Read the Fine Print
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 8, 2019
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Luke 14:25-33
Years ago, when Kinney and I purchased our home, I remember the two of us sitting in the bank office, reading a mountain of documents in great detail. Other times, reading the fine print has been just as important, like when we took out insurance policies or purchased an automobile. Along the way, we learned the dangers of floating interest rates and hidden costs. We learned the truth of that old saying, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!” As a society, we are cautious and for good reason. Most of us have been burned somewhere along the way so we know that reading the fine print is a smart thing to do.
Jesus is making his way toward Jerusalem. Along the way he picks up quite a crowd of people. Some come for no other reason than curiosity—Jesus is the new thing in town, and they don’t want to miss the show. Others come because they have nowhere else to go—they are the pariahs of society—sinners, tax collectors, the poor, the outcasts—but for some strange reason this strange, holy man shows them kindness and love. Then, there are those who follow because they are Jesus’ disciples. They’ve seen the wonders of his teaching and acts of compassion. They’ll follow him anywhere—or so they think.
Jesus looks around at the throngs of people and realizes it’s time for full disclosure. He knows there are many gathered around him who won’t make it to Jerusalem—let alone the cross. More than likely, many of them won’t make it over the next hill—not after he shares what he’s about to share.
So, Jesus pulls out his Discipleship 101 manual and begins to read: “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.” Wait a minute! What did he say? Did he say that we must hate our family to follow him? He did! And there’s more!
Jesus goes on to caution those who are gathered ‘round to think long and hard before making the decision to become his disciple. His questioning goes a bit like this: “Can you afford it? I guarantee it will cost you! It might cost you your family. It will surely cost a lot of effort because only those who are willing to carry a cross can make the journey with me. I want you to sit down and take stock because those dreams and plans you have made—you may have to kiss them goodbye. All that stuff you have accumulated, that may have to go, too.” Then Jesus hands out a signup sheet on his handy dandy clipboard and passes it around. (There’s even a waiver to sign for insurance purposes.) You see, this is no ordinary excursion. This is no quick jaunt to Savannah. This is a trip of a lifetime and it will take a lifetime to complete the journey.
Of course, Jesus isn’t asking his followers to do anything he hasn’t done. He gave up everything to follow the will of his Abba Father. He left his heavenly address. Scripture tells us that he created a rift in his earthly family. It’s no wonder. He is the eldest son. He should be working in the family business. Instead he is gathering disciples, teaching, healing. People from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem and beyond the Jordan follow him in droves. When unclean spirits see him, they recognize him and shout for everyone to hear, “You are the Son of God!” When Jesus gets home the crowd has grown so much, he can hardly eat. When his family hears all this, they attempt to restrain him. Some people even think he’s lost his mind.[i] Later when his family shows up outside the door and he’s told that they are calling for him, Jesus responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers? …Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and mother and sister.”[ii] It appears that Jesus is not only redefining faithfulness—he’s redefining what it means to be family.
Jesus continues speaking to the crowd, reminding would-be followers to carefully consider what might be required. He even gives examples: “If you are planning an expensive building project, won’t you check to make sure you can cover the cost? Or if you are a king planning to go war, don’t you examine all your resources before deciding which option is best: battle or negotiations? Ponder your prospects well, for following me may cost you everything.”
Jesus shares all this because he wants people to know what they’re getting into before signing on the dotted line. In all things, Jesus must come first. On the screen of life, God gets top billing. Undeniably, reminding humans that God comes first is nothing new. It is an age-old problem. You’ll recall the first commandment given to God’s chosen people: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other Gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”[iii]
Only God is to be worshiped—not family, not dreams and plans, and not possessions. At the day’s beginning and at its end, everything belongs to God. We are merely managers of all that we claim to possess. Living in such a materialistic society, this teaching of Jesus may hit us particularly hard. But you see, Jesus knows that the more stuff we accumulate, the more insulation there is between us and God; between us and others. After a while we may succumb to the danger of allowing our egos to take center stage—so much so that life becomes about taking care of me and mine: me and my family, me and my plans, me and my stuff. It’s a strange stance to take when we consider we entered this world with nothing at all and we will depart the same way.
There once was a rich man who was near death. He was very grieved because he had worked so hard for his money and wanted to be able to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might be able to take some of his wealth with him. An angel heard his plea and appeared to him. “Sorry, but you can’t take your wealth with you.” The man begged the angel to speak to God to see if He might bend the rules. The man continued to pray that his wealth could follow him. The angel reappeared and informed the man that God had decided to allow him to take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man gathered his largest suitcase and filled it with pure gold bars and placed it beside his bed. Soon afterward, he died and showed up at the gates of heaven to greet St. Peter. St. Peter, seeing the suitcase, said, “Hold on, you can’t bring that in here!” The man explained to St. Peter that he had permission and asked him to verify his story with the Lord. Sure enough, St. Peter checked it out, came back and said, “You’re right. You are allowed one carry-on bag, but I’m supposed to check its contents before letting it through.” St. Peter opened the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind and exclaimed, ‘You brought pavement?’ [iv]
God gives us everything—beautiful sunrises, good food, family and friends—even life itself. So, is it any wonder that Jesus warns no one can become his disciple unless he or she is willing to give up everything—all for the love of God? It’s radical commitment Jesus is after!
In an effort of full disclosure, Jesus cautions the foolhardy to reconsider. You know, drive the car before you buy it, read the contract before you sign it, and don’t start what you can’t finish. Becoming a disciple is not to be taken lightly!
Jesus continues toward Jerusalem. Few people will follow all the way. It’s still the same today. It’s no wonder! Following Jesus just might cost us: our plans, our priorities, our possessions. But then, why shouldn’t it? Jesus gave up everything—all for love of his Abba Father—all for love of us! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] Mark 3:7-21.
[ii] Mark 3:31-35
[iii] Exodus 20:2-5a.