Count the Cost Luke 14:25-33

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.Image

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.Image

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.

Image

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?

“Invitations Pending” Luke 14:1,7-14

ImageA major airline and I had a little twitter exchange at the end of our vacation.  In the age of meta-communication and social media , you can now get a “snowball effect” if you tweet or post something that either pleases or displeases you as other join in to validate the observation.

In this case, it was displeasure.

After boarding this particularly airline who shall remain nameless, and discovering certain policy change for guests, before being instructed to turn off all electronic devices, I had tweeted out  ________ airline should change their name to “Pay Here.” 2 buck soda. 6 buck t.v. reruns. Next? Pay toilets?

And in response, after landing I had indeed received a return tweet from someone monitoring such things.   “Drinks are still included in our Classic and C Plus ticket. Depending on the type of ticket, addtl amenities are included.

And therein is the issue that connects to the Gospel lesson for today.  I had a clear “invitation” to upgrade my situation if I didn’t like it.  For the cost of a ticket upgrade of $50.00 I would enter into the benefits of the privileged status and not be charged for individual items.  I would be seen as being worthy of them in my own right.

In other words, while we are all “valued customers”… some of us are valued just a bit more than others on the basis of our ability to pay and contribute to their profitability!  If I contribute a little more, they will contribute a little more, and recognize me in a different way.Image

Oh, and by the way, I get that my irritation with this situation was also a sign of my own belief about how I should be treated!  I wouldn’t have tweeted something out if I didn’t have hopes of getting a little consideration back in some way.

It is precisely this “tit for tat” understanding of how life in this world operates that Jesus is trying to get at in the Gospel for today.  He is at a banquet which is an image that he often uses to refer to what the Kingdom of God will be like. 

Jesus is watching the Pharisees.

They in turn are “watching” him.  Making sure it seems that he behaves himself in this gathering.   We start out here with a great deal of “noticing” taking place.   Jesus particularly makes note of how those entering the banquet area choose their seats at dinner.          

You need to know a little about how the banquet was set up in Jesus’ day.  There were no long tables with chairs, no head table.  People “reclined at table.”  A low table was set in the center of the room, and cushions spread out on the floor in a circular pattern around it.  Then other tables were added, radiating out in all directions with more cushions around them, forming circles around the “inner circle.”  We still use that phrase today to refer to people in power.  “Who is in the President’s ‘Inner Circle.”  We ask.  Who is closest to him? 

Now, keep that image of the banquet room in mind as we see more clearly what Jesus is seeing and commenting about.   As the room begins to fill up and people crowd in to find their places, you can well imagine people having to step over other people to get to their places, particularly if they enter a little late and have a need to get to that “inner circle.”

In Judea in those days, as in our own day and age, position and status are the commodities upon which the society is ordered.  (Hey, “the airline who must not be named, but that rhymes with “Pay Here” knows that!)    The ability to stratify customers is about revenue flows yes, but it is also about traffic flow, who gets on the plane in which order, how to best fill the seats, make sure the luggage racks fill evenly, persuade repeat customers and dissuade certain types of customers.   There is a logic in the seating arrangement that preserves and protects and gives order to things, making an otherwise chaotic situation somewhat orderly and dependable.

Pastors know that if you really want to stir a congregation up, all you have to do is suggest a little change in the seating arrangement. 

Preach for instance, the radical kind of grace Jesus points to in the parable.  Begin to point out the levels all the layers of status and perceived privilege in our society and how Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom flies in the face of all that. Preach that all are equal in the sight of God, and that God loves and accepts all God’s children equally, and there is no way for us to tell ahead of time what the seating arrangement at the Kingdom may be. 

At first that will be appealing, but it becomes more uncomfortable the more you dial the radical grace of the heavenly banquet up.

Preach that because of this radical grace of the Kingdom, there are no longer distinctions between members.  We no longer have “good givers” who should/must not be offended, or “charter members” who should/could be given more say in the operations of the congregation.  We no longer have family connections that must be considered, the Gospel just cuts where it will.

Preach that because of what Jesus says in the banquet parable, we really ought not do a Stewardship Drive.   You give what you can, or what you like, or don’t give at all, take if there is a need, it’s all the same.  

Preach that if we’re going to have this radical vision of the Kingdom found  in the Parable that we should revise our facility use policy so that it is free of charge for everyone, and that it is a “first come, first serve” arrangement, where the Square Dance group because they booked the hall first don’t need to yield the space for the member’s wedding, or funeral luncheon.

The radical grace that Jesus seems to point toward in this banquet parable means that those of you who have never missed a Sunday, and those who have never darkened the door after confirmation may very well both be invited to the banquet of the Kingdom, and may be seated next to each other.

The radical grace that Jesus seems to point toward in this parable means that the one who gives a tithe of all his income, and the one who drops a dollar in the plate occasionally, or never at all, are equal in God’s sight and will both have a seat at the table of the Kingdom, and those seats are likely to be right next to each other.

The radical grace that Jesus seems to point toward in this parable means that those who have been faithfully active in their church, and those who seemed to care less might well walk into the banquet at the same time and be seated next to each other.

That is the radical grace of God.   All are welcome, all are equal in God’s sight, and all are invited.   There are no “Invitations Pending” based on expectations of what you do or do not do.   So do not be concerned about your place at the table.  God, the host, will take care of that.

It is we who are preoccupied with success, with making sure things work.  We are too often concerned with being recognized for our accomplishments, our sacrifices, and our gifts.  We labor over making sure we get our when it comes to things.

They are given because of the invitation extended by a God who is always more gracious and loving and giving than we are really comfortable acknowledging.  

The real joy of the promised Kingdom is found in finding out that you have simply been invited.   

The real joy comes from discovering that no matter what you have done, or left undone, what mistakes you have made along the way, there is an invitation for you to come.

When we can come to the banquet and delight in whomever we may find there, and wherever we may find ourselves sitting, then we will have come to the place of grace, and will be set free to joy in the Kingdom.

When we see and begin to understand that it is by the grace of God alone that we have everything that we call our own, then we will have come to the place of grace and will be set free to share with others what God provides abundantly.

This is living in the grace of God.   Our Lord invites us this day to examine ourselves and our need for position and privilege in all things.  

Our Lord invites us to his banquet. 

There is no guaranteed seating arrangement.  

You very well may have to sit right beside someone that you detest, and if that is the case, then you best be about that activity of God in this life of reconciliation, forgiveness, working together and loving one another. 

Who is that one that you would rather not sit by or be near? 

Now is the time to consider what you will do before the host calls you to the banquet.  

Sit with them now.

Seek them out, now, this week, and delight in the grace of God that can bring you together, that at the heavenly banquet you may rejoice all the more, that God so loved us all that God sent his son to die for all, and to extend the invitation to you, and to all, to his table.  Image