September 5, 2010
Luke 14:25-33

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? Why do we follow Him? The early 20th century hymn “It Pays to Serve Jesus” includes the refrain:

“It pays to serve Jesus, it pays every day,
“It pays every step of the way,
“Though the pathway to glory may sometimes be drear,
“You’ll be happy each step of the way.”

In today’s gospel text, Jesus tells would-be followers not about the blessings of following Him but about the costs.

The crowds that were following were the curious. Perhaps they were seeking another miracle or bread or just wanted to see Jesus get the better of the religious crowd one more time. Maybe they were hoping they were on the way to the inaugural banquet of the Kingdom in Jerusalem.

Jesus knew His was the way of the cross.

So, it is not surprising that Jesus is hardly “seeker sensitive.” He was never overly impressed with a crowd. He didn’t read His own press clippings. In fact, He frequently shared His most blunt, direct and harshest message when there was a crowd. Hardly the way to win friends and influence people, Jesus was never into spin.

This passage illustrates that point, but we always are trying to sanitize Jesus. He didn’t really mean we had to “hate father and mother,” only that our love for Him must be stronger than any other love. When we do get around to taking His claims seriously, we still make it about us: “You’ve got to count the cost if you want to be a disciple.”

A more careful examination of this text reminds us we are not the primary characters in this narrative. Jesus uses two metaphors to describe the need for counting the cost: building and battling.

Peter’s confession of faith in Christ is followed by Jesus’ blessing where He says, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” Jesus continues, “On this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:13). Jesus establishes three things: The church is His; foundation is the confession that Jesus is Lord; and Jesus is the One who is the doing the building. We simply build upon Him as our foundation.

Jesus is also the One engaged in battle: He promises “The gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” The great hymn of Martin Luther is not titled “A Mighty Fortress Is Our Church,” though our churches frequently have a fortress mentality. Luther boldly proclaimed “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” The church stands not on our strategies for success. Indeed, our standards are askew. We do not face the principalities and powers in our own strength. The battle is indeed the Lord’s!

Clarence Saunders, entrepreneur and founder of the first modern grocery store called Piggly Wiggly, began building a house in the early 1920s in Memphis, Tennessee. Due to a legal dispute, he had to declare bankruptcy; and the unfinished building eventually was given to the city in the late 1920s. Today, that palatial estate is known as the Pink Palace and is home not to an heir of the Saunders fortune but a museum for the city.

Jesus is not interested in building a museum. He is the One who is assessing the situation and counting the cost. Jesus concludes that only those who are willing to “forsake all” will be counted as His disciples. We can’t be tourists on the Christian way. We must be faithful followers. Jesus has counted the cost and accepts nothing less than our all.

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