Sermon for Pentecost + 16, 23rd Ordinary C September 8, 2013, on Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “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. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Being able to say, “It was worth it all!”
I have heard winning olympic athletes talk about how difficult their years of training and self-denial were, but then looking at their medal say, “but it was worth it all.”
I have heard women discussing a difficult pregnancy and delivery but then looking at their beautiful baby say “but it was worth it all.”
I know musicians who are willing to deny themselves, spending countless hours in practice, but who, after a successful performance, will say “it was worth it all.”
Yes and No
We all have an awareness that there is often a price, even a high price, to be paid in order to achieve something important. Often the price involves saying “no” to the easier path, “no” to the broad way that the majority are taking, in order to say “yes” to the narrow path, the road less traveled, that makes all the difference.
Jesus was not shy about the “no” his path required people to say. Saying “yes” to the Jesus way, he knew, would mean saying “no” to other ways.
This is to be expected. Although you may not hear it in modern weddings anymore, since it is common for couples these days to make up their own vows, the traditional vow was not shy about the “no” that was being said along with the “yes” of the “I do.”
The minister would address each in turn asking “Will you love, honor, comfort, and cherish him/her from this day forward, and forsaking all others, keeping only unto him/her for as long as you both shall live?” The “I do” included the promise to forsake all others as much as the promise to love, honor and cherish.
This is the “I do” that Jesus was asking for; it included “forsaking all others.” He believed it was would be worth it all.
The Unlikely Dream
Why? Jesus had a dream; he called it the Kingdom of God. It changed how he looked at everything. For example, Jesus was able to look around at his rag-tag band of hill-country Galilean followers, out on the back water of the Roman empire, most of them living at the margins, without electricity, running water, or even a decent education, and still dream God’s creation dream for them; the Kingdom dream.
Jesus was able to look at people like Simon, with all his impulsiveness and limited understanding, and call him Peter, the rock. That’s called dreaming God’s dream for Peter. That Rock would eventually be the rock God’s Church was built upon, as unlikely as that looked at the start.
Jesus was able to look at all of his disciples and see them as the people who would accept the invitation to sit at God’s banquet in the Kingdom of God, welcomed, and welcoming each other as equals, loved by God and by each other, forgiven, healed, restored, a brand new kind of family, feasting together as the prophets had foretold. Jesus could dream God’s dream for them.
But that was an unlikely dream. It still is. The fulfillment of the dream of the kingdom of God comes after the struggle, after the pain, after the many “no’s” and the forsaking’s of all others. There is always a cross involved.
But it is worth it! The kingdom Jesus dreamed of is so much bigger and brighter, so much more satisfying, even delightful, than any other possible alternative, it is worth any price.
The Old Dream and how it Died
Jesus’s kingdom dream is, admittedly, unlikely. It is not the common dream.
We are fifty years from the dogs and water cannons, the beatings and bombings of the civil rights movement. Many people suffered. Some gave their lives. It divided families. It split churches. But now, the dream of a community of people “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal” is so much closer to being realized, the victims of those brutal days say, “it was worth it.”
In history class we learned about the waves of immigrants that came to our country from Central and Eastern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There was a predictable pattern that they experienced: early years of discrimination, even persecution, and then eventual integration into American culture.
It is almost inconceivable to imagine now, but anti-Italian sentiment was so high in 1891 that 11 men were yanked from their cells and lynched just down the road in New Orleans.
In 1844, anti-Irish and therefore anti-Catholic feelings in Philadelphia culminated in a riot which left 15 people dead.
The same story has been repeated as wave after wave of immigrants came to this country, Poles, Czechs, Chinese, Japanese. First they were despised, feared, hated, and discriminated against. Then later, like now, we look back and don’t even remember the bad old days. They seem absurd. How could we have been so ignorant? So small minded?
Here is what I want to say: how could we have had a vision, a dream for our country that was so narrow, dark, and small? How could we not get it that these people would enrich us; would build us into what we are now?
