Toorak Uniting Church

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How far are you prepared to go?

Luke 14: 25 – 33
Rev. Robert McUtchen
5 September 2010

Events in Jesus life have been leading to the point where he would confront and challenge those who seemed to be ready to follow him. The followers of Jesus, basking in his teaching, occupied a place where a nice experience was followed by a well intended declaration commitment to Jesus’ mission, though few comprehended what he really meant.

One cannot be really surprised then, when Jesus declares that participation in his mission is going to be profoundly costly in ways none who have participated in his three years of wandering Palestine could ever imagine. For us today, these words are just as challenging, confronting and perplexing.

He makes a number of statements which if examined independently first, may be easier to understand.

  1. Unless a follower hates his mother, father, sisters, brothers, wife and children, he has no part in Jesus’ mission. Jesus engages in classic rabbinical overstatement to make a point that this is about ordering your priorities. In Jesus society a man’s first commitment was to his family, starting with his mother and father. Blood ties were paramount – responsibility to the survival of his family, and blood lines, was critical, since associated with this was tenure of land, and land was life. Jesus does not advocate a literal "hate" of anyone, but all obligations are secondary to the call of God, in following him. And consider the corollary - if anyone commits to placing Jesus and God first, to the neglect of their family duties, they may surely attract the anger and hatred of their family.

  2. Whoever does not bear his own cross.....a symbol loaded with meanings. Again – a slight case of overstatement. Only the worst Criminals were executed on a cross. The penultimate disgrace before death was to carry the instrument of their death – the cross beam, through the town to the place of death. Jesus asks his hearers – are you prepared to go even to this end in following me?

  3. Jesus uses two examples to further stress the seriousness of a response to his call to ministry. More gentle than the previous statements, these are appeals not to emotion, but to reason. If you want to follow me, sit down first and assess the real cost. If you start and then fail to complete, how embarrassing. Or imagine you pick a fight with a neighbour, then as you approach battle send emissaries because you realise you are outgunned two to one!

    1. I suspect that many hearing these words today will be quietly wondering what the application of the gospel today means for them. Some have been in church all their lives, faithfully serving God through church life, possibly giving sacrificially, saying their prayers and trying to manifest Christ to others. What more can be expected of us they ask.

      One approach to this dilemma is examine the letter to Philemon. Paul and Philemon knew one another, as Philemon is addressed as Christian brother by Paul. The letter concerns a runaway slave Onesimus who came under Paul’s influence and became a Christian. He had been the slave of Philemon. Slaves were treated as property. Paul is not challenging the ethics of keeping slaves. A runaway slave could expect death or severe punishment if he was captured and returned. Paul, in the face of all customary practice, writes to Philemon appealing to him to receive back his runaway slave, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. This is a huge ask on several counts.

      Paul declines to command Philemon, although he says he could – instead he prefers to appeal to him, so that his goodness "might not be by compulsion, but of your own free will". The moral pressure on Philemon here is intense. Philemon, who Paul commends as a Christian, is asked, because he is a Christian, to set aside all that is his by right and to act in a manner that his friends at the bathhouse or the inn, will doubtless ridicule, and ask – Mate.. what were you thinking? Being a Christian can be costly, and can mean going against the flow of acceptable behaviour.

      It is this collision of faith and the world that confronts us all as we hear Jesus words. Ask yourself, in what ways does being a disciple of Jesus actually cost me? This is not meant to send anyone on a guilt trip – but rather to review their life against the measure, set by Jesus, of whether in all things, the service of God, and the things of God, have been placed ahead of all other things – family, money, property, social position, politics. If Paul was writing to you, what matters might he be challenging you to respond to with a different set of values to those custom and society require of us?

      The costliness of discipleship is a challenge in every generation. Bonhoeffer and others agonised as to whether they should act against Hitler in WW2, and they died for their actions. Bonhoeffer is regarded today as man of profound conviction. During the Vietnam war, on their understanding of the gospel, some clergy challenged the ethics of conscription to sustain the war effort, and others the allies involvement. Some were heavily criticised and lost members of their congregations as a result.

      We are continually faced with the challenge of living lives that reflect costly discipleship. The discipline of assessing each personal and corporate action against the criteria Jesus lays down. Do we put God first? Uneasy tension between adherence to the spirit of Jesus’ call to costly service, and the possibility we are acting upon personal opinion or bias. And– the tension between responding sacrificially in faith, or believing that if we "do" certain things then other blessings will follow, ie – justification by works.