November 17, 2019

Sermon: Are We Ready for This? (Luke 14:25-33)

The Wedding Candles. Chagall

Sermon: Are We Ready for This?

Now large crowds were traveling with him; 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. (Luke 14:25-33)

• • •

The Lord be with you.

Today we hear another one of Jesus’ “hard sayings” that poses a challenge to our understanding. Perhaps an illustration can help us grasp something of what Jesus is trying to say to us.

Two people stand in the front of a sanctuary at the altar in front of a minister. The minister asks them questions that have become familiar to us, so familiar that we don’t really grasp how radical and demanding they are.

Joe, will you have Mary to be your wife, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live? If so, please answer, “I will.”

Joe answers, “I will!!”

And in a few moments, Joe makes the following vows to his bride:

In the Name of God, I, Joe, take you, Mary, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.

Through the exchanging of these lifelong promises, in that moment, two lives are completely changed. The past is past. They find themselves in a new reality. It’s as though they’ve walked through a door and entered a completely new country. A new family in this world has been created. The two people at the center of the ceremony are now in a whole new relationship, and because of that, all other relationships in their lives have changed.

They remain the children of their parents, but they are no longer their children in the same way. They are still friends with their friends, but it’s different now. And even between themselves, everything has changed. What once belonged to one of them alone now belongs to them both together. They have entered into a partnership, a oneness in which what was once “mine” now becomes “yours” as well. These are “our” possessions now. This is “our” life now.

With that brief exchange of promises, the old has passed away and all has become new. These two people, now one, begin to move along a new, yet unplanned path through life. This path may take them away from their families, away from the places they have called home. This path may lead them into new friendships that will become closer than the friendships they have before they were married. They may take up new interests, new work, new vocations together that lead them to set aside the activities and involvements they were previously engaged in. The old has passed away, all has become new, and who knows what the future will hold? Who knows what changes it will bring? Who knows where it will lead?

When you stop and think about it for a moment, for two people to make promises like this for a lifetime seems almost crazy. But what these two people are saying on their wedding day is this: We want to make a life together. Today it begins. From now on, there is no turning back. Our former experiences have brought us to this new adventure, and now it is time to embrace it fully. No matter where this path may lead us, we’re in it together for the long haul.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses strong, exaggerated language about what it means to follow him, but I wonder if this illustration might shed some light on what he is saying to the crowds, to his disciples, to each one of us.

  • If you are going to follow me, all of your other relationships, even your closest family connections, are going to change. Are you ready for that?
  • If you are going to follow me, it will no longer be just about you. Even your relationship with your own self, with your own ideas, your own plans, your own desires, is going to change. In a sense, you’ll have to die to all of that and rise into a new reality in which you will have to open yourself up to what I will say to you. Are you ready for that?
  • If you are going to follow me, your possessions will no longer be yours alone. They will be ours together, and I will have a say about how we will enjoy them and use them in our life together. Are you ready for that?

Right before he said these words to the crowds that day, Luke tells us that Jesus told a parable about a great dinner to which many people had been invited. When it came time for the festivities to begin, the host sent out his servants to let the invitees know. But those who had been invited gave excuse after excuse:

  • Sorry, I just bought some land and have to take care of it. I won’t be able to come.
  • Sorry, I just bought some new livestock and must care for them. I can’t attend.
  • Sorry, I was just recently married, and we have some things we must do at this time. We won’t be coming to the dinner.

They had accepted the invitation earlier, but in the end, their own lives, their possessions, and their relationships got in the way of them actually participating in the dinner. When the time came, they weren’t ready to set aside those things in order to respond to the great invitation.

And today’s Gospel is Jesus’ teaching about how those excuses just won’t cut it when it comes to taking the necessary, life-transforming step of becoming his disciple.

You see, Jesus’ invitation to us isn’t just about forgiveness, as wonderful as that is.

It is about entering a whole new life with him. A life that changes everything.

Are we ready for that?

May the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. And whatever we do, in word or deed, may we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Comments

  1. Chaplin Mike, wonderful sermon, beautifully expressed. It makes the hard message an understandable message.

    • +1.

      One of the best takes on this I’ve ever heard/read. The marriage angle was especially helpful and applicable. That helps me understand the idea “make sure you know what you’re getting into” that has been the most difficult part of Jesus’ words for me to grasp.

      • Yes I think the marriage analogy is quite appropriate; I’ve used it myself when telling someone (usually a Christian with a strong aversion to ‘works righteousness’) that Jesus calls us to a new allegiance and a re-aligned life. Perhaps it is that aversion to works righteousness that makes these (and most of the synoptic gospels) so neglected in evangelical churches. But when the marriage analogy is used it becomes much more understandable. We don’t know what marriage will bring – prosperity or poverty, good heath or a terminal illness, but we commit because of our love for our partner, and (hopefully) keep that commitment no matter what the marriage brings. Sometimes the difficulties make the love and commitment stronger.

