Counting the Cost – March 20, 2011
Exodus 33:1-11, Luke 14:25-35
March 20, 2011
Those of you who were at the Community Lenten service might recognize this chapter from Luke’s Gospel. This is chapter 14, and our passage for today follows immediately after the one we talked about Wednesday night. That night we read the parable Jesus told to the Pharisees about the man who gave a great feast, but then those who were invited all began to make excuses why they couldn’t come.
As a quick recap, this whole chapter is about how Jesus related to the religious leaders of the day. Again, we sometimes have the impression that it was Jesus against the religious leaders, or vice versa. And we think that he spent his time ministering and relating solely to the outcast and the destitute. But the Gospels tell us that he actually did “hang” with those guys. The problem is, they didn’t relate to him all that well – at least not all of them. In fact the truth is that they were divided over him. Some of them did believe what he was saying. But others didn’t. And so they excluded themselves.
That’s what Jesus was saying in that parable. And remember, these were smart men! They knew what he was saying! And so the question for them became, could they allow themselves to be “taught” by this young rabbi – this “upstart” – who was saying some rather “convicting things” about them? Or would their “pride” prevent that? There are places in the Gospels where that pride was out in the open. At one point, they would say in their indignation, “You would teach us?”
Ok, so that was then, this is now. Now we’re looking at the 25th verse, where Jesus turns and addresses the multitudes. And it seems they were always around. There were always many people following Jesus, trying to see what he was doing and hear what he was saying. We tend to forget that! Either that or it becomes commonplace, and we lose the amazement of it – like the Phillies selling out well over a hundred games in a row! We forget how incredible that is! Jesus was a big draw! Even when he was at dinner with these Pharisees, the crowds were nearby. And of course, that made it all the more difficult for them to “swallow their pride,” and allow this Jesus to have the audacity to teach them!
So Jesus turns and addresses the crowds, and he gives them some difficult words. He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and sisters and brothers, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” And “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple!” Remember, this was before the crucifixion! That statement would make much more sense on our side of Easter. To those people, talking about crucifixion would only have added to their confusion over what he was saying. They knew what crucifixion was, but it wouldn’t have made sense in the ministry of Jesus. (And of course, I have to wonder what the disciples were thinking about all this! “Do we have to hate everybody?” “Do we have to go to the cross?!”)
This is one of those places where Jesus is saying something that seems to fly in the face of some of his most important understandings of life. Because certainly, Jesus honored family and marriage. The very first miracle he performed was at a wedding. He valued family, and relations, and friends. He reached out to all the people around him – even to those who were “unloved.” And if we took this statement at face value, and said that Jesus was telling us to hate people, it would seem confusing and even contradictory.
So we need to ask, what was he saying that day? And I think it helps us to see where he’s going with this. Because the next thing he says is this business about building a tower and counting the cost. No one starts building without figuring it all out – no wise person, that is! Otherwise they’re embarrassed when they can’t finish it! That’s followed immediately by a similar example of a king going into battle. Again, if he’s a wise king, he first takes counsel as to whether or not he can win!
It’s about counting the cost. It’s about seeing all that’s at stake. And that makes the first part of this statement about “hating family” make more sense. Because it’s also about counting the cost. It’s about counting the cost of discipleship. And what Jesus wants them to see is that that cost is high. It demands much. These religious leaders found it hard to pay that cost. That’s how this relates to this whole chapter, you see.
I think one of the biggest complaints God would have with his people, in this or any age, is that they take his kingdom too lightly! Jesus is trying to tell these people that discipleship is important business! Being a part of the kingdom is important business! I think the Pharisees knew that, but they wouldn’t allow themselves to be part of it. They let pride and “position” and power get in their way of accepting what Jesus was trying so hard to tell them. So he wanted the people to know how important it was. He wanted them to know that God’s kingdom is so important that they should be committed to it at a high level, even higher than that of family! That’s why he said what he said!
So I would ask you today – two thousand and some odd years later – how seriously do you take God’s kingdom? How seriously do you take your faith and your relationship with God? I suspect that, too often too many of us take it all too lightly. I suspect we even think about it too infrequently. And because of that, when there’s a challenge to our faith, when there’s a major distraction, or even a minor distraction, we set it aside or we tuck it away in a “safe place.”
Lent is about remembering to take God seriously! That’s why it’s a time of self-sacrifice. If you “give something up,” if you fast, if you do some other kind of Lenten discipline, it’s not to “punish” yourself for sins. That’s not the idea. If you take it that way, then I think you’re doing it for the wrong reasons! Lenten disciplines are more sort of high-level “reminders.” They help us remember to take God seriously! They help us to “count the cost” of discipleship, and to realized that it is a high cost!!
So I encourage you to do some of that. Give something up. Make a sacrifice. Then, when you see it, and you remember that you’ve given it up, let it be that reminder. Let it be a reminder that this is Lent. And let it be a reminder to take God’s kingdom seriously. That’s the purpose. And then maybe add to that sacrifice, some sort of spiritual “action.” Take some extra prayer time. Maybe say a little prayer each time you see, or think about, that thing you’ve given up. Maybe add some extra reading. Maybe take it an extra walk during Lent, allowing the beauty of creation draw you closer to God. Set aside some “special times” in Lent to remind you to see God’s kingdom as special! Strive to grow in your ability to take his kingdom seriously! Seek to count the cost of discipleship!
Jesus ends this chapter with a warning. He gives the people this little example of salt. And this almost doesn’t seem to be related to the rest of this, does it? It almost seems out of place. But remember that salt was a very important commodity in those days. It was for them a preservative. It still is for us, but it’s not as important since the use of refrigeration. But we still have salted items that are preserved that way, don’t we? Well, salt was very important to them. It was so important in their world that Roman soldiers were often given salt as part of their pay. That’s where we get the expression that someone is “worth their salt.”
So Jesus asks, “What good is salt without it’s saltiness?” And what he’s saying is, “What good is a disciple without discipline and commitment?” That’s the comparison he’s making here. He’s saying a disciple without commitment is like salt without its saltiness. But if you think about it, that’s not possible, is it? Salt is salt! I don’t think it’s possible for salt not to be salty. Correct me if I’m wrong, (and I’m sure you will!) but salt is sodium chloride, no matter how much of it there is. Or am I wrong about that? Can salt actually go bad?
Well, either way, Jesus is telling them that if they wanted to be his disciples, they should be disciples. If they wanted to be his disciples, they had to do more than just follow him around because they were curious or they wanted to hear him speak! They needed to see what was at stake. They needed to take him seriously. They needed to count the cost!
What about us? Are we merely curious about Jesus, or impressed by him? There’s a lot to be impressed by! Are we merely glad for what he did for us? There is great joy in that! But is that it? Or are we his disciples? Do we count the cost? Do we take his kingdom and our relationship with him seriously? Are we worth our salt?
Consider that this Lenten season. Grow in your discipleship, not just your “beliefs.” Grow closer to God, don’t just learn about him. Learn to love him with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength!
Eternal God, forgive us when we take our relationship with you too lightly. Help us this Lenten season to grow in our understanding about the cost of discipleship. Help us to grow closer to you, to rely on you, to trust you, and to rejoice in our lives lived in your kingdom. For we pray in Jesus’ name, whose great sacrifice brought us back into your kingdom, Amen!