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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Count The Cost

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14:25-33

We have a cottage up on Lake Superior, which we bought from Carol’s father after her mother died. Her mother had been a shuffleboard player in Florida, so they had a cement court poured and painted, and it was very nice. But as time went by, the paint got worn off, and it got difficult to see the lines and numbers. And the discs didn’t slide easily on the bare cement either. So there came a day when it was time to paint the shuffleboard court. It didn’t look like too bad a job. It isn’t that big!

So, I got paint and brushes and rollers and tape and stencils to do the job. But first I had to power wash the whole thing because over the winter and spring mold and moss and stuff grew on it, especially on the cement that no longer had any paint on it. The paint can read “covers with one coat” but that’s a bunch of baloney! Two and sometimes three were needed! Taping over the lines for scoring and then taping to paint the lines wasn’t as quick as you might think. And it was hard on my knees, too. It was slow painting through stencils, and when I just finished a sudden thunderstorm arrived and washed all the numbers off and left white smears that had to be painted over!

Well, what looked like a two-day job took most of a week – and the cost of paint was double what I’d figured on! And my knees and my back weren’t the same, either!

Next time that thing needs painting I’ll know what I’m getting into before I start!

I imagine a lot of us have been burned sometime in our lives because we didn’t ask the cost before we made a commitment. “I’m supposed to do what?” “I enlisted for how long?” “I didn’t read the fine print!”

Jesus knew that people make that kind of mistake sometimes. They get caught up in a project or an organization without really thinking of where their involvement is leading. Jesus knew that people sometimes leap before they look. Such people aren’t likely to stay with the program very long. Their commitment will always be shallow and half-hearted. And Jesus decided it was time to begin separating the “wheat from the chaff.”

There was a large crowd following Him, as usual. But a lot of people were following Him merely out of curiosity or because they had nothing better to do. That kind of crowd didn’t interest Jesus. He didn’t want spectators. He didn’t want gawkers. He wanted people who were willing to put their life on the line. So, He decided to put them to the test. “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Wow! These are strong words! What does He mean, “hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – and even your life?

And then He goes on: “Anyone who doesn’t carry His cross and follow me can’t be my disciple!” What does He mean, “Carry a cross?” The crowd must have been baffled. What kind of talk was that?

Then, while the crowd was trying to digest what He’d said so far, Jesus added, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Aren’t you first going to figure out the cost to see if you’ve got enough money to finish it? If you build the foundation and can’t finish the project, everyone’s going to laugh at you!”

Of course, Jesus wasn’t talking literally about hating family, carrying crosses, and building towers. He was talking about commitment. He knew that some of the people who were following Him had no idea what they were getting into. They were caught up in His works of healing. They were fascinated by the stories He told. They were swept up by the emotion of the crowd. They liked hearing Him tweak the Pharisees from time to time. But they didn’t know what following Him would mean one day. The words, “Hate your father and mother” are disturbing, but Jesus knew that there would come a time when people would be disowned by their families because they followed Him. People would lose their property because they followed Him. To follow Jesus was no small decision. It was no Sunday morning diversion. No harmless hobby or social event. Following Jesus would cost people everything they had! And Jesus wanted His listeners to think through the possible consequences before they made a commitment.

A few chapters earlier in his Gospel account, Luke records Jesus’ call to self-denial in a plain invitation: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus had just, for the first time, clearly predicted His suffering and death. It “must” happen to Him, He said. And then He gave a “must” for His followers as well. He must go to the cross; they must take up their cross and follow Him. And, they must do it daily! Today’s Gospel lesson gives the negative counterpart: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

We might say that every Christian is both a Simon of Cyrene and a Barabbas. Like Barabbas, we escape the cross because Jesus died in our place. Like Simon of Cyrene, we carry the cross because Jesus calls us to take it up and follow Him.

