- Goodness Of God
- Here I am, Lord
- I Have Decided To Follow Jesus
- It is always good to hear some feedback after a sermon and last week I had several folks comment on the parable of the talents, sometimes called the parable of the lazy servant and how they gained a better understanding of what Jesus was saying. But if I asked right now if anyone could recite a few lines from my message last week – I would be hard pressed to find someone who could. It is understandable, we take in a lot of information every week. Studies show that we remember about 10% of what we hear and about 20% of what we read.However, if I asked those of you who attended the combined worship service with SP/Grace two weeks ago, to retell the story of the young woman and her Nana – chances are that quite a few of you would be able to recall much of that story – or could at least give a brief synopsis. Why would most remember a story told two weeks ago better than a message shared last week. Simply put, a story is more memorable. That is because stories paint a picture in our minds, we enter into a story and experience it as we listen and this makes a stronger impression.When we hear the gospel read (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and listen to the actual teachings spoken by Jesus, we find that Jesus often speaks in ways that are memorable and will stand the test of time. It makes sense, He is God in the flesh, and he entered into a specific time and place in history to convey eternal truths – he would need to communicate in a way that would be easily remembered and transmissible by others. So Jesus employs tools and techniques that will enable His Words to be passed on. He speaks in parables (simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual truth that utilize allegories) – for instance the Parable of the Prodigal Son where the wayward son represents the average person who is prone to sinful behavior, the father who represents our compassionate God, and the older son who represents those who serve God not out of love but out of duty or to gain reward.Jesus would also use metaphors – everyday common objects that would symbolize spiritual realities. Jesus referred to himself as a Shepherd, as a Sower, as a Bridegroom, as Bread and other symbols. In the Gospels, we hear Jesus describe religious hypocrites, such as those Pharisees who claimed to speak for God yet in their hearts did not know, as “white washed tombs.” His listeners would immediately picture in their minds the crypts made of stone that were sparkling clean from the outside, but contained decaying bones in the inside.In teaching this way - his message stood out and those who where truly listening would need to mull over what was being said and share it with others.In today’s gospel passage - we encounter a very memorable, very shocking and very difficult teaching from the Lord Jesus Christ.“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.Wait…what? Jesus is saying that I must hate my own family if I am to follow him?How are we to understand this teaching, let alone accept it?Is he simply using another tool of the trade? Is this hyper-bo-lee - an exaggeration not meant to be taken literally?Well, the answer will take some unpacking - but I will say this upfront - Jesus does not want you to hate your family. Disciples of Jesus are called to love our enemies, so it would make no sense to hold hatred against those closest to us.To understand this passage, let’s first start with some context.This difficult teaching immediately follows Jesus sharing the Parable of the Great Banquet - a parable he taught during a dinner he was invited to by some Pharisees.Luke 14:16–24 (ESV)...“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ”In deciphering this parable, it is helpful to know that according to the customs of that time, Invitations to a special banquet were given in two stages. Those privileged guests in this parable would have already received an initial invitation - kind of a “Save the Date” invitation - which would have been the time to accept or decline. We are now approaching party time - this grand event is planned and ready, the money has been spent, the food prepared, the time to honor the host and to receive all that he has prepared is upon them - and so servants are deployed to go out and tell the guests “‘Come, for everything is now ready.’At this late stage, suddenly the privileged guests who intended to come are trying to excuse themselves - which would have been a great insult.One person says they just purchased land that must be looked over, another bought livestock, and another just got married.
All three reasons seem legitimate on the surface, but under scrutiny they are not as urgent as they appear. Large purchases and getting married tend not to be last-minute decisions. Given that they have plenty of advanced notice for the dinner, these guests, as well as all the others who said they would come but now refuse to show up, do not have a legitimate excuse. They have deeply insulted the host and jeopardized his standing in the community. By shaming the host, these unreliable guests shame themselves as well.So who is the host? God is the host and this is his Messianic banquet. The banquet itself is a metaphor - it represents the abundant joy, fullness, and happiness enjoyed by all who are saved and included at God’s table. The slaves that go out to say “Come, everything is now ready” are the messengers sent by God to proclaim the gospel.God invites to to His table all people, regardless of title or status, but in answering that invite, one must be fully committed to the Lord. God will not be mocked and he will not be regulated to a lower status in the lives of His children.It is this commitment that Jesus is speaking to in today’s passage. He is laying out the cost of discipleship - and he is not going to sugarcoat it.When Jesus says “to hate” here, he is using a Semitic expression - his original audience would understand what he was saying as “to turn away from” or “to detach oneself from” one’s family. He is not using the term with the emotion that we would think of, for instance when we hear “I hate you.”A more comparable expression that we would use today is “to strongly prefer one over the other.”In other words, when push comes to shove, if I had to choose, I would choose Jesus over my own family.There are Christ followers today who have to make that painful decision, sometimes under threat of harm and even death - fortunately it is not usually the case here in America. But there still can be a fracturing of relationships when one decides to follow Jesus. I just found out the other day that someone I knew many years ago is now a born-again Christian, and it has resulted in a fractured relationship between her and her parents.This is about priorities.As a disciple, following Jesus must trump all other relationships and ties. You are either “all in” or you are not in at all.Through Jesus we are redeemed, restored and reconciled with our God - what greater allegiance can there be in this life?Jesus’ disciples knew this - they had relinquished everything to follow him.And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”The invitation to be a disciple of Jesus is offered to all - and the rewards outweigh the costs - but one must consider the costs and determine if they are willing to pay it.Are you willing to leave your home if the Lord calls you to go somewhere else for the sake of spreading the gospel?Are you willing to let go of your possessions if the Lord calls on you to do so?Are you willing to lay down your life should the mission of God necessitate it?Jesus gives two analogies on counting the cost before embarking on an endeavor.The first is the building of a tower. Likely referring to the kind of tower a farmer would build in that day to look over his fields and make sure there are no threats or problems. He would need to first count the cost and make sure he could build it - for what good would a partially built tower be?The second is a king planning for a battle. How large a force is he going against? If the opposing force is bigger in size, he better make sure his army is better equipped, more heavily armed, and have better tactical advantage - otherwise, the outcome will be catastrophic.As commentator Fred Craddock writes, “But rich and poor alike, royalty and peasants alike, have essentially the same decision to make when faced with a major expenditure of time, property, and life itself: Does this cost more than I am able or willing to pay? The decision is no different when one is facing the call to discipleship: the enthusiasm for beginning is there, but do I possess the resources to carry through to completion?”How about you? Are you in it to win it?This walk is not for the faint of heart. There are obstacles and challenges all along the way. We are constantly under spiritual attack. Are you willing to look past all that and keep your eyes on the prize - not get discouraged, and not give up - but keep pressing on?Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.My prayer is that we all have counted the cost and realized there is no greater way to live than to follow the Lord. Amen.
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