffer the embarrassment of getting started and then not having enough money or resources to finish the job. Taking on something you’re not prepared to complete would not be "prudent" as Dana Carvey used to say in imitation of the elder George Bush. You have to count the cost before you head out on the journey of faith.

III. Making Choices

What I hear Jesus saying to us this morning is this: Being a Christian involves making choices. When it comes to making choices, I’m cautious by nature. Just ask Cheryl. She hates to go grocery shopping with me, because I have to analyze all the product codes so we can get the best deal. Why pay more for the same item? That wouldn't be prudent! But trying to be prudent makes shopping take longer.

What’s the cost in being a Disciple of Christ? For Francis it meant becoming a fool for Christ. For Deanna it seems to be the cloister. For Mother Teresa it was the lepers of Calcutta. And for Bonhoeffer it was a conspiracy to end the rule of a tyrant, a decision that led to his imprisonment and his death. Although Bonhoeffer never saw himself as a martyr, nor did Teresa see herself as a saint, their witness has been an inspiration to many.
In the early days of the church, deciding to be a Christian might prove to be the end of your life. Being a Christian in America today, however, is pretty easy. When I hear people talking about being persecuted and oppressed because they can’t pray at football games or display the 10 Commandments in classrooms, I have to laugh. If only . . . So, if we live in a time and place where the cost is minimal, how do we become true Disciples of Jesus Christ? Are we ready to look for an answer to that question in this passage from Luke?
Preached by:
The Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church
Lompoc, CA
15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 9, 2007

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