  2. Are we ready for that?

    I’m not ready for that, no more ready for it, less in fact, than I was for life when I was born.

  3. Nope, not ready for that. When I was younger I thought I was…

    • Maybe our hope is figured in the tax collector, who went away justified.

      • I wasn’t (really) ready for marriage either, or for being a pastor, or for being a father, or for any of a 1000 things that go with the changes we go through in life. Jesus was still there, and new life somehow happened. I don’t think anyone is ever ready. Still, we follow. Still he raises us up into newness of life.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Life is what “just happens” while you’re making your plans and getting ready.

  4. Easy to say I’m ready, really, really hard to live it.

    • +1.

      So many of Jesus’ teachings are “easier said than done.”

      Lord, thank you for your grace and mercy.

      • yes, impossible to live these teachings without the help of grace,
        and grace comes most readily to those who are humbled

  5. senecagriggs says

    Nice job C.M.

  6. Richard Hershberger says

    “In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses strong, exaggerated language…”

    I am totally OK with this characterization. My pastor said something along the same lines yesterday. I am curious, however, how do people who claim to read Scripture “literally” take this passage? Exaggeration is, after all, a rhetorical technique, and pretty much the opposite of literal language.

    So do they give this a literal reading? I doubt it. Telling kids to hate their parents is a hard sell. It would also be tricky to reconcile this with all the passages saying the opposite. My guess is that they either go with “exaggeration” and discreetly gloss over the non-literalness of this reading, or even more discreetly take advantage of the absence of a lectionary and pretend this passage doesn’t exist.

    I am curious for the observations of people coming from this background.

    • The truth is, literalists pick and choose.

      (As an aside, I’m reading “Strike Four.” Utterly fascinating!!! Great job!)

      • –> “The truth is, literalists pick and choose.”

        I should further expound using an real-life example, one I think I’ve shared before.

        An acquaintance once gave me rather lengthy document laying out the case for dispensationalism. The entire introductory chapter was about “literalism” and why “literalism” is the ONLY way to read and analyze the Bible. The author then spent the entire next several chapters INTERPRETING scripture in order to prove his dispensationalism points.

        Obviously the irony was totally lost on him!

        • What always make me smile is that dispensationalists almost always allegorize the first 3 chapters of Revelation (the ‘literal’ messages to the 7 ‘literal’ churches) and then ‘literalize’ the rest of the book, which even dispensationalists take as symbolic (e.g.the locusts are helicopters, the hailstones are bombs), symbols, which, by the way, would not have meant those things to John’s original readers, to whom the book is specifically addressed.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Survivor of The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay here.

            Amazing how Revelation was written 2000 years ago but refers entirely to American Evangelicalism in the 20th and 21st Centuries, isn’t it? Everything hidden/occulted until Darby and Scofield and Lindsay discovered what it REALLY meant all along? (any minute now… any minute now… any minute now…)

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Thank you. I am glad you are enjoying the book. Buy a copy for each bathroom in the house!

        • brianthegrandad says

          I also got the book. Outstanding. My son made all-stars so I had an additional two months to explain to anyone the roots of the dropped third strike. I was also able to say “…Actually…” when parents attempted to explain the infield fly rule as a way to be fair to baserunners. I was insufferable at youth baseball games this summer. Thanks!

    • Dave Greene says

      And the passages about cutting off a hand or gouging out an eye further illustrate the use of exaggeration by Jesus. It seems to me the literalist approaches to scripture are on a pick and choose basis, as noted by others here, and those approaches tend to obscure important truths behind those rhetorical exaggerations.

      • Just remember… Sometimes, it’s not exaggeration.

        • It makes me wonder: Was Jesus exaggerating when he taught the Sermon on the Mount? Give to all who ask, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, do good to those who harm you, etc.: are these all exaggerated too? It seems to me that interpreting them as such leads naturally to the question of how much exaggeration is involved. From thence we can go pretty quickly to the idea that nothing in our behavior as Christian makes us obviously distinct from other people; it is our inner disposition, and our unseen spiritual commitment to Christ, that makes the difference. And then we may come close to the territory that Bonhoeffer labeled “cheap grace.”

        • How do we prevent Jesus’ teachings dying the death of thousand qualifications if we start from the assumption that they are always exaggerated?

          • We don’t start from that assumption. We try to read as best we can, understanding the genre, language, context, setting, and rhetoric, as well as praying for spiritual discernment and sensitivity. And we can be wrong, of course.