Above family, career, desires and wants, even nation or church...God must be first in your heart, on your mind, and from your lips. All else is sacrifice.
In all seriousness, I have had many wonderful careers, a so many opportunities to grow from them. I remember my very first assignments when I was hired as a jr. copywriter. I was tasked to write a help wanted ad for our agency. Not the most glamorous of job, but I was happy to do it. I don’t exactly remember what I wrote. I’m sure it was something like: Experienced Account Director needed for a big global brand. Start immediately.
Not not being a fan of mediocrity, I added a little creative twist by writing a small disclaimer at the bottom: You will need to be resilient to the extraneous demands of a temperamental client. This will require working long hours, abandoning friendships, and having the entire creative department hate you if you don’t sell their work.
As you might imagine from a conservative advertising agency, they didn’t run the ad. But they did put me in charge of the company Christmas card that year. Thus my journey up the corporate ladder began.
Years later, I thought it would be funny to do something similar in an ad I created for Honda. Buried in the legal disclaimer I wrote “the 300 hp engine really cooks, in fact it could fry bacon.” I wasn’t trying to be funny, I was just curious if anyone actually reads the fine print. Turns out the guy whose name was printed on my business card did. After that, my corporate climbing days began to wane.
Jesus is offering us a job. However, most of us, including ministers, skim over the fine print. So In today’s reading, Jesus takes the time to tell us what it says. Read Luke 14:25-33 here.
In the 2008 movie Sunshine Cleaning, Amy Adams plays a woman whose job it is to clean up the scenes where people have died, including suicides and murders. By the way, this is a real profession. Crime scene cleaners (also known as bioremediation specialists and forensic cleaners) come in after the police leave to clean and sanitize the area. As disgusting as that job is, most of us would choose it over the one Jesus offers.
Imagine if Jesus posted a help wanted ad. It would probably say, “Meaningful work, travel and meet great people, benefits for life.” Sounds pretty good, right? Then you notice the asterisk connected to some smaller words at the bottom that reads “Job requires you follow a guy who wants you to hate everyone you love, abandon all that you‘ve acquire, and be open to ridicule, torture, imprisonment, and possible crucifixion.” Ready to send in your resume?
The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the cost of discipleship. And we’ve learned it’s not cheap. Believe it or not, the word ‘cost’ is only found once in the New Testament. Here in Luke. So Jesus spends a lot of time throughout the gospels defining it for us.
We already know that cost is the payment we willingly make to acquire, accomplish, or produce something. It involves some measure of sacrifice and effort if we want to achieve our goal. Thus, Jesus told his followers that they must count the cost of what he’s asking before they come. “Following Jesus is not a whimsical response to a moment of inspiration or feeling,” Danae Ashley writes, “but a deliberate, life-changing decision, like planning for war or taking a new job.”
So Jesus said count the cost before you commit. If you’re going to follow him, then come with your eyes, heart, and mind wide open. Discipleship is a way of life, not a fad or a diet that we abandon whenever we want. It’s a calculated and conscious call to become like Christ with every fiber of our being – even if it means pushing away everything we love to embrace.
But does Jesus really want me to hate my wife and kids? Or sell sell everything I own, and become another burden to society, just to follow him?Are we to read these words as literal instructions? Or is this some more of his hyperbole to wake us up to the seriousness of our mission? Maybe it’s a little of both.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from stating God is number one. That before God there was nothing. The first commandment is there is no other god but YHWH. Anything other than YHWH has the potential to take our focus off doing what God wants us to do. Like Jesus, we have to make God and God’s will our first priority, no matter the cost. If something or someone is stopping you from this, then what good are those things in life?
A phone can play all sorts of games, take pictures and create music. It even tracks your location and counts your steps along the way. But if you can’t call your mother on her birthday, then it’s not really a phone is it?
If we can’t make doing God’s will our first priority, then what does that say about who we are, or about our faith? Paul said, “it is by faith that we are saved,” so then why risk salvation by taking our faith so lightly? Likewise, if we want our Christianity to mean anything, then we need to take inventory and make following Jesus a priority.
