Monday, September 5, 2016

The Cost

Luke 14:25-33
September 4, 2016

            Having a realtor for a significant other has taught me a great deal about real estate. I can talk fairly intelligently about things such as comps, appraisals, and listings, but I’ve also learned about the code of ethics that realtors must follow. One tenet of that code is about the advertising of a property. Whatever is advertised about a property must be true. If a listing says four bedrooms, there better be four bedrooms. But Brent told me that while there is no room for false advertising in real estate, agents are allowed to use what is known as “puffing.”
            Puffing is essentially using adjectives in exceptionally creative manners. If you read that a house is cozy, that probably means that it is tiny. If a house is described as quaint, most likely it’s old. I think charming could be used for both tiny and old as well. If a house is a fixer-up or it is listed as needing TLC, you know that a) it needs a lot of work; and b) you might want to hope there isn’t too strong of a wind on the day you view it.
            These statements are not lies. They are not false advertising. They are puffed. They are adjectives designed to put a good spin on whatever a property has to offer. Although I’d never heard the term, “puffing,” before, I think versions of it are used in other businesses besides real estate. When you are trying to make something sound appealing, you phrase the facts in ways that actually appeal; you puff.
            Some of you have commented on the information cards about the church that Alice and I created. We originally made these to give out to the OBU students at Spotlight on Shawnee, but they are generic enough that we can hand them to anyone who might be looking for a church home. The reason I bring these cards up is because I think that Alice and I did our own version of puffing when we made them. Everything on the card is true. There were no false claims made. But as we talked through what should go on the card, we tried to phrase the information so that it would sound true and appealing – to college students and beyond. We didn’t just write, “We have nice sermons and sweet worship each week.” We wrote that we have “challenging, scriptural preaching and eclectic worship.” You get the idea. It’s not that our facts are untrue, it is that we wanted to list them in a way that would grab someone’s attention: puffing.
            Jesus did not care about puffing. His description of the cost of discipleship would not have made a good ad, and no one would put it on an information card. Jesus did not try to soften or gentle his words. He spoke the blunt, hard truth about the cost of following him.
            “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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
            That’s not puffing. That’s anti-puffing. Discipleship will not be a time of thoughtful engagement with Jesus, or a challenging opportunity for physical, emotional and spiritual growth. No, discipleship comes with a cost, and the cost will be family. The cost will be friends. The cost will be home and hearth. The cost will even be life itself. If you want to be my disciple, you better count the cost.
            Jesus gave two examples to illustrate how important it was for a potential follower to count the cost. Someone planning on building a tower would sit down and figure out the cost of construction first. If they weren’t to do that, then they would lay the foundation, but run out of money before they could complete it, leaving them vulnerable to derision and scorn from others.
            Or what about a king who plans to wage war on another kingdom? A king with any sense would first calculate the cost of war, and assess the ability of his army of 10,000 to take on an enemy army of 20,000. If his army of 10,000 had no chance of winning against an army twice that size, then the king would send a delegation asking the other king for peace.
            If you wouldn’t build a tower or start a war without counting the cost, Jesus said to the would-be followers, then why would you not count it before following me? Just to make this anti-puffing picture complete, Jesus ends with the words,
            “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
            Let’s see here, if we want to follow Jesus; if we want to become his disciple, we have to hate all of the people that we love. We have to carry this cross. And, we have to give up all of our possessions. 
            Nothing on this list of requirements sounds good. But what bothers me when I read this passage, and others like it, is the hating of the ones I love most. Some commentators explain this as hyperbolic language on Jesus’ part. That is a plausible explanation. However preacher and teacher, Fred Craddock, wrote that a Semitic understanding of Jesus’ cautionary words would not have seen hatred as loathing or despising someone. To hate someone was to detach from that person. It was not a feeling of disgust. It was a detachment, emotionally and physically. If you want to follow Jesus, you’re going to have to detach yourself even from the people you love most in this world. Jesus wanted those potential followers to understand that discipleship was not a part-time commitment. It was not something they could in their spare time. It would require everything: everything they had to give emotionally and physically. Hence, Jesus’ final admonition; if you want to follow me, you’re going to have give up all of your possessions. Material goods make a claim on us just as people do. You have to let all of that go in order to follow him. Anything that stakes a claim on you, other than Jesus, other than a driving, compelling call to follow, has to be let go, given away, released.
            However, what about that other requirement; the one in the middle of Jesus’ words about discipleship – the one about carrying the cross? Jesus spoke words like this before. He had already told potential followers that there would be a cost involved with discipleship. He spoke plainly to the disciples about the Messiah suffering and dying, He even told them that they would also have to pick up their own crosses and follow him. But the crowds around him were getting bigger. Perhaps this message needed to be repeated. Yet, I’m not sure that anyone could fully grasp the implication of Jesus’ words. It is redundant to say that the disciples didn’t. We know that already. We know a lot of things already. We know what it meant for Jesus to set his face toward Jerusalem. That is the context of this passage. He was going to Jerusalem; not only to pick up his cross but to die on it as well.
            But those around him did not know the final outcome. They did not know what would really take place in Jerusalem. Even the disciples, though they tried to understand, were baffled at the idea of a messiah suffering and dying. Death on a cross was a common Roman execution, so that would not have been unfamiliar to them. Yet the idea that Jesus, their Jesus, could die in such a way was probably too much for them to bear.
           But we who know the rest of the story know what comes next. We know exactly what it means to pick up the cross. Or do we? If I ask the question, “What does it mean for you to pick up your cross", what is your answer? Is it a way that we imitate Jesus? Is it about trying to follow in his footsteps? Is it about what will come in the life after this one? Would your answer be one based on resurrection, death defeated, salvation?
            It’s not that any of those answers are incorrect. Yet, maybe we need to stop thinking about the future and figure out what it means for us to pick up our crosses today. I mean right now, this minute. What does it mean for you to pick up your cross? Do you think of your cross as a burden? Or are the burdens of your life keeping you from picking up your cross?  What must we let go so we can carry that cross with both hands, and follow Jesus with open hearts and open minds?
            I know that one burden I have to let go is fear: fear that I’m not good enough, strong enough, able enough, etc. I want to pick up my cross and follow Jesus, but how afraid I am that I can’t do what he asks. That’s my answer to the question today. Tomorrow my answer might be different. It seems to me that this might be the crux Jesus’ question and our answer. Jesus not only told the crowds that discipleship required counting the cost, Jesus was telling them to choose. You have to choose in order to follow me. You have to make a choice to be my disciple. I’ve realized that this choice is not a one-time decision. Choosing is a daily, mindful, intentional task. Everyday, I have to choose. I have to choose to pick up my cross. I have to discern what must be released so I can make the choice in the first place. I have to choose. We have to choose. We have to count the cost, true, but we have to choose in order for that cost to be counted. We have to choose discipleship. We have to choose the cross. We have to choose to follow him.
            The good news, and one that I am reminded of as we gather around this table, is that the choice is ever before us. However we may falter and fall away today, the choice will be there tomorrow, and the even more wonderful good news is that when we choose to pick up our cross, we also choose abundant life and abundant love. And no matter how reluctant we may be to let go of all of the stuff that claims us, God refuses to let go of us.
            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!”


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