Dress up is a great game. Almost every science museum has a corner where there are uniforms for fire fighters, doctors and nurses, police officers, and astronauts, and it is a popular place. Set any group of kids loose with a bunch of adult clothing and you are sure to see great things happening. There is just something about putting on the appearance of being someone or something else that fires the imagination.
Of course, dress up isn’t just for kids. It’s a game adults like to play as well. That’s why you will often see people decked out in the latest in ski suits who will never get near a slope. They just like to look fashionable.
It’s why people who never get near the woods order sportswear from L.L. Bean, Cabela’s and Land’s End.
It is Renaissance Festival season, and so you will see people out in Bonner Springs sporting tights and veils and shouting “Huzzah”, speaking with mock old English accents.
All this adult dress up is really just about helping us fit in. Teenagers aren’t the only ones influenced by peer pressure. Most folks don’t really want to stand out too much in a crowd. They would rather fit in and feel a part of what is going on.
And this is what brings us to the heart of the Gospel lesson for today. This awful lesson of Jesus telling us to “hate” the people and things that are closest to us. 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.
Jesus words seem harsh, stern and out of character with the savior who on every other occasion speaks of love. What are you saying Jesus? What do you mean when you turn to the crowd and say, “whoever does not hate…cannot be my disciple.”
Part of the key to understanding this Gospel story is seeing its context. Jesus is addressing the crowds here, Luke tells us. He turns to the mass of people who he finds following him for a variety of reasons, and lays it on the line for them. We find in the Gospels that people have been following Jesus for many reasons. Some follow out of self-interest, to receive healing or bread. Some follow out of a desire to change the world, to rebel against the Romans or religious authorities. Some are following Jesus out of a sense of blind devotion, in thanks for what he has done for them.
Now, before we go any further, it is time for them to know where this road is taking them. Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. There he is prepared to lay down his life for the sake of all of these followers. He will lay it all down, so now, count the cost yourselves. Do you know what you are in for? Do you know what following me means?
Seen in that light, this really is an act of love, though couched in harsh words. That is the second key to understanding Jesus’ words. That act of “hating” is really about despising something that gets in your way.
Before you play “dress-up” disciple, before you start something that you are unable or unwilling to finish, you should count the cost! Determine what you will have to give up, what will stand in your way and see if you’re ready to let go of it.
The parables told by Jesus are meant to make that point clear, although they may not do so for us because they are somewhat removed from our experience. We can rework the parables to get us to where Jesus wants us to be, but it’s still a little tough. We can’t imagine getting into something like that. Surely we would know better than to start a project without all the resources, and we’re not kings ready to start wars.
So I have another parable that I like to tell to help us see what Jesus means here, one that helps us get at this matter of “hating” as well as understanding the love with which Jesus issues this challenge to us to count the cost.
33 years ago I married Elizabeth. At that time you know, we both made promises, vows out of love for each other that forever changed the course of our lives.
In that moment, 33 years ago, we were playing “dress-up.” I was a groom and she was a bride. We were decked out in all of our finery, and it was fun, but we really had no idea what we were doing, or what we were in for. There was a sense in which we were just “going along with the crowd, doing what people our age do when they love each other, that is get married.
And yet, at the focal point of the ceremony, as we were playing dress up in our suits and gowns, we were invited to count the cost of what we were about to do. “will you promise to love each other, to forsake all others, to love and to cherish, to share with each other in sickness and in health, whatever the years may bring?”
Now there is no way we could have known what those promises would entail for us. In our dress up outfits we dreamed for the best and hoped for the future.
As we grew in our marriage relationship, we learned about the cost of things, and the dress-up world gave way to stark reality. We learned the cost of some things more easily and less painfully than others. We came to understand the cost of relationship as we had to choose each other over time with friends.
We learned to “hate” the imposition and interruption of others upon our precious time together. Not that we “hated” anything or anyone in a malicious way, no, rather we learned that there were some things that were simply not compatible with the keeping of the promises we had made to each other. If this relationship, this love between us was going to make it, there were certain things that had to be thrown out, abandoned, or as Jesus said, “hated.”
We learned to “hate” the things that we did that upset each other, enough to stop doing them.
We learned to “hate” the feelings or attractions that we felt toward other people enough to never act upon them, to nip them off and toss them out before temptation caused us to jeopardize our relationship.
With the birth of our children, we learned to “hate” all over again. Hate the interruptions and impositions of other people’s values and opinions about parenting so that we could develop our own skills and protect our own vision for what family meant to us.
We learned to hate the fragility of life and its injustices. The good friend who gave us the middle name of our son, Philip Kammerlohr, died way too young, and our hearts ached that he would not see his namesake grow, nor Carl get to know this important friend who left a hole in our life.
We learned how to hate bumps and bruises and injuries done, to our children, to us, to those we love.
We learned how to hate a disease; cancer, enough to fight against it together, tooth and nail, sacrificing other things along the way out of love, for the sake of health, future, continued relationship, another Christmas, another year, watching kids grow up.
There have been a few times through the years, as we reflect back on our relationship, when we have asked the scary question, “If I had known then, what I know now — If I could have foreseen all the troubles, sacrifices, joys and sorrows in advance, what it all would really cost, would I still have chosen to marry you?”
Thanks be to God, for us that answer has always been “Yes!” For we have discovered that the love that we have gained for each other, that deep, abiding love that we found together was worth more than whatever it cost us along the way.
And that brings us back to this Gospel lesson, and what Jesus is saying to us when he invites us to “count the cost.”
Discipleship, you see, is finally about falling in love. Discipleship is about entering into that deep, abiding love of God in Christ Jesus. It’s more than a feeling, but it is also more than just a commitment. It is a relationship that you will have to keep working on constantly. It is a relationship where you will discover that the more it seems to cost you, the greater the rewards in the end and the more wondrous the benefits are along the way.
“Count the cost” Jesus says to us today, but he does so with that look of love on his face, the love that he has for the crowds and for those who will come out of the crowd to follow him.
It will cost you.
You will have to forsake many things, maybe even the things you think are closest, nearest and dearest to you, things you don’t think you can live without.
But it’s worth it.
What would you not be willing to give up in order to have Jesus be a part of your life?