God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"Choose life," Moses says to the Israelites who are about to enter the promised land in our reading this morning from the Book of Deuteronomy. You will live and thrive in this new land if you follow the commandments of God. "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him." By loving God and our neighbors is how we live, truly live with abundance, in this life. If we turn away from God and worship false idols such as wealth, power, possessions, then we have, in effect, died - perhaps not literally, but we have died inside, spiritually and emotionally.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus tells us what it means to be a true disciple - to live as God would have us to live. It is hard for us to hear, but Jesus is telling it like it is. He wants his would be followers to know the cost of discipleship before they sign on. Breaking from the Jewish tradition to become a disciple of Jesus might split a family apart. Becoming a disciple of Jesus might cost you your life. Christians were being persecuted by the Romans when Luke's gospel was written. Christians were being killed for their faith. That's what Jesus wanted people to understand. He wanted people to know the cost before choosing to be a disciple.
But hating your relatives might seem to us to be going a bit too far. Jesus teaches us to love one another, not hate. But in this context, Jesus does not use the word "hate" as we understand it. Jesus is talking about priorities. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, God must be your first priority, before family and friends. In Jesus' time, you stated a preference by pairing two things and saying that you loved one and hated the other. It had nothing to do with emotions. It was a matter of priorities. When someone says they love the beach and hate the mountains, they mean that going to the beach is their first choice.
Jesus is talking about putting God first, and if family members get in the way of doing that, then you must alter your relationship with them. If you cannot do that, you are not ready to be a disciple. If you love your life more than you love God, you are not ready to be a disciple.
Luke then gives two examples of the importance of counting the cost before jumping in. If you intend to build a tower, you need to see how much it will cost and if you have the resources to cover it. Otherwise, you will have a useless half-built tower. A king must know how many men and resources he has for battle and how much the opposing king has before deciding to go into battle. Counting the cost first is necessary in these situations, as well as in making a decision to become a disciple of Jesus.
So what is Jesus trying to accomplish here? He is speaking to crowds of people who are following him. He knows that many of these people are interested only in what they can get FROM him - food, healing, excitement. "Look folks," he may have said, "being my follower is going to demand faithfulness, an uncompromising love of all people, a willingness to endure the scorn of others, and the courage to change; to face up to injustice and evil and do something about it. And that's just for starters." Chances are that weeded out the ones who were not really serious about this.
Are we really serious about being followers of Jesus? If we had been in the crowd that day and heard Jesus talk in such terms as turning away from your family, and possibly losing your life, what would we have done? Would we be some of those who quietly slip away from the crowd to return home? Or would we have stayed to listen to what else this radical preacher had to say about how we should live our lives? How much are we willing to commit to be followers of Jesus Christ?
In Luke's gospel, the family, as the main social structure, is redefined by this new faith. Jesus redefines family, not just as those with whom we share bloodlines, but as those who "hear the word of God and do it." Discipleship moves us beyond our comfortable family ties to start new relationships with others who are committed to Christ, and who then become our new family.
This is how we have become this parish family at St. John's. Our common commitment to Christ leads us to take care of each other, pray for each other, support each other, to be with each other in the ups and downs of life. As in any family, we agree on some things and disagree on others. We make mistakes, learn from them and move on, always keeping our focus on God. We have different personalities, different talents, different gifts, and that is good. That is what makes up this church family. And our church family includes those who have gone before us, those who have moved away and those who have died. The family of God is large and diverse and that is a good and powerful thing.
Many things that we do in our lives involve making a commitment of time, money and energy. We may choose to further our education, or learn a new skill. Parenting is another example. In order to be a good parent, great commitment, time and energy is required. Movements like the civil rights movement or the "Me-Too" movement requires commitment, time and energy.
We look at these examples of commitment and wonder why we so easily shy away from making a commitment of time, money and energy when it comes to the church and matters of faith. Why do we back away from taking on the cost of being a disciple?
The joy that comes from being a disciple of Jesus Christ is well worth the cost and commitment. Every part of our lives is touched by being a disciple. It is worth the cost, the commitment, the time, the money and the energy. It not only changes us now, but it leads to eternal life. The joy that comes from gathering with fellow disciples each Sunday and worshipping God together has no bounds. The joy that comes from knowing we are part of a parish family, a community of faith, can sustain us through the dry and tough times of our faith.
Moses told the Israelites to choose life. Choose to follow God. Choose to live in accordance with God's commandments. Jesus lays out the cost of being a disciple. He invites us to join him in spreading the gospel. What will our answer be? Will we pay the cost and make the commitment? That answer is up to each and every one of us. Amen.
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