Sermon – Pentecost 13 – September 8, 2019
Luke 14:25-35 – “Follow Him!”
Following the Leader
When you first started grade school, do you remember when the class had to go somewhere as a group? The teacher would line you all up and tell you to follow the person in front of you. Some of us were probably better than others at following. I’m sure some of us were the types who would see a butterfly and go off chasing it instead of staying in line and following the leader.
As we became a little older we would still follow people. Some of us followed in our father or mother’s footsteps. Some of us would following those people in our lives we really respected like a, aunt, uncle, boss at work or other kind of mentor.
In the morning we read the paper or later watch tv and we follow the news which tells us about all the things that are happening in the world. We follow what Trudeau and Trump are up to or what new Hurricane is threatening people’s homes. We follow our favorite actors – people like John Wayne and Julia Roberts or Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson. We follow our favorite Bluegrass groups or check to see when the next Taylor Swift album is coming out. We follow each other on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Snapchat.
We are so good at following that multiple times God compares us to sheep. Sheep are notoriously good at following the leader. They are so good that sheep have been known to follow one another to slaughter (like a lamb to slaughter) or even follow the sheep in front of them right over the edge of a cliff to their death.
Jesus’ Call to Follow
There is no question that we follow many things – and are good at it! In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus calls us to follow someone else. Jesus calls us to follow Him. When Jesus calls us, He doesn’t call us to follow Him like everything else we follow. Jesus’ call is not to add Him to the list of things we follow but to stop following everything else in our life except for Him. Jesus says if you don’t hate your own father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, even your own life, you cannot follow Him.
These words are heavy. These words are harsh. These words of Jesus, these words that call us to follow Him are the same words that tell us in order to follow Jesus we need to STOP following our parents, and the News, and John Wayne, Julia Roberts, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and any music star no matter how good they are. We need to stop following the lives of our children and grandchildren and anything on Facebook or any social media. Jesus’ words take it a step further, He says that not only do we need to stop following these other things, but we need to HATE them!
Count the Cost
Harsh words! Jesus uses a parable to explain to us how we need to approach following Him. He says that if you want to build a building you first must count the cost of building it to see if you can complete it. It is like Jesus is saying if you want to bake some muffins you have to check if you have enough flower first or else you won’t be able to finish baking them! It’s an awful thing to start building or baking something but must stop before the end because you cannot finish. He is saying this to emphasise His first point about the requirements for following Him. If you cannot give up everything you follow in your life don’t bother trying to follow Jesus. If you cannot hate everything else in this world you cannot be Jesus’ disciple.
I would love to tell you that Jesus really doesn’t mean this. I would love to tell you that Jesus’ really doesn’t mean “hate” and that the original Greek really means that we should just “love less.” But that isn’t true. There is no getting around Jesus’ words here. He means what He says to us. The demands are high.
Why would Jesus make such high demands for His followers? Is Jesus being mean? Is He being a big jerk? Why does he make such an exclusivist, non-inclusive, demands? It is because He is searching for absolute devoted faithfulness from His followers. He wants people whose hearts are fully set on God and not half-hearted ones that follow all sorts of things. He wants true love and commitment from His followers like a husband who is exclusively devoted to his wife and is not following after other women. He wants devotion like He gives His devotion to His followers – like He gives full devotion to the church. Jesus is expecting to get what He gives so that there is a truly intimate relationship between Him and His followers. These are good motives. These are pure motives for setting the demands of discipleship so high.
How to Follow
There are ways we can work to attain this kind of devotion to Jesus and count the cost of discipleship. Do you every come to church on Sunday and follow Him yet forget who Jesus is the rest of the week? Is there a big separation between Sunday and Monday for you? Pray every day, multiple times a day! Read God’s Word! Work at following God’s Word every day of your life! Live in the forgiveness God gives to you! Love God! Love your neighbor! Fulfill the Law of God.
Another way we can learn to follow Jesus is by understanding what Jesus says in His demand that we must bear our own cross and hate our own life. Jesus is saying that following Him is not full of fame and fortune. Following Him is not even easy. Following Him is hard and dangerous and involves sacrificing what you want and what is easy for what God wants and what is hard. Following Jesus involves sacrifice as He sacrificed Himself to the point of death for the forgiveness of our sins.
Counting the Cost
We have been counting the cost of discipleship; the cost of what it takes to follow Jesus the way He calls us to follow Him. How do you feel? Do you think you can hate everything else in your life you follow and only love and follow Jesus? Can you be devoted to God fully not only on Sunday but everyday of the week? Can you endure suffering for the sake of Jesus’ radical way of life? Can you sacrifice your own needs to follow Him alone?
If you cannot fulfill these demands, maybe you should reconsider following Jesus. If you come to church week after week and are constantly crushed hearing the demands God puts on you for faithful following, maybe you should consider the cost before you follow Him. Following Jesus is the most loving route a person can take. Following Jesus is the highest good. Following Jesus makes us to be like God who is faithful and self-sacrificing for our sake out of love.
Brothers and sisters, I would love to stand up here and tell you that I have counted the cost and I am able to follow Jesus and can lead you to follow Him too. The sad thing is, I cannot. I have tried and failed, over and over, to follow as Jesus’ demands. I will continue to try and to fail over and over until my dying breath.
How is that for a moment of total clarity? How is that for understanding the true weight of Jesus’ radical command which leaves us weak and lost? I am not going to tell you that Jesus’ demands have changed. I am not going to tell you that it is okay you and I cannot be disciples of Jesus.
What I am going to tell you is that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus came to find you and to save you. Right now, while you are lost and crushed by the weight of God’s perfect demands, he comes to seek you out. Jesus did not come to help you and I to follow Him better. Jesus came to SAVE us from our complete inadequacy and weakness of being unable to follow Him. Throughout the book of Luke Jesus shows Himself to be the saviour of the lost.
Friends in Christ, we are the lost whom Jesus seeks out to save. Friends in Christ, we cannot come to Jesus and decide to devote ourselves to Him because we cannot even follow Him to where He is! God must come to us. God had to come from heaven to earth as a baby to seek us out and to heal our sin and be our saviour. He needed to be our saviour from our inability to be as whole-heartedly devoted and selfless to Him as He is to us.
God comes for people who cannot follow. He finds them. He calls them. He saves them. And then leads them in His Kingdom. God leads us into the kingdom like a Shepherd who picks up His lost sheep and carries them home in His arms. So, I follow Jesus, not because I have counted the cost and determined I am able, but because I have counted the cost and realized I am unable.
We follow Jesus because we have been marked by Him in our baptism as His own people and He now takes care of us. We follow Jesus because Jesus has come to seek and to save the inadequate and forgives our inadequacy. We follow Jesus because we eat His flesh and drink His blood which makes us one with Christ’s own body. When God makes us one with Jesus’ body, we cannot help but be where He is.
This radical demand of Jesus to follow Him invites us to live in faith, to trust that our inability and weakness is the occasion of His power so what is impossible with humans is possible with God.
May this peace of God, that you have been found and forgiven by Christ, keep and guard your hearts and minds in faith and trust in Jesus Christ our Lord.