3rd Sunday after Pentecost “Counting the Cost”
June 26, 2022 Luke 9:51–62
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
In our gospel lesson today, from Luke 9, we hear Jesus rebuke 4 times those who do not understand Him, and do not quite grasp what His gospel mission is, and are hesitant to follow Him in the way He leads.
Let’s begin with an illustration. During a chapel message for a Lutheran school, the pastor was asking the students some questions along the line of = ‘will your parents let you do this?’ ‘why would your parents say no to that?’ For example, will your parents let you ride your bike in the park? —what about in a busy street? Will your parents let you drink a big glass of water? —what about a little liquor? He was leading them to come to the conclusion that parents allow some things, and they say no to other things because they love their child; they have the responsibility to train them up & keep them safe. And when the pastor asked, “Why don’t your parents just buy you whatever you want, whenever you want it?” One student answered: ‘because they can’t afford it.’ So, besides love thru safety & good training, there is also that.
Can you afford it? That seems to be Jesus’ discipleship question today, from Luke 9. Consider the cost; are you willing to pay the price? You’ve heard it said that the most common argument leading to divorce among married couples involves ‘money’. But if that’s true, why would rich couples get divorced? I would suggest that an argument about money is more about ‘priorities.’ If a couple can agree about what their priorities are, then -it follows- that they will also agree & work together to afford the cost, or let it go.
So, let’s consider the cost of discipleship; which would not be about our offerings & the amount of money we can give to God or to His Church. Can we afford to follow Jesus with our life-priorities? We hear Jesus make 3 distinct challenges to any who would be His followers = including us.
The first challenge is in response to the man who says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” That is a wonderful assertion; but we gather from Jesus’ response that the man was looking for material gain or earthly rewards.
Because Jesus’ response sounds like this: ‘before you follow, consider this: Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, = and so you may not either.’ Count the cost: earthly security & possessions, a nice house, & feathering your nest are not the highest priority of the life of a follower of Jesus.
The second challenge comes after Jesus invites a man saying, ‘Follow Me.’ The man says, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Which would seem like a reasonable statement, as God does expect all of us to ‘honor our father and our mother,’ and to value & care for our family. But Jesus -again- speaks to this man’s skewed priorities. Bible commentators differ on whether the father’s death was imminent or not. So, maybe his father wasn’t sick, so this was just an excuse to put off God & church; not wanting to be serious about the faith & righteous living for another 20 or 30 years.
The point is the same either way = following Jesus must come first. Not just when everything is convenient. The Holy God is a rightly ‘jealous God’, who will not take a back-seat to anyone & to nothing else in all creation; not even family. That’s why Jesus, in Matt.10 said, ‘anyone who loves their father or mother (son or daughter) more than me is not worthy of me.’ Thou shalt have no other gods.
Jesus spoke to this excuse saying, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ This excuse from following can take other forms besides family. There are people who hear God’s call to faith, but they’re too busy with their jobs, & the market is too hot right now to waste time on church things. Others are having too much fun with sins & worldly things to follow Jesus’ teachings. And others say they’ll get serious later when they’re older; or when they have kids, then they’ll settle down & find a church; or when they retire.
All of these excuses deserve Jesus’s response. God is not just one-of-many on the list of the various things to do at certain points in our plan for our lives. God IS our life; He is the one & only head of the list, or else we don’t understand Him as God. If we are the ones placing Him on our list, that makes US ‘god’ or ‘lord’ over our lives = and that’s a lie.
Jesus’ point to this man is not mean or uncaring; but His truth rebukes our spiritually dangerous priorities. Those who try to place God anywhere on their list except ‘first’, are in danger of not seeing the life to come. Being a follower of Jesus IS life, so that we will actually be a true disciple for all the other things we do with our time & energy.
The third situation sounds similar to the second, but Jesus gives it a different answer. The man said: ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Again, knowing his intentions, Jesus responds: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Most people from MN would know that to plow a field straight, the farmer picks a point at the far end of the field to aim the tractor. It would be the same principle with your lawn. Don’t think you will make a straight row while you’re looking behind you. You can’t move into the new future if you can’t get your mind off of the old past.
The truth & lesson here is on the difference between the life of the believer & the unbeliever, between heavenly things & earthly things. For the believer, there is no going back, or oscillating between God’s things today and doing our own things tomorrow. This is what Paul is writing about to the church in Galatia. Christ has set us free so that we would be holy; not so that we can join-in the world’s dirty sin during the week, but then be all ‘churchy’ on Sunday, in the hope of looking respectable. We cannot plow a straight, holy life by looking backwards to our sins; our heart will be divided; we might fool people, but not God. We can’t serve two masters.
