Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 3, 2010

If You Have to Ask, You Can’t Afford It

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,  “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.  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate 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 will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?  If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.  So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.               Luke 14:25ff

Imagine attending a new church and finding these words in the bulletin announcements:

We’re glad you’ve decided to visit with us today, and we’d be happy to talk with you if you are looking for a church home.  All we ask is that you count the cost.  You’ll be giving up everything—all your possessions, and your family.  Welcome.

Frightening, even cultish.  If I read those words I’d be out of there before the first hymn. 

If the gospel is supposed to be good news, then these words of Jesus in Luke don’t seem to fit in. 

The growing crowds follow the rock star Jesus, but he seems to feel they don’t quite get it.  This is not just a fun time, a lark, an afternoon listening to the latest motivational speaker.  They might actually be getting themselves into trouble by following.  One day, his closest friends will feel their very lives threatened.  One day, some followers will be disowned by their families.  One day, the cost will suddenly become far greater than just hanging out talking about interesting ideas.

It is unlikely the cost of our faith will ever be what it was for those first century disciples.  On the other hand, we hold more tightly to things and people than we ought.  Things can be lost in an instant, stolen, gone in bankruptcy or natural disaster or the stock market. 

And loved ones?   This part of Jesus’ saying is far more difficult. 

No matter how deeply mutual our affection, we disappoint each other, fail to love as perfectly as we should, and someday the loved one will be lost to death.  Jesus sees his own death looming as the crowd is following, and he knows he is about to be separated from those he loves.  He is preparing the whole crowd for what might come.

They may soon be following in ways they can’t now imagine.

It is not likely we will be losing family because of following Jesus.  It isn’t likely we will have to give up all our possessions, though of course any of that is possible.  However, discipleship has its costs.

I know a person who lost his job because he chose not to participate in unethical business practices.

A biologist with a bright future in corporate America decided to work in a third world country to help farmers develop drought-resistant crops.

A parent sacrificed time, energy, money, job promotions to give her troubled child a better chance at a happy life.

A recent college graduate decided to live in the inner city to help the community there.

A young rabbi gave up everything, even his own life, that we might know life.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010

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Responses

  1. Thanks for reminding us that the discipline of being a Christian not “fun and games,” but often a difficult and demanding vocation. Those late Sunday evenings when I am not ready to sleep, I find myself watching Joel Osteen on TV. I am still studying him in order to understand the reasons for his extraordinary appeal and his pop interpretation of the upbeat messages of the Gospel. Yes, there is a dearth of overt reasons for hope these days and it is good to hear someone so buoyant and cheerful about the rewards of being a Christian. But what about the real people who are members of the nearly 10% who are unemployed in our land and the additional numbers who have given up finding a job and thus are not counted as among the unemployed. What does Joel Osteen have to say to them? What does his gospel message of success have to say about them? What is he implying about occasions when bad things happen to good people–or when good things happen to truly bad people? I embrace a Christianity that does not sugarcoat the trials and tribulations, the hardships and disappointments of life that still presents us with the comfort of a loving God and the love of Jesus. I also embrace a Christian community that accepts me warts and all and builds that little fire of community among one another to share the light and to bask in the warmth of mutual compassion and care. I wish I could perform like Joel Osteen; but I wouldn’t ever want to preach his message.


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