16th Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 18, Year C. (Text: Luke 14:25-33)
When we were little kids, many of us had very clear likes and dislikes. (Some of us still do.) We loved hot dogs and hated fish sticks. We loved mac and cheese and hated broccoli. We loved to go to Grandma’s house, because she always had a glass of milk and our favorite chocolate chip cookies, warm and ready for us when we arrived. And she had a big toy box. But we hated to visit Great-aunt Sally, because she believed that children should never be served snacks between meals. She would give us a glass of ice water and invite us to go out back and look at her garden.
Those of us who have been preaching for long time have learned about the likes and dislikes of typical congregations—what people have a taste for and what they’d rather not think about—or at least not think about too often. Congregations love sermons with a little humor, a good story or two, and a clear moral lesson. They like preachers who make a single memorable point (and do so in less than fifteen minutes). They hate sermons that scold, ask for money, make them feel guilty, or last too long. A smart preacher will offer what people like a lot more often than what they don’t like.
However, there are times when the word of the Lord on a given Sunday is a difficult word, but one that needs to be heard and thought about, nevertheless. This is one of those Sundays.
The first thing we hear from Jesus today is shocking: “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.” “Hate” my parents and my spouse and my kids and my family and even my own life?! How can that be?! We hear those words and we think, “Doesn’t Jesus tell us to love one another? How can he ask us to hate anybody, especially our nearest and dearest?”
In this hard saying, Jesus’ use of the word “hate” is the easiest issue to resolve. It’s mere hyperbole. Aramaic speakers used a lot of hyperbole, just the way Arabic speakers do today—and Hebrew speakers, too. These languages use a lot of “over-statement,” the very opposite of English with its frequent use of understatement. This is alien to the way we usually talk, but it’s not too different from the way children talk about foods they “love” and foods they “hate.” Those two words merely express preference not emotion. We could re-translate Jesus’ sentence to make the language less emotional, and it would still mean the same thing: “Whoever comes to me and prefers father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, more than me cannot be my disciple.”
See? Isn’t that easier on the ear? But it’s still a hard word. It’s a challenge: to be his disciple requires that we make Jesus first in our life. Number One. Ahead of our mom. Ahead of our dad. Ahead of our spouse. Ahead of our kids. —And ahead of our job. …Or our golf game. …Or whatever else commands our attention in retirement.
Of course, it’s possible that we don’t want to pay the price that it takes to be a disciple of Jesus. That’s something to think about. Being a disciple is not required for salvation. The Lord died on the cross to take away the sins of the world. He won our salvation, and it’s his gift to those who trust him. We’re with Martin Luther on this: we are sinners who have been put right with God by faith. St. Paul says that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
However, Jesus asks those who have been saved by faith also to become disciples--to become people whose daily lives reveal him in the world, to become people who aren’t just waiting for the Kingdom to arrive when they die but who want to live in the Kingdom of God right now, here in the midst of this mortal life. Being a disciple is about living as Jesus did. For disciples, Christianity is a way of life, not just a way of thinking about God.
Why do you think so many people were drawn to Jesus? It was because they found him magnetic. They felt the presence of God when they were with him. They learned wisdom from him about how to live. They experienced healing of their bodies, minds, and spirits when he touched them. And so they followed him around the country. Many of them wanted to be like him, if they could be. —Would it not be glorious to experience the same intimacy with God that Jesus had? To pray the way Jesus did? Or to be able to help other people the way Jesus did?
But, in the gospel passage we heard this morning, as well as in others, Jesus warns the adoring crowd that being a disciple will be costly. He invites the people who are following him to count the cost of becoming his disciples. He advises them to do what we’d call a “cost-benefits analysis.” That is to say, study whether the “benefits” of being a disciple will be worth the cost. We read, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” I can re-translate this one for you, too: “No one can become my disciple unless you’re willing to say good-bye to everything you claim as your own.” But that’s no less challenging. Believers who want to be disciples have to be willing to put their lives and all their resources—spiritual, personal, physical, and material—at the Lord’s disposal.
I would suggest that 100% of us here this morning have made sacrifices—big sacrifices—for causes we believe in. Many of you have laid your lives on the line in our nation’s service. Most of you have sacrificed in order to provide for your children or care for your own parents in their old age. Some of you have paid a high price—in money or years (or both)—to acquire an advanced technical education, or to acquire artistic or musical skills. We made those sacrifices because we believed in the value of that for which we sacrificed.
Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest painters who ever lived. And not only was he a painter, but he was also a sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was a genius, the quintessential “renaissance man.” There are relatively few paintings and drawings still in existence that can definitely be attributed to Leonardo himself. But there are more which the experts say are “of the ‘school of Leonardo’.” They are the work of his apprentices. For those hard-working, dedicated, self-sacrificing young artists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, I’m sure it meant everything to know that people would one day look at their work and say, “Oh, this painting is clearly of the school of Leonardo. Look at the brush work. Look at the perspective. Look at the use of color. Here we see Leonardo’s own technique so well. This apprentice learned well from the teacher.”
Wouldn’t it be worth the high cost of discipleship for us to know that someone—maybe who doesn’t even know who we are—might one day witness something we do and say, “here I clearly see Jesus at work. This disciple has become like the Teacher.”
It’s worth whatever it costs us to become one who is “of the School of Christ,” an apprentice of the Master.
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