This point has been spoken clearly & firmly, all the way back to Adam’s fall into sin. Cain thought he could publicly give his offering to the Lord and then secretly kill his brother Abel; but that didn’t fool God. When Noah preached about the coming flooding anger of God while building the ark, he was calling people to believe God’s Word; and they could come along or not = but they couldn’t do both. As God’s judgment was raining down on Sodom & Gomorrah, and Lot & his family were being rescued from death to life, what did Lot’s wife look back for & desire before she was turned into a ‘pillar of salt?’ To be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God, says James 4. And Joshua’s words in Josh.24 are used fairly often. He said, ‘choose today whom you will serve…. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
By grace & thru faith, our hands have been put to the plow for the kingdom of God. You have been baptized into a new life, called to be a disciple of the world’s one Savior, chosen to bear good fruit for His kingdom, and always moving forward toward the eternal heavenly home What is there to look back for that this world has to offer == as if it is better -in any way- than what God has planned for us? Counting the cost is a reoccurring theme thru-out Holy Scripture because it is a daily reality in the life of the disciple of Jesus.
Another recurring theme in the Bible, and in the life of the follower of Jesus, is: Remember the Mission. Many Christians authors have written about the need to keep in mind the purpose of the Lord’s Church we are part of. Why are we here, & what is the main work we are to do? We should be careful not over-argue about what color to paint the restrooms, when our purpose is more eternal. Like the convention theme for our Synod a number of years back: (19..) “Keep the message straight, Missouri; Get the message out, Missouri.” Or, the theme of The Lutheran Hour is also brief & good: ‘Bringing Christ to the nations, and the nations to the Church.’
We see in Luke 9 that the disciples were still not so clear in understanding the Lord’s mission work. So, maybe they knew very well the story of Elijah in 1 Kings, when he presided over that competition on Mt.Carmel between God & Baal. Elijah on one side, and the 450 prophets of Baal on the other; they both build altars & call on their God/gods. Baal was silent all day = because Baal was fake & nothing. But when Elijah prayed to God, fire from heaven came down & burned up the altar & everything on & around it. And then those 450 false prophets were put to death.
So, when a village of Samaritans rejected Jesus, James & John didn’t just want to ‘shake the dust off their feet against them’, but wanted to ‘blow them away’ & destroy them. But that was not Jesus’ mission. So, instead of going & rebuking the Samaritans for rejecting Him, Jesus turns & rebukes the disciples for their terrible misunderstanding of His mission.
Just as Jesus taught the three men with their excuses, Jesus teaches the disciples that the mission is to keep the door open, as long as possible, so that the Spirit with the gospel may do His work, calling sinners to repentance and to trust in Christ, even up to the ‘eleventh hour.’ The disciples of Jesus are to follow Him in /showing care to people, /being patient, /applying mercy while maintaining God’s holy expectations. How long does it take a person to be turned by the gospel & grow in their relationship with their Savior Jesus Christ? As long as it takes. Sometimes we are just planting a seed; we may not see the good results.
Sometimes we do get frustrated with those who mock & reject Jesus & His church; we’d like to call down fire from heaven on their heads. But that’s not Jesus’ mission.
We must count the cost if we would be Jesus’ disciples. Swallowing our pride is a cost we must be willing to pay; doing things the way God wants & not the way we want has a cost. In these four examples, Jesus has challenged all excuses for moving God & His things down the list of our priorities.
Is it worth it? Why would we deny ourselves, our desires, & our own priorities?
Why should we inconvenience ourselves; why make a commitment of discipleship that eats up our energy, time, money, & our own desires? Do we have to go ‘all in’ ? can’t we just be a part-time Christian? Because, as Peter confessed: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ Because, as Paul said, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. That’s the faith. In this faith, for us, the world is already fading away. We are not our own; we have been bought at a price. With that price, we have been brought into a mission that is not our own; into a way of working that does not always make sense to us; and into an inheritance of glory that cannot be compared to even the greatest treasures & pleasures of this world.
What price? We follow The One who did NOT do a part-time job of being Savior; He was all-in. Remember -on the night He was betrayed- when Jesus was in the Garden, He faced that ‘either -or’ moment. He prayed: ‘Father, take this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.’ In order that you might be redeemed from the absolute condemnation of sin, He was all-in for you = all the way to the cross: body & blood.
That was His mission. But not just for you; but also for everyone around you = people you like and those you don’t like. Jesus’ mission was to rescue those who shouted ‘hosanna’ and those who shouted ‘crucify him.’ The mission of His disciples was to patiently reach out to Jews, gentiles and Samaritans = all. As our Lord sacrificed Himself to save us, so now we must sacrifice our old place in this world to follow Him in new life. Consider the cost of this discipleship.
Is this Christian life & mission easy? No. It takes energy, effort, with some risk & reprioritizing. Have you ever admitted to anyone that you were struggling to live as a Christian should? Good; that’s a humble repentant thought; & more often true than not.
To your old nature, this life-in-Christ is a foreign thing we all struggle with.
Keep struggling, & keep learning & following, keep looking ahead. Is it worth the cost? Absolutely. We are following the One who paid everything to rescue us, & to open the door of life for all people. God is giving us everything, a whole kingdom, for Jesus’ sake. For that, our cost is small.