What kind of dream did they have back then, of America without Italians, or Irish, or Poles, and all the others? Wouldn’t we all like to go back to their era in a time machine and say things like: “Hey guys! Your dream of a Western-European-descendants-only America is myopic. Get over it.” “Hey people! Your dream of a Protestant-only America is impoverished. It will not save you.” “Hey you all, your dream of a world in which everybody is the same is a pathetic, sad, self-defeating dream. Grow up!”
This is exactly what Jesus was facing in his day. We could rephrase his words something like this:
“Hey people: your dream of an ethnically pure state for religiously pure people is doomed. It’s going to get a lot of people killed. And it will fail anyway. Give it up. Even if your family disagrees. Even if it means risking everything on a wider vision, a better dream.”
The Cost of the Dream
Consider the cost of what you are doing, Jesus warned. He gave two illustrations. First the one about building a tower. You better know what it will cost before you start. It sounds like banal advice until you ask this question: in those days, who built towers? People like King Herod, master of the biggest building project of a generation.
Herod built ego-towers for himself as he rebuilt the temple and his palace. But had he considered the cost? Did he not know how upset the marginalized, impoverished population was about it? He built towers, but they didn’t last very long. He had not calculated the cost correctly
The second illustration is about considering the cost of war. Again, common sense, until you ask, “Who was considering going to war? This one was aimed at the revolutionary Jewish zealots. Jesus was asking them, “Do you have any idea what it means to go up against Rome? Are you kidding? Have you considered the cost of your revolutionary pretensions?” They had not. Rome crushed them mercilessly. It didn’t have to happen.
The Good Dream
Jesus had an entirely alternative vision. It was big, beautiful, open and sustaining. Full disclosure: I am in love with Jesus’ vision of the kingdom. I am completely taken by a dream as big as Jesus’ dream for humanity. I have bitten the hook of God’s creation dream for the world God made and that God loves.
I am a total sucker for the vision of the lion and lamb lying down together without the threat of violence between them. I am totally seduced by the image of a lavish banquet table around which are seated all the poor and powerless of all the nations of all times and places, laughing together, singing together, drinking well-aged wines together (as the prophet Isaiah pictured it). God’s creation dream, Jesus’ kingdom dream has captured my imagination, and I cannot let go.
This dream is huge, because this dream is, in essence, simply good. I would be willing to die for this dream.
But here is where it gets difficult. It’s easy to say “I would die for that dream” because statements like that are grandiose. They make me feel heroic.
How much harder it is to say, “I would be willing to shut up and listen to others, for that dream.”
How much more challenging it is to say, “I would be willing to re-consider my long-held prejudices, opinions and conclusions for the sake of that dream.”
How unlikely and nearly impossible would it be to say, “I would be willing to re-examine my emotional reactions,
- my disgust-response to things that are unfamiliar and different;
- my natural resistance to new ideas, for the sake of that dream.”
This is where Jesus comes and 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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”
Because “cannot be my disciple” means, “does not share my dream.”
It’s not a “should” statement.
It’s an “is” statement.
Jesus is inviting us to reject small, dark, ultimately unhelpful and sad versions of life in favor of his good dream of the kingdom of God, the culmination of God’s creation dream for humanity.
The fact that some people still want the small, diseased dream means that there will be opposition; there will be struggle; there will be many “no’s” that must be said. There will be things to forsake.
“No” must be said
- to injustice, even when it is codified in civil codes,
- to discrimination, even if everyone is complicit
- to greed, even if it’s the engine of our economy
- to apathy,
- to xenophobia,
- to homophobia,
- to materialism
- and to our fixation on violence.
“No” must be said
- to ego,
- to self-righteousness,
- to judgmentalism,
- to the silly notion that I must be right and I must win.
This is so that “Yes” can be said
- to Love,
- to justice,
- to true freedom,
- to solidarity,
- to community,
- and to God’s good dream of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
This is Jesus’ stark invitation. It is not all rainbows and unicorns.
It is as serious as terrorism and lynch mobs.
As serious as good reputations and social approval.
As serious as our ultimate purpose for being here.
And as hopeful as the life we were created for; life in the Kingdom of God.
Friends, believe the good news: the Kingdom of God is at hand; and it is worth it!