The Romans had made crucifixion a common sight in all of their colonized provinces, and Palestine was no exception. Every rebel condemned to crucifixion was made to carry his cross, or at least the cross beam, to the place of his execution. So, John wrote of Jesus that “Carrying His own cross, He went out to the Place of the Skull.” (John 19:17) So, to take up our cross and follow Jesus is to put ourselves in the position of a condemned man on his way to execution. Because if we’re following Jesus with a cross on our shoulder, there’s only one place we’re going: the place of crucifixion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (Cost of Discipleship)

So, our cross is not an irritable husband or a cantankerous wife. Nor is it an illness, a wayward child, nor financial difficulty. It’s self-denial that Jesus is describing. And to deny ourselves is to behave toward ourselves as Peter did toward Jesus when he denied Him three times. The verb used here is the same. Peter disowned Him, repudiated Him, turned his back on Him.

Self-denial is not denying ourself luxuries such as chocolates, cakes, cigarettes, and cocktails – though it might include these things. It means denying or disowning ourselves, renouncing our supposed right to go our own way, to turn away from the idolatry of self-centeredness. The Apostle Paul wrote that those who belong to Christ “have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24) That’s a very graphic picture: taking a hammer and nails and nailing our fallen nature to the cross so that it dies!

That’s the picture Jesus was painting. He wanted the multitude to think through the commitment they were making.

For, you see, following Jesus Christ is a call to commitment. When you were baptized or confirmed, you weren’t just joining a social club. When you became a member of this congregation you weren’t merely joining another organization. Not if you took your vows seriously! When you became a member of this congregation you were asked this or a similar question: “Do you intend to continue in the confession of this church, attend corporate worship, make diligent use of the Means of Grace, and lead a righteous and godly life?” And you answered, “I do so intend, with the help of God.”

And then you were asked a question like “Will you support the work our gracious Lord has given this congregation with your prayers, time, treasure, and talent? And you answered, “I will with the help of God.”

How many members took their vows seriously? To be a member of Christ’s body is to be crucified with Him. It’s to stake your life and everything you have on His call to service. It’s to make a decision about your priorities in life: Christ first, everything else second. It’s a call to make a decision about who Christ is in your life. It’s a call to commitment.

Jesus wanted those who were following Him to realize that if they accepted His call to be disciples, they might very well be cutting themselves off from family and friends, from material comfort, maybe even from life itself! It wasn’t a time for an impulsive reply. It was a time to count the cost.

On the other hand, Jesus knew that counting the cost wasn’t the biggest barrier most people face. The biggest barrier is inaction. For every one who leaps without looking, there are a dozen more who never leap at all. They just stay on the sidelines and become God’s frozen people!

No, most people don’t have as much difficulty with impulsiveness as they do with inaction. It’s that first step that’s hardest. It’s that initial decision that’s most intimidating. We see that with people who say they’re going to come to church, but never quite make it. Their hearts are warm, but their feet are cold.

We’ve all taken at least that first step, haven’t we? If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here! But after we take that first step toward being a follower of Christ, we must decide whether we’ll be spectators or gladiators in the arena of Jesus’ service. We must decide whether we’ll be mere observers of the passing scene, or movers and shakers for the Kingdom of God. We need to decide whether we’ll stay among the curious or take up a cross and follow in Jesus’ steps.

We need to decide whether we meant it when we promised to attend worship regularly, be faithful in our study of God’s Word and our receiving of His body and blood in Holy Communion. We need to decide whether we were serious when we promised to support the work God has given this congregation to do, with our prayers, with our time, with our treasure, and with our talent.

Jesus says there’s no standing on the sidelines if we’re to be a disciple of His. Either we’re in the game, or we aren’t. Only a few men and women, out of all the thousands who ever heard Jesus teach, said “yes” to His call of discipleship – but they “turned the world upside down,” the Bible tells us. Or was it “right side up”?

The rest decided the cost was too high. They were too comfortable the way they were. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.” (2 Tim. 4:9,10)

What will be written about us? That we were too comfortable the way we were? That we decided the cost was too high? Or that we denied ourselves, took up our crosses, and followed Jesus? May God give us the strength to be true disciples of Jesus!


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