13th Sunday after Pentecost – 9/4/2022
Campaign 2022 is definitely in full swing. Lines are being drawn in the sand as political candidates for Senate and Congressional seats, as well as state and local offices, all make their case to you and me that they would be the most worthy of our trust and vote come November. Ordinary citizens are also taking sides in this political dogfight, promoting the policies and legislative agenda of the political party, whether Republican, Democrat or even Green Party, they feel should prevail for the best interests of our country.
Each candidate, no matter where his or her campaign trail leads, is accompanied by a retinue of followers. Indeed, some follow because they are true disciples and "dyed-in-the-wool" supporters. They support their candidate regardless of how many gaffes or missteps he or she makes. They speak up and champion their candidate’s ideology.
But not all who follow these candidates are cut from the same committed cloth. Some follow simply because they find themselves swept up in the political fervor surrounding the candidate. Others follow, like the media, so that they can report on what the candidates say. Others follow along simply because they are curious about the candidate’s message and want to learn more about what he or she has to say. Still, others in the crowd are opposed to the candidate. Their agenda for following the candidate is to heckle the candidate at every turn or to find some fault in the candidate that they can then exploit for political advantage. Not all are true disciples. Such is the world of American politics!
I believe there is a definite parallel to people following Jesus. Our text notes that there was a large crowd of people following along with Jesus. Here, too, we can rightly acknowledge that some felt they were true disciples, willing to carry the flag, so to speak, for their guy!
At the same time, you can be sure others were just curious onlookers, perhaps attracted to Jesus because they had heard the reports about His marvelous miracles or had heard of some of the provocative comments He had made concerning the Kingdom of God. Oh, yes, some were His enemies, seeking any and every opportunity they could to catch Jesus in some political or theological blunder to discredit him, or worse, destroy him. Still, there were others in the crowds following along with Jesus who were, for all practical purposes, totally clueless. It seemed like the right thing to do, but they had no concept of what following Jesus, that is, being a disciple of Jesus, was all about.
Because each of us has come to church today, especially on this holiday weekend when we could have followed the pack of Americans for one last summer blast before fall, we have demonstrated that we, too, are part of that great crowd that still follows along with Jesus. But the question that begs to be asked is this: "Are we truly following Jesus as genuine disciples or are we simply traveling along with Him?" Simply being in this sanctuary this morning in the body is not indisputable evidence that we are truly following Jesus in spirit or our lives. We could be here out of protest, out of habit, out of curiosity, or even because we had nothing better to do this weekend.
Jesus, however, wants there to be no confusion about what it means to be His disciple. Neither does He desire that anyone might be deceived about how expensive it is to be His follower. If there is one thing that Jesus teaches us most emphatically, it is that following Him will cost us dearly!
As Jesus had done with His warning to the chosen twelve (Lk 9:23, 24), here He also quite bluntly and harshly lays it on the line: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, and children, and brothers and sisters--yes, and even his own life--he cannot be my disciple."
Now, this hardly sounds right, does it? After all, God's Word is very clear: We are to honor our parents, love our wives, and love our neighbors as ourselves. How then can Jesus insist at the same time that, if we truly want to follow Him, we must hate all these people we are supposed to love?
There is no contradiction here. What Jesus is doing is what we all often do to shock people awake to the reality of the situation. He is employing a literary device known as hyperbole; that is, He is exaggerating to make His case poignantly clear: worldly relationships can’t be allowed to impede our relationship with Jesus. In other words, love for others can not be our greatest love. Jesus said on another occasion, "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37). Relationships with others must be counted as expendable if necessary to know and follow Jesus.
This rather drastic attitude toward our familial relationships is necessary because sometimes those relationships can wreck our relationship with Jesus. Suppose family members consistently coax us into doing something with them on Sunday morning rather than going to church to worship Jesus. They are stealing our affections away from Jesus. Suppose, by using their love for us, our spouse or other loved one urges us to embrace ideologies or theologies that are inconsistent with or contradict the clear Word of God. They are sabotaging our relationship with Jesus. Suppose we find ourselves needing the presence of our family more than we feel the need for Jesus’ presence. Our love for God has been hijacked!
Loving Jesus more, therefore, could mean the end of some of our family relationships or, at the very least, cause those relationships to become more strained. But this is a necessary cost one must be willing to suffer if he or she is to truly follow Jesus. A disciple ought to be ready to sing with Dr. Martin Luther: "And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; let these all be gone; our victory has been won; the kingdom of ours remaineth" (LSB 656, v. 4).
But the expensive nature of following Jesus does not end with the possible loss of our familial relationships. It also, as Jesus states, involves hating one’s own life in this world. Here, Jesus gets real personal! Our worldly pleasures, dreams, and hopes can also be a huge barrier to true discipleship. The good things this world offers us to comfort us can easily capture our hearts and leave no room in them for Jesus. Our obsessive lust to hold on to life in this world can rob us of any love for or desire to obtain eternal life in heaven with God. Jesus once said, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?" (Luke 9:23)
To avoid losing our soul, our eternal salvation, we must despise our lives in this world, relegating them to a second, rather than a first, place in our hearts and lives. The true disciple understands that having life in Christ is worth the cost of losing even his life in this world.
