The Disciple's Calculator

Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be so popular that crowds and groupies follow you wherever you go? I can visualize the audiences of the most famous singers and bands, arms stretched out just longing to touch or be touched, throwing pieces of clothing, eyes crying, voices shouting, signs waving. Each person hoping to become more than just a nameless face, hoping to be recognized as an individual. Most stars work the crowds so that they scream for more and raise the noise to a feverish pitch. 

Have you watched political conventions? Thousands of people wearing hats and other political apparel, waving, shouting, cheering, blowing noise makers. And the men who hope to become our chief executive are working the crowds to get the vote. It's such a disgusting display of human nature - the herd syndrome.

When the fate of our nation is at stake and our part in world negotiations stands as precariously as it does, the masses join bigger crowds and get caught up in all the hype instead of going beyond what the media feeds us. What about just as feverishly hitting the books, learning about the economy, world culture, and international relations. Human tendency make it apparent that it is easier to add one's voice to the joyous shout and then throw insults and abandon the leader when something goes wrong than to accept one's role of responsibility.

Now before you start throwing eggs at me because you love getting caught up in the enthusiasm of concerts and conventions, look at Jesus. The gospel of Luke frequently mentions these crowds that follow Jesus. If you go through the book and circle that word and then go back and read the texts that go with it, you will see the trend.

Most of the people probably joined because a neighbor happened to say, "Hey, this guy's got a great sermon, you ought to come out and hear him. He's a dynamic preacher." Or maybe someone who had been sick, heard he could get a miracle cure and went out to be healed. The voices were those of praise, amazement, and fear. This man is almost too good to be true. People waited for him around every corner. They praised God for this wonderful gift of a man who could do great things for them. The charisma Jesus had must have been amazingly contagious because by chapter twelve, Luke tells us the crowds gathered by the thousands -so many - that they trampled on one another. And then in chapter thirteen, when Jesus' opponents were put to shame by Jesus' clever responses the crowds ate it up - they rejoiced at all the wonderful things he was doing.

There Jesus was at the height of his popularity! If he had played the crowds like our usual presidential hopefuls, Jesus could have presented a serious bid for political and religious upheaval of the human kind. But instead he turned to them and placed responsibility back on their own shoulders.

Jesus knew where he was headed. His face was turned toward Jerusalem and the fate that awaited him there. He knew that to obey the Father was going to mean sacrificing everything. And, sadly, he knew the fate that awaited the twelve that had walked with him daily for three years.

So he turned to the people who had been traveling with him and "told it like it is." Now when we read this passage, it is difficult to think that hating our family members is a requirement of discipleship unless, of course, there's good cause like abuse. And, it goes against all the sermons we have heard Jesus speak of loving neighbor and enemy alike. That's why a careful reading of this passage is essential. We must keep in mind the coming trials that will await Christians in the years after his death. Jesus is talking about prioritizing - about choosing ahead of time the decisions that will - by necessity - and without a doubt - have to be made. He is almost telling them to grieve now the losses that will surely come while you have the time and the ability because in the future you will have to act firmly and decisively and grieving will hinder your effectiveness as a witness.

The passage says, "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." The word "cannot" often is interpreted that we are being prevented from being disciples if we can't do the required task. But it has more to do with the depth of our character and strength of our will. How intense is our decision? For, if we cannot envision the day when we would or could step out of the loving relationships we have had to take a stand, then we are simply not able - not capable - to be Jesus' disciple.

Jesus is laying it on the line and giving the crowd a chance to evaporate away quietly and peacefully. Several chapters before this one, we read of individual people approaching Jesus and asking to be a follower. And he said, Sure, but do you realize, I don't even have a pillow to place under my head at night? Another wanted to go bury his Dad, but Jesus said someone else can do it for you, I need you to go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Another wanted to go say goodbye. But Jesus said, "Son, if you feel the need to look back at the things you've left behind, then don't even start on this journey."

Jesus makes it clear that you have choices. You can weigh it all out ahead of time. Because to be a disciple of Jesus could be costly. The day could come when you will lose everything by choice or by force. And could you do it without hesitation? Or would you be the first to say, "Hey, what kind of God allows this to happen? God should have intervened and prevented this." Jesus clearly says that to be able to be his disciple you must be able to renounce it all.

How many of us have unfinished tasks or projects lying around the house, the garage, or the work place? I know I do. As a hobby seamstress, I have tons of fabric, patterns, and already cut out items that have been waiting - some of them for years - but my priorities dictate that my energies need to be spent elsewhere.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is a life long project that does not end when we say, "I believe." That is only the beginning. Jesus talks about the tower builder who estimates carefully the expenses involved in his project so that he can finish it. Jesus uttered those very words from the cross at the moment of his death, "It is finished." Jesus understood that his entire life was a task to be completed. He knew that it would cost him everything to demonstrate to the world God's love for all humankind. And, so did his disciples. All but one was martyred for proclaiming the kingdom. But on Pentecost they counted the cost and moved forward undaunted.

What unfinished work is in your life and the life of this congregation? How many of us have had to give up so much to maintain our beliefs and our principles? How much more is there to do? Who has made promises and then backed out because of the expense in money, time, or personal sanity? At what point do you compromise your faith? Only you have the answers to those questions. But be sure to listen when you sing the hymns or pray such things as "use me Lord." You can be guaranteed, God will use you and in a way that may cost us everything. But the good news is this: The more we are used, the more valuable we become and the closer we are to realizing the incredible purpose and fullness of life to which we are called.


Read other sermons by Pastor Joan