Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost  /  September 9, 2007 / Resurrection Lutheran Church

Message text:  Luke 14: 25 -34, Jeremiah 18: 1 -11, Philemon 1: 7 -21

Message by: Pastor Carol Kniseley  /  Title:  Counting the Cost of Discipleship

For the past three months I have felt like the eternal visitor…never knowing where I was going to end up for worship.     If a church in the area was in the process of building (like we are)…then I was right there…picking up every brochure that I could  find and taking in every sight, sound and even an occasional doughnut.     I am glad to report that every church that I visited had a passion for reaching out to those in the community…outside of these four walls.   The preaching was real, relevant and right-on.   And the music…was without exception…the number one draw, although, the coffee hour was a real close second.    As good as all of that was to experience firsthand, I must say that I am glad to be home…and in a Lutheran church…where I know I belong.    

If I had known that all three of today’s lessons would be on the cost of discipleship…I would have considered extending my Sabbatical time by at least one more week!    Instead of hearing Jesus saying something “nice”…like “love one another as I have loved you”, we are forced to contend with Jesus saying something rather shocking to a large crowd of would-be followers that absolutely blows our minds.

“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.”  

Excuse me, Jesus, but why use such strong language?   Whereas Luke uses the word “hate”…Matthew chose to water down the same sentence by replacing hate with “love me more than”.    Either way, the cost was sure to be much higher than anyone in the crowd must have figured.    Hate parents?   Hate brothers and sisters?   Hate spouse and one’s children?     If that is what being a disciple of Jesus cost, then the cost is too high!   What, then, shall we do with the word “hate” here on the lips of Jesus himself?

First of all, when Jesus tells us to hate life and family, we know that that is not natural or easy for us to do, nor is it consistent with the witness of Scripture which calls us to love one another, to understand, to forgive, to care for others, and to provide for our family.  

In fact, I don’t believe the word hate here carries the emotional baggage that we often times give it.   Instead, Jesus is using it as a way of comparison.    It is a way of expressing our willingness to be detached or to turn away from something or someone.    That just may be the price, or the consequence, of following Jesus.

So, given that line of thinking…in comparison to our “love” for Jesus, do we “hate” everything else?   In other words, is there anything, or anyone for that matter, that stands in the way of our ultimate loyalty to Jesus?    If there is, then, Jesus says we have a problem.   

The cost of discipleship in not about an amount of money we pay for a position of privilege (i.e., being a “disciple”).       The cost of discipleship is about the “consequences we may experience” BECAUSE of our commitment to Jesus.  Let me give an example.   

Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was teaching at Union Theological Seminary here in the States when Hitler rose to power in Germany.   Knowing that his life would be in danger if he returned to his homeland, he chose to return anyway and stand with his brothers and sisters in the faith against the Nazi regime.   It wasn’t long before Bonhoeffer found himself imprisoned and being transferred to a number of concentration camps throughout Germany.   

It was then that he began to realize that his life would never be the same.    Because of his commitment to Christ, his parish had now become those within the prison walls.   Even the guards, who eventually would smuggle out his writings, would apologize for having to lock his cell at night.    It was from his cell that he wrote these words just days before his untimely death:

        “The cross is laid on every Christian.      The first Christ-suffering which every person must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world.     It is that dying of the old person which is the result of their encounter with Christ.   As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death; we give over our lives to death.    Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.   When Christ calls a person, he bids them…come and die.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged just days before his camp was liberated by the American troops.    He was all of 49 years of age.   

This business of following Jesus can be a very costly business indeed.   So what is it, exactly, that Jesus wants us to hear?    If Jesus were to show up here today…and say to us what he said to the crowd, how would we respond?    Would we be offended?   I sure hope so…because that would mean that he’s getting through.   That in order to accept what he has to offer…we’re going to have to do some rearranging of our priorities…maybe even of our relationships…but most certainly of our possessions.  

Why?  Because in order to carry the cross…we must first commit to being a disciple.   It all begins with placing one foot in front of the other and allowing Jesus to take the lead.       Amen