25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26″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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For 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? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or 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? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
One of my passions over the years has been backpacking. I’ve had some amazing trips throughout the US and Canada. I’ve also taken groups of high school students on some amazing adventures, as well as with friends and family my age. I haven’t done as many lately with my kids being older and out of the house, but I’ve enjoyed those trips immensely.
I even like the process of preparing for a backpacking trip. During COVID, my son and one of his best friends, Riley, really needed some adventure. So, Riley’s dad, Jerry, who’s also a good friend and neighbor of mine, got together and decided that we could plan a covid safe mountain climbing trip to Colorado. We had several planning sessions with our sons…we had limited time, less than a week to actually go…that meant a day or so traveling, 4 days in Colorado, and a day-ish driving back. At first the sons wanted to climb 4 14’ers (mountains over 14,000 feet) in four days…having done a few 14’ers before, even if our boys were pretty fit, that would not work! So, we paired it down to 2 14’ers, one 12,000 foot alpine lake, and some fun in the Great Sand Dunes and Garden of the Gods in southern CO. It went great!
We planned meticulously, all of us contributing something and distributing who would carry what. We planned for contingencies, and we made sure that we had everything lined up in case of emergencies, our route we’d take, etc. And, since it was during the pandemic stage of COVID, we were extra careful and made sure we didn’t make stops in places in Missouri or Kansas that were covid hotspots.
We wanted to make sure that we had “counted the cost” of what it would take to do this trip and to do it well. We did have some unforeseen issues, as often happens when you are on an adventure, some things unplanned, but because we had counted the cost, were prepared, we were able to overcome some things and had an amazing adventurous journey together…and great stories to share!
Our passage this morning finds the writer of Luke picking up the journey motif again with Jesus. Jesus in on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples with a large crowd that was following him. Many of the folks in that crowd were probably neutral in terms of what they thought of Jesus, maybe just curious, but they were still drawn to him. I believe that Jesus, when he turned around and addressed the crowds, was wanting to draw as many of them who were willing to have eyes to see and ears to hear, the cost of what it means to truly follow him.
Jesus goes on to say that one must hate his father, mother, wife, children, siblings…even their very lives to follow him. When we read that today, we have a very black and white understanding. But, in the first century, where family ties are central and there is an honor and shame culture. Jesus is trying to break through to the crowds that there is a deeper community, deeper relationships, than simply familial relationships, that we are all bound together in our shared humanity, and we are being called into a new way of living and being with one another. Jesus is telling the crowd that there is a deeper priority than even familial connections. Jesus is essentially saying that our first love lies within and without, the Christ DNA that has been in us since the beginning and gives us a deeper identity than anything or anyone else. This is what it means to be a disciple…but, also disciple is a growth process towards awareness that leads to friendship. Remember Jesus’ words at the last supper? “I no longer call you disciples, but friends.” And, that friendship is both light, free, and a process…just like any relationship.
Now, there are some tough words in this passage…take the word hate as understood by a first century audience is equivalent to disgrace. Are you willing to be shamed, to risk your honor, by walking towards a love for all of humanity, to follow Jesus, the reformer of a system that you’ve been brought up in? Are you willing to risk everything to be a part of the ethos and reality of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is sharing?
If you are, count the cost. Jesus goes into the metaphors of building a tower and a war campaign…build a strong foundation first, but also build something on top of that foundation. If you are going to wage a war, do you have enough fighters. I wouldn’t read into the metaphors too much other than Jesus is using some imagery that folks could understand, contemporary examples, that’s telling the crowds that following him is more than simply showing up at an event or at the temple occasionally, it’s all about a deeper rhythm of living.
It’s also about letting go. We hold on to so much. We hold on to our shame, our image of honor, or possessions such as material wealth, even those possessions we hold in common like a neighborhood, a country, or even a church. Yet, Jesus is saying that we should let go of all of that to work towards a better vision of what God intends…discipleship to friendship.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a great German reformed theologian. He wrote some great books like the Cost of Discipleship where he says that the grace we have isn’t cheap…it has a cost, it is painful as witnessed in our lives and in the crucifixion of Jesus. He also says that discipleship isn’t cheap, nor easy. We are invited into a better story, a better way of living, yes, but that comes at the cost of having to look deep inside of us to where our loyalties lie, to be aware of what it means to ask ourselves hard questions and be willing to trust in the mystery of God around and in us, and of God’s vision for our lives.
One of Bonhoeffer’s books is the Life of the Beloved. In it Bonhoeffer says that we need to “kill our wish dreams” for our lives and the church. Why? That seems harsh, especially as we often talk about having a vision for our lives and our church. What Bonhoeffer is driving towards is that are wish dreams are more about us than what God intends…which is a much larger, much more expansive, and deeper wish dream or vision for us and for the church. Yet, we have to let go of our dreams and work on listening to God’s voice in others and in us and around us to sense what God’s dream for us will be.
Jesus is reminding us that God does give us grace and grace is found in the very being of God’s character. Also, God’s covenant loyalty is to us…all of us, in community with us.
Friends, we are in community. And community takes hard work to build. When we build it on love, when our loyalties are with God and understand deeply that God’s loyalty is to us, when we do the hard work of not only counting the cost, but carrying the cross of Jesus’ work on our behalf, of living into the lifestyle and the work of following Jesus, then we can begin to see and experience God’s vision for us, we can go on a journey with God that will lead to our growth, and to our collective growth as a church in our neighborhood placed in our city.
We are reminded of God’s calling to us to be that community that God calls in scripture the body of Christ. Jesus is not only calling us through the scriptures to follow him, to bid farewell to whatever is holding on to us or that we are holding on to that prevents us from following, but through Jesus being present with us now, in this space, and in all of time…this sacred moment is to remind of God’s work in our midst on our behalf.