The Holy Gospel according to Luke.
Glory to you, O Lord.
Now 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 sit 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 gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Whew, this bit of Luke’s gospel, these words of Jesus, are hard to hear. They come across as being so harsh. How can the guy who tells us to love our neighbor also tell us that we need to hate our closest relatives? Taken on face value, it doesn’t seem to add up correctly.
I don’t think it’s supposed to add up correctly. Jesus is trying to get the people following him to see that there is more to being a follower than simply following him around, watching him do miracles, and listening to him tell parables and outwit the scribes and pharisees. There is a cost to truly following him that’s higher than just physically following him around. There is a cost that’s higher than getting up on Sunday morning to sing some songs and listen to someone preach. There’s a cost that’s higher than adding some money out of our excess to the collection plate. All too often we claim the title of Christian but then instead of getting up up and walking the walk, we prefer to sit in our pews and just talk the talk.
I need to make sure you understand that this cost and the burden of carrying a cross has nothing to do with your salvation. Nothing. Your salvation has been bought and payed for by God himself. Nothing you do or don’t do can or will change that. This cost has everything to do with the quality of our lives as Christians.
We often think of counting the cost or carrying the cross as a bad thing. Sometimes it is, but it doesn’t have to be.
I have a brother-in-law, Tim, who married and then divorced twice. He had two sons by his second marriage. He determined that he was not going to marry again. The cost was just too high. Not the financial cost, mind you, but the emotional cost. A woman, Ellen, at his church, a larger congregation, noticed him bringing his boys regularly. She had been married and divorced once and had three girls. She was also very disillusioned with marriage and wanted no part of it again. Ellen asked Tim if they could go out for coffee and he agreed. They decided to date and on their first date they actually pinky-swore that they would only date and there would be no marriage in their future.
They had both payed the price for being failed relationships earlier and the cost had been so high, in fact the cost was still high as they both still had to interact with former spouses because of their children.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the time came when the perceived emotional costs of not getting married became higher than the perceived costs of getting married. They counted the costs again and are now married and as happy as can be.
The story isn’t over yet though. In the meantime, Ellen’s ex-husband was descending ever further into a life of drug use and the cost of him staying sober enough to see his daughters was growing too high for him. For Tim, his love for Ellen had spilled over onto the girls also. He was being a father to them much more than their real father had ever been and Tim found himself counting some costs again. Once again the benefits outweighed the costs and Tim asked if he could adopt the girls. The girls agreed, Ellen agreed, the girl’s birth father agreed, and a judge agreed. Tim is now married and the father of two boys and three girls. They’re almost like the Brady Bunch.
Tim moans sometimes about how little free time he has. With five kids ranging in age from third grade to a junior in high school, all of whom are involved in different sports and active in church, Tim and Ellen are almost constantly running here and there, picking up and dropping off. Coordinating all their schedules takes real work but it’s a small price for them to pay for all their love for each other.
The tiny cross Tim carries may one day grow heavier as life gets in the way and as yet unknown problems arise. But, the love that flows as a result of being willing to carry that cross far exceeds the burden.
Every relationship we are in has a cost to it, a cross we must carry, either now or in the past or in the future. If there is no cross, it’s not a relationship, it’s an acquaintanceship. Being in a relationship with God is no different. Jesus has born a cross, literally carried a cross, for you and I. He carried it to Golgotha and then he died upon it without protest. He did this out of love for us. For him, the pain and agony of his suffering and death didn’t compare to the joy of paying our debts to sin and earning our salvation for us. He knew that we are unable to do it so he took it upon himself to break the bonds of death. He did this out of the love he has for us, the relationship he wants with us.
If we love God, if we follow Jesus the way our use of the title Christian implies, if we want our relationship with God to be as fulfilling as it can be, then we not only need to be willing to carry a cross, but we need to actively look for ways to carry one. There are so many possibilities for doing so. At first carrying a cross can can be hard, but as we do so, we can find ourselves growing stronger until perhaps what was once a burden to carry can become a joy to carry.
One of Paula’s and mine favorite TV shows was Everybody Loves Raymond. If you’ve never seen it, it was about a family with lot’s of issues but they all loved each other, even when they didn’t show it. In one episode, Raymond is trying his best to explain marriage to his brother Robert who has just broken up with his girlfriend. Raymond says,
“You want to know what marriage is really like? Fine. You wake up. She’s there. You come back from work. She’s there. You fall asleep. She’s there. You eat dinner. She’s there. You know? I mean, I know it sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s really not”
Something that at first might seem like a burden, when done in love, can become a blessing.
If you take a look at yourself and find that the only costs to you for following Jesus occur on Sunday mornings, then I strongly urge you to look for some other ways to carry a cross that involve more of a cost.
Imagine what the world would be like if everyone who claimed the title of Christian, you and I included, would actively seek out ways to help others, no matter how large or small the cost. Hunger would disappear. Poverty would drop to all time lows, as would crime. Racial tensions would dissolve. Our “Christian” politicians would actually get something done besides bloviating about how the other side is so bad. Many of those who aren’t believers would see the good works getting done and find themselves drawn into at least finding out more if not becoming followers themselves. The world would be changed.
I don’t know what cross you might be asked to bear or what the cost might be for you. I wish I did so I could just lay it out on the table. You might look in the bulletin insert if you need some ideas. I’m not fully aware of what that cost is for me. But I know that as followers, we need to be ready to pay that cost when the time comes and that time comes more often than we think. I do know that when you pick that cross up, when you accept the cost, blessings will be sure to follow. When we look at today’s gospel from that point of view, it is not a burden that Jesus is giving us, but an opportunity for greater joy and a deeper relationship with him and his people.
Amen, come Lord Jesus.