Sunday, September 5, 2010

Is It Worth It?

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Zechariah and Elizabeth
September 5, 2010
Luke 14:25-35

It was a brief conversation. But I’ve never looked back. My brothers and I asked our dad if we could have a dog. His response was simple: if you clean up after it, feed it, and take care of it, sure! We didn’t really need to respond. We knew immediately we didn’t want a dog that bad.

Now the problem with this illustration is that those of you who love dogs will be thinking that the benefits of having a dog far outweigh the not so pleasant aspects of taking care of a dog. But actually, that isn’t a problem with the illustration at all. It actually makes the point.

If you’re going to get a dog you can’t just go to the pet store and buy one. Well, you could. But you’d find out quickly that there is a cost involved. There’s the cleaning up, and the feeding, and the taking care of it, and of course the actual cost in money. If you’re going to get a dog you should consider the cost first.

With many important things in our lives or things that will impact our lives there is a cost involved. We would do well to consider the cost ahead of time. If you’re going to buy a home you have to take into account many things that will affect your life, the basic of which perhaps is the actual cost in money involved. If you’re going to go back to school you’re going to have to figure out a lot things, if you can rearrange your schedule, have the time for the homework, how it will affect your family members. Oh yeah, and there’s also the actual cost in money. There are a lot of choices in where you can send your children to school. The neighborhood school may not be the best one. But the one you’d like to send them to may be too far away or too expensive. Many people want to get married and have a family without considering the cost. As my dad told me when I was growing up, when you marry someone, you’re not just marrying one person, you’re marrying into a family. It’s good to be prepared for this ahead of time so you’re not blindsided by things like where you’re going to celebrate Christmas, or if you’re in-laws are going to stay with you when they visit or in a motel.

Jesus uses two illustrations of His own. If you’re going to build a house, get your ducks in a row ahead of time, otherwise people will think you’re a fool when you’re half way through and find that you can’t finish. The other one concerns a king who is facing war and has to decide quickly if he can win with a smaller force or if he’d be better off sending a delegation for a peaceful resolution. Whether you are wanting to do something that’s important for yourself or you’re forced into a situation you’d rather not be in, you are wise if you count the cost. Getting a dog may sound like a great idea, but is it really worth it? Going back to school is admirable, but is it really the best thing to do at this particular time?

As Christians we’re inclined to think that being a Christian is a pretty good deal. What we might not consider as often is the cost involved. Even more, we might be inclined not to consider it at all. Wouldn’t we be happier if we just didn’t think about the hard stuff? It might seem that way but Jesus speaks forcefully about what it means to be a Christian. He speaks in terms that make us uncomfortable. If you take Jesus at His word you can’t ignore the words He sets before us. His words might even make us wonder what kind of a God He is. Why would He say that unless you hate your father and mother, brother and sister, and even your own life, you cannot be His disciple? Where’s the love? Where’s the command to love your neighbor as yourself? God in His Word commands us to love even our enemies. The Fourth commandment exhorts us to honor our father and mother.

In no uncertain terms He is warning us that we must count the cost. You want to be a Christian? Then be aware of what’s at stake. Hate your father and mother. Renounce all you have. Consider now if this is worth it. You’re not deciding on whether to own a dog or buy a house or go back to school. You’re talking about your life. You’re talking about your family members, those who are most important to you and those you love the most. You’re talking about your life you live each day and your eternal destination when you die. You want to be a Christian, but is it worth it?

For some, this will seem a no-brainer; the benefits far outweigh the cost. For others, it won’t seem nearly as comfortable. For some, it will seem easy because it’s easy enough to dismiss these hard words of Christ and just go straight to the easy-to-digest words. For others it will be the stumbling block, the thing that will prevent them from signing on—why would I want to follow a Lord who calls on me to hate my own father and mother?

Whatever your reaction to the words of Christ, consider this: who is the one speaking them? It is Christ. Does He bring something to the table that I can’t? Does He offer something that no other God or religion does? Is He giving us something that is so hard for us that we can’t come to terms with it?

Or is He giving us something that is really what we need? These words are hard but we must put first things first. Our Lord is the one who is speaking them. What this means is that He isn’t just saying, Look, I’m God, you have to love Me and hate your mom and dad and even yourself. I’m the only important thing in your life, you have to get rid of everything in your life.

God says a lot of things in His Holy Word, the Bible. You’ll begin to see the difficulty here when it says that God creates the world and gives the crown of His creation, human beings, dominion over the earth. He is the God of blessings and gives us many things in this life to enjoy. He does command us to love others, most especially our father and mother, and certainly ourselves. Maybe Jesus didn’t really mean ‘hate’ your father and mother when He said to hate your father and mother.

But no, that takes away everything. If He didn’t mean what He says here how do we know He means what He says elsewhere? He says what He means and means what He says. But the way to understand this is not by trying to figure out how you’re supposed to love your parents and hate them at the same time. The way to understand it is only possible when you hear the words of Jesus as words He brings about, not what you’re supposed to try to figure out or accomplish by your own ability. Even when I’m frustrated with my family members I still love them. So how am I supposed to hate them so that I can be a faithful disciple of Christ?

I can’t. And Jesus knows this. He knows that too often the most important things in your life, including your family and your possessions, are more important to you than He is. You know what else He knows? He knows that you don’t even love your family members as you ought. So you can’t accomplish what your Lord calls you to no matter which way you slice it.

But you can count the cost. You can ask if it’s worth it. When you sit down to consider the cost involved don’t just hear the words but who is speaking them. It is Christ. He is the one bringing about what it is He speaks. We know this because He doesn’t speak apart from what He Himself does. He Himself considered the cost. He above all prayed to His Heavenly Father as to the worth of it all. The cost was too great. How could He bear it? Because we have a great God! He bore up under the temptation and the suffering and the cost involved. If you see Jesus’ words of the cost of discipleship apart from the cross of Christ then you will only see a God who is malevolent in His call to discipleship. Hate your own father and mother. Renounce all you have. This is a God of judgment demanding every fiber of us to be loyal to Him. Is this worth it? No, it can’t be worth it.

But if you stop looking at yourself, stop seeing a god who simply demands, who takes everything away from you, expects all from you, then you will see a Lord who is only there for you. Who gives you everything. Who loves you beyond compare with love that overflows to those who are closest to you in your life and even to your enemies. You will see the God who counted the cost and paid the cost. You will see a God whose vocabulary doesn’t include the phrase, Is it worth it? All He knows is that you are worth it. What He knows is that you are worth the forsaking of His only-begotten Son. What He more than anything wants you to know is that He pours out upon you grace and mercy and love by His beloved Son receiving damnation.

When you do consider the cost, consider it from the only way that your Lord calls you to consider it, through lens of His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider the fact that He counted the cost and paid it and calls you to new life. Then you will see that the only way to truly love those you love the most is by putting God first, even if that means your relationship with them will be strained, or even broken off. You won’t see that it’s easy, only that it’s the truly best way and the way it needs to be. When your Lord and His cross are at the center of your life and your relationships you see what true love is and the freedom to love as He loves; that it’s worth it, no matter the cost. Amen.


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