A sermon delivered on September 4, 2022, by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Both of today’s biblical readings deal with making choices. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses is instructing the Hebrews that life with God requires them to make a conscious choice each and every day to follow God. Moses declares, “Now choose life, to that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him.” Choosing life was not just saying you would do so, for the Hebrews it meant actively shaping their life around fulfilling the Law shared by Moses. Choosing was never meant to be a passive activity where you sit back in your chair looking at a bunch of options and saying, “I like that one!” Choosing life meant that a person actively demonstrated their choice by the way they lived. What makes the Hebrews stand out in the ancient world is that they actively lived their faith out demonstrating certain ethics and behavior based upon their belief in a liberating God.
Luke precedes our Story today with Jesus telling a parable about a great banquet. A man throws this huge blowout of a party with food and drink and tells his servants to take the guest list and personally invite all his closest, chosen friends to come; one after the other kept making lame excuses as to why they couldn’t attend. This incensed the master of the house and he tells his servants, “Forget the guest list and those ingrates. Go out into the streets and bring the nobodies of the community to my banquet.” He commands his servants to go out into the country lanes and byways and compel people to come to his party. As for the originally invited guests who may change their mind and want to come once they see how extravagant the banquet they will be told, “No, you will not take part in the master’s party.”
Luke 14:25-33 is Jesus’ call to all his fellow Jews, i.e., the ones who have been consciously invited to the banquet, to come and follow him. It’s Jesus’ ‘choose life’ declaration to his contemporary Jewish people. Jesus’ invitation to discipleship is definitely his way of telling his people to choose life but it comes across much harsher than Moses’s words and has a bite to it. Listen out for the three times Jesus declares ‘you cannot be my disciple if…” Hear the Word of the Lord!
25 Now large crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 If he cannot, then while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
So, let’s get this straight. Jesus is telling us that in order to be his disciple we must 1) hate those we love the most, 2) carry a cross, a terrifying reminder of a brutal death, and 3) get rid of all we own. And while we are at it, we are to sit down and do the math to calculate and seriously consider whether or not we have the resources required to be a disciple. Did Jesus really just say that?
The challenge many people have today is that they don’t read the Bible very well. We tend to read the news and other books with the awareness that the author uses certain forms of communication and speech to get their point across.
We know, for example, that when we go to a restaurant that proudly declares on its door, “Home of the World’s Greatest Hamburger!” Is simply an exaggeration that their burgers are really, really good and we need to try them. Or it’s like a car dealership that declares, “We’ve got the best prices in the state and give you the no haggle promise!” Right. Anyone who has bought a car knows that’s just a giant fish tale! The dealership will always try to add and tack on some extra something to get the cost up. Each of us knows that every car dealership cannot have the best price in the state, and we sure know there will be haggling of some sort.
Out in the world, we are aware of the use of hyperbole, i.e., the art of telling something that is so awfully exaggerated we know it’s not meant to be taken as literally but is simply a form of expression that goes to the extreme at making a point. We read stories, articles, and books and can pick up the use of hyperbole, the use of sarcasm, as well as similes, and metaphors. What many fail to do, sadly, is take those common, everyday critical reading skills and apply them to the Bible.
Is Jesus telling us to really hate our moms and dads, sisters and brothers, and old grandma we affectionately call, Nana? Of course, not; Jesus is using the rhetorical device of hyperbole. He is exaggerating to the point of being absurd to get the point across that becoming his disciple means putting him first and above all else in our life. The Jewish life is built around the family and its roots in the community and was your key to survival; if all the members of your family were dead, you were adopted by another relative to be a part of their family community. Methodist pastor, Mark Ralls, reminds us, “The point is not how we relate to members of our family, but how we respond to the call of God. A uniquely challenging divine call invites an unqualified human response.” Jesus simply asks that we reflect upon our most dear relationships and understand that we are to love and commit to him even more.
This leads to the second demand in our short text. Does he literally expect you and me to go fashion a cross and carry it around our back? Of course not. Once again, Jesus is using hyperbole. He’s not only giving us a glimpse as to what is about to happen to him; it’s Jesus’ way of saying death is a part of discipleship and must occur in our lives. Death to unhealthy attitudes that tear down relationships rather than building them up. The death of partisan morals, and ethics and reclaiming of biblical ones. The death of our own ego and self so that Spirit can fully direct our lives. There has to be death before there is resurrection. We must endure Good Friday before we can celebrate Easter.
At this point, Jesus provides two quick comments about doing the correct math in assessing if we truly have what it takes to follow through on our commitment to him. Referring to the house building and attacking an opposing army are two abrupt reminders of counting the cost before starting out.
For us, it means we reflect upon such questions, “Have I thought about the lifestyle I have and how that will change when I accept Christ?” “Have I thought about what this means to my family if one day I come in and tell them, “I love you, but I love Jesus even more?” “Have I computed how my discipleship impacts the way I use my money and material things?” “Have I thought about how my life walking with Christ will impact where and how I work and conduct business at the office?” Jesus is hammering the point home, “That before you get on the road with me, you better do the math! You better count the cost.”
The third demand in our text is that after we count the cost of following Jesus, we must give up our possessions. Not some of them or a few of them; Jesus demands that we give up all of them. Is he asking us to go liquidate all our assets before we can be his disciple? Of course not. He is demanding, however, that we place God above everything else in our life. We are declaring him Lord of not only our life but all that is contained in our life. That means cars, boats, second homes, investment accounts, pots, pans, electronics, businesses — whatever we possess must be held loosely and given over to God; we are to remember that all we have is on loan from God and is not ours, to begin with. Jesus is telling us we cannot hold his hand if we are clutching our stuff.
Beloved, Jesus is asking us to do the math and count the cost of following him; he uses hyperbole to get the point across. He is telling you and me that our faith is not first and foremost a mental assent to believe in him; no, today Jesus is telling us that being his disciple means we daily are to emulate and join in the way he lived his own life. Jesus loved God more than his own mother, father, and siblings. Jesus literally carried the Cross where he demonstrated how much he loved us. Jesus had no possessions of his own which enabled him to travel light and allowed him to focus on the relationships with his Father and the people he encountered. John Burgess writes, “The disciple must leave everything behind. One enters into a new life that breaks decisively with what one has been before.” He goes on to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who spoke of “costly grace” and says, “It is costly because it costs people their lives; it is grace because it thereby makes them live.”
What I want us to do today or sometime this week is reflect upon how we personally respond to the demands Jesus makes of us from today’s Story in Luke. Does our Christian walk demonstrate convenient, cheap-graced love for Jesus, or does it reflect a holy life that cost us something? Let’s each identify one simple way we can live a life of discipleship that really costs us something. What say, you? Amen!
© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 Deuteronomy 30:19-20a.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 “Hyperbole is the opposite of understatement. It is a bold exaggeration used for dramatic effect. If you are an outsider unfamiliar with the linguistic rules of the game, it can be infuriating.” See, Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson https://a.co/1sXJjRT.