When Kathleen and I got married, I was still sneaking funny things into my ads and making a salary that afforded us a home, a family, and the comforts of life. Before I entered ministry, I took our finances into consideration. I calculated what going back to school would do to our retirement, my social security, as well as our savings and investments.
I failed, however, to truly calculate the cost it would have on Kathleen, or on the faith of our kids, or the disruption to our social life when we had to pack up and move to follow Jesus.
I’ve learned, as Melissa Early pointed out, “You can’t mitigate the cost of discipleship with budget spreadsheets and good project management. It’s about sacrifice—not just of comfort and companionship but of one’s rootedness in a community, one’s present circumstances, and one’s future.”
To make God number one in my life meant making those I love with every fiber of my being second-class citizens. And it still doesn’t seem fair. I can’t really explain it beyond this, but I know God is faithful to me, and so I ought to be faithful to God.
Jesus is calling you to follow him. To do what he does so that others can see God’s glory and do God’s will. He’s asking a lot, but he also gives you more than you could ever imagine. We can’t come on this cross-carrying journey half-heartedly, because God doesn’t come half-heartedly. We got to be all in, just as God is. We have to come ready to give up our life, and all that we hold dear, because that’s what God did for us through Christ.
I don’t know how many people went home after hearing Jesus say these words, but I know the twelve remained. They may not have been perfect, but they were willing to sacrifice the cost. Are we?
Last week I read this passage to a group of seniors that I minister to at an assisted living home. One women rightfully asked, “Can I not follow Jesus if I am unable to do what he’s asking here?”
My answer was unequivocally, “Yes!” No one jumps into the deep end of the pool and begins swimming. First you learn about water, then how not to drown. Eventually, you learn some strokes and before you know you’re moving through the water like it’s second nature.
C.S. Lewis said the whole purpose of becoming a Christian is to become a little Christ. To achieve what he is suggesting will take instruction, practice, patience and time. Perhaps more than we are willing to give. But to his point, when we see what Jesus does and practice doing it daily like he did, then our love, forgiveness, hospitality, kindness and sharing of ourselves and our resources becomes as natural as breathing.
Discipleship is a journey which begins with taking that first small step…and doing it over and over again until it becomes a more confident stride. But for it to be truly meaningful, to get a big return on our investment, each step must lead us to a closer, more intimate relationship with God. We do this by following the way of Christ, who put his own agenda second to God’s.
“We may respond immediately to Jesus’ call but it will take a lifetime for us to see how that decision plays out, but if we don’t read the fine print, we may fall away from the path” (Ashley). So I ask, what are those things in life that are pulling you away from God and doing God’s will?
Above family, career, desires and wants, even nation or church...God must be first in your heart, on your mind, and from your lips. All else is sacrifice. Or as John the Baptizer put it, “I must decrease so Christ can increase” (John 3:30). This is the great cost we must be willing to pay for our faith. Greater still is the reward we receive.
Earlier in Luke, Jesus said you are blessed when people laugh at you and hate and even kill you because you chose to put God’s way above theirs. Instead of getting down, leap up with gladness and joy, for your reward is great in heaven (Luke 6:22-23). Jesus never promised an easy life—just one filled with wild variables, defining challenges and unforeseen rewards.
Through Jesus, God beckons out to us, pointing our eyes and hearts towards the fine print and showing us how to respond with our lives so that we might experience something more than we can ask for or imagine.The only guarantee is that it will be a tough job, with long hours and great risks. But the benefits you receive will last long after your work is done.
Let us pray:
Merciful and loving God, you have opened our hearts with your love, and opened our minds with your words. Open now to us the endless possibilities to make your will come alive in us in all that we do for your glory, Amen.
Ashley, Danae M. Fine Print. episcopalchurch.org (attained on September 4, 2019)
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C. Vol. 4. (Westminster John Knox: 2010) pp. 44-49.
Early, Melissa. Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century, Vol. 136, No. 18. August 28, 2019, p.18.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. (Macmillan Publishing: 1978) p. 153.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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