Toorak Uniting Church

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Considering the Cost

Luke 14: 25 – 34     Psalm 139
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
5 September 2004, 10.15am

Looking at the readings this morning this could easily turn into a "what we really should be doing" sermon.

I could easily take the opportunity to talk to you about commitment and the cost of being a Christian and true and the obligation to come to Church more often, and give up at least 10% of your income, if not to the Church then certainly to some other good cause. And still make you feel that doing that would only be very meagre compared to the "giving up everything" that Jesus is talking about in Luke.

I don’t think it would make a lot of difference if I did.

Perhaps that is underestimating my persuasiveness, but I really do think the way I have come to know you, that this congregation is filled with reasonable people that give what they can but won’t start changing their giving pattern in any drastic way on a whim. Lecturing could even turn you off completely and diminish your desire to be involved with this community!

We all know that we could be far better Christians than we are, even if we are going to Church every Sunday, even if we give as much as we possibly can spare to the Church or other good causes.
If only because we have been told so many times that we should never feel self righteous and proud that we probably wouldn’t dare feel any different!

Then again: there are scholars who say that this text in Luke is not at all what it seems to be. It is an example of Semitic exaggeration they say. Jesus doesn’t really mean to say that you have to start hating your parents when you want to follow him, nor that we have to suffer and carry a cross in his footsteps. It is all because he spoke Aramaic, a language that hasn’t got the same nuances as our languages and therefore comes across a lot more extreme than it is actually meant.
These scholars maintain that what Jesus wants to say is this: When you want to follow me there may be circumstances where you perhaps have to turn your back on those who are dearest to you. There may be circumstances where you will have to make a choice that will really hurt and that will have you suffer.

In our situations, as we are here today, fortunately most of us can feel comfortable enough that we probably never will have to make such a choice. The emperor Nero is not going to put us to the test by giving us a choice between Emperor Worship or the Lions as he did at the time when Luke was writing, we don’t live in a country where persecution is something that is very likely to happen to us. There might be people who will think we are bit silly being Christians, but it doesn’t go a lot further than that. Ridiculing, as awful as it may feel, is about as close as we get to being thrown to the lions.

So: What does this text have to say to us, Christians of the 21st century living in a free country? Free to profess their faith, not under any direct threat of oppression and persecution? People well aware of their responsibilities towards their faith community as well as the world around them, and generously giving from what they themselves have received after careful consideration (like the builder of the tower in the parable Jesus tells) just how far their giving can stretch and not stingy in their support of good causes and their own community.

Being a real disciple, says Jesus at the end of today’s passage from Luke, but not give up everything you’ve got is as impossible as salt that loses its strength. It can’t be done. Discipleship without absolute commitment is a contradiction in terms. It is impossible.

A Semitic exaggeration?
Or are we salt that has lost its taste long ago?

We don’t really like total commitment in our society and culture. It calls up images of Chechen rebels and El Qaeda suicide bombers. It reeks of over zealousness and upsetting the proper order of things. It may remind us of that man who because he thought he had a message pushed that marathon guy from the road and made him lose the gold medal. Surely Jesus can’t be asking us to go in that direction? Hating one’s parents, taking on suffering for the sake of one’s religion, giving up everything?

Well, maybe he is and maybe he isn’t.

I think we need to consider the context in which Jesus is speaking here for a moment.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. His parents, his brothers and sisters think he’s lost his mind and needs therapy. But he isn’t listening to them. He will bear a cross, he will in fact die on it. And he will give up everything, even his life. Nice invitations from influential Pharisees don’t keep him from telling them the truth as he sees it, offers from the authorities to let him go if he shuts up and mends his ways aren’t able to bring him off course either. He won’t lose any of his saltiness, his bite as it were, until the very end. Obedient to God alone and giving everything for that.

He will stick to love and justice, to peace and righteousness, to sharing with others and opening his arms to outcasts, he will not let go of God as the one whose great mercy is for everybody and takes away any boundaries and any limitations that may be hurtful or diminishing. And he will die because he will refuse to compromise on that in any way.

That is what life under the cross is and that is what we are called to if we want to follow Jesus. Something far more daunting and awesome then going to Church or giving money. We are called to imitate his living!

What that means, what that "cost" will be, different for each one and everyone of us. It’s something between us and God, He only knows. As psalm 139 puts it so beautifully: God knows us deeper and further than anybody ever can. Knows us even better than we know ourselves perhaps. He knows what we pay, and he knows what we can afford, he knows what our limitations are and why. He’ll ask no more of us than we are able to give, but at the same time: he’ll ask and challenge us to give just that little bit more and go that little bit further than we perhaps feel we can. For his son’s sake who gave everything, for the Kingdom’s sake and the new life that needs to start happening here and now, for the sake of a world crying out for people that dare to live a life of love, that dare to share, dare to go just that extra mile to help

Not only money, not only going to church, but to live the life of Christ is what we are called to do.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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