This is all part and parcel of what Jesus means when He adds, "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Discipleship does not involve simply putting a cross around our neck as a piece of jewelry. Neither does it simply mean being baptized and confirmed! The term "cross" implies personal sacrifice. Following Jesus means we will bear a cross of the suffering of our own precisely because we follow Jesus.
Jesus bore His cross to procure the ultimate and eternal victory for all of us over sin, death, and the devil, but His suffering did not remove the necessity of our crosses. Suffering injustice at the hands of evil¼ suffering for doing the right thing¼being heckled or persecuted for standing up for the truth of Christ… Suffering physical pains, diseases, and worldly tragedies as manifestations of God's good and gracious will for us, or bearing losses of family and worldly possessions for the sake of Christ, are all part of the territory of discipleship.
Have no illusions; just as Jesus did not choose His cross, neither do His disciples. God lays it on them. Jesus once stated, "A student is not above his teacher"; "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you."
Jesus does not gloss over what it means to follow Him. The road of discipleship is costly. It is extremely expensive!
Accordingly, we can no longer kid ourselves by thinking that we can ride the fence when it comes to our commitment to Jesus. We must sincerely ask ourselves, "Am I ready to give up everything I consider precious in this world to follow Jesus?" Now is the time for you and me to objectively and prayerfully count up the cost to see if following Jesus is truly what we desire to do.
Jesus puts before us the following analogy. He says, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count 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 begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish."
Are you and I finishers, or ought we be rightly ridiculed for not having what it takes to go all the way? Have we counted up the costs of being a disciple and found the cost too high?
If we have weighed ourselves in the balance of discipleship and found ourselves wanting, then praise be to God! Jesus has accomplished His purpose by speaking so directly and so harshly to us.
For you see, a true follower of Jesus recognizes that he lacks everything necessary and does not believe He can do it all on his own! For the disciple, seeing that he is personally lacking is not a cause for quitting, but the exact opposite. It is the necessary first step in building the tower of discipleship. This, too, is part of the cross, willingly sacrificing everything of ourselves that we might seek to obtain from Jesus what we need to follow Him to eternal life.
So Jesus instructs us with another analogy. "Or what king," Jesus said, "going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand men to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. "So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
Dear Fellow Friends of Jesus, the war is against us whether we want it or not. The Devil, the world, and our flesh will have it no other way. They daily seek to keep us from completing our discipleship tower. Our enemies number in the billions and billions. They have us on their sites to destroy us. We do not have the troops sufficient to defeat them. We are weak. Any right desires we might have to say "good-bye" to worldly things so that we might embrace heavenly ones are continuously subverted by the temptations and lusts to love family and worldly goods more than God. We have no righteousness of our own. Any good works we accomplish are still tainted with sin and do not bring us any credit before God. Our family ties will not save us. Nothing that pertains to our life in this world can aid us in this spiritual battle.
It is time to concede our lack of abilities and make peace by sending the emissary of peace to the only one who can help us, Jesus. This is, after all, what Jesus truly desires of all who seek to follow Him: a total renunciation of all that is ours and a total dependence upon Him and what He supplies.
We fight the good fight of faith by holding fast to the Lion of Judah—the Captain of the Heavenly Hosts—the King of Heaven and Earth—the Lamb of the Cross—Jesus Christ. He has won the victory for us on the cross. In His resurrection from the grave, He justified us before God. He won true and eternal forgiveness for even our lack of commitment—our sinful preference for other people or things over Him.
Through His Holy Word, the gospel, and His Holy Sacraments, He graciously imparts to all who receive them in faith the forgiveness of all sins. He equips us with what we need to follow Him, and He supplies us the armor of His grace to be victorious: the belt of truth to fasten around our waists, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith.
On this year’s campaign trail, one issue looms large: our nation’s ever-increasing debt and the accompanying hemorrhaging economy. One of the main reasons we are in such dire economic straits, in my humble opinion, is the American public's insatiable desire for government services and entitlements, as well as its unwillingness to pay the cost of them. We always expect someone else to pay for what we refuse to pay for—or at least pay more for. Corporate bailouts and government-subsidized healthcare, known as Obama Care, the suggested plan for the government to ensure free tuition to all college students, are but a few of the hundreds of government "give-aways" that leave many of us scratching our heads and asking, "Do we have what it takes to pay for all this?" I wonder how many politicians seeking election will step forward and, instead of pandering to our lusts by promising us more for less, will with integrity tell us the truth that we need to count the cost, tighten our belts, pay the piper, or abandon our unrealistic expectations!
Jesus is the voice of truth and genuine integrity who speaks the truth to you. He is not wasting our time with sugarcoated promises that will only lead us astray and down some primrose path to eternal destruction. Instead, He rightly challenges us to count the cost to our egos and worldly relationships that following Him will entail—that is, to take up our cross and follow Him. How will you and I view these costs—as too high a price to pay or as costs for which He has already paid up in full? Amen.