By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
September 4, 2022
Luke 14:25–33 (ESV)
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, 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 begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
This week my mind has gone several different directions. I started down one path and ended up somewhere totally different. If I want to be totally honest this happens often. I told my brother that we should start a YouTube bible study called squirrel tracks because we both tend to get distracted. And just so you know we are currently distracted because that has yet to happen. Today’s passage is one of those passages that takes you places.
To set the scene a bit, two weeks ago Jesus healed a woman at the synagogue on the Sabbath, and the synagogue ruler got a bit upset. And Jesus looked at the guy and said none of you would deny your donkey a drink on the Sabbath. You would untie your animal and take it to water, yet this daughter of Abraham must wait another day to be unburdened from this disabling spirit? And that is the last time Luke has Jesus in the synagogue.
Then last week Jesus was invited to a ruler of the Pharisees’ house to eat a meal on the Sabbath, and there was a guy that needed healing, so Jesus healed him. Then Jesus turns to the people that were watching him in astonishment because he had just done the very thing he was asked not to do again. Jesus looks at them and he asks why are you guys arguing about where you are going to sit? And why are you inviting all these people that have social status? He was telling them that the things that we value are not always the things that God values. We want social standing. We want recognition. We desire to be known by others, especially by people we think are important. But the host is the one that determines the honor of the guests. And God is the one that can truly bestow that honor.
These two stories were included for a couple of reasons. The first was because the perceived dishonoring of the Sabbath was what prompted the annoyance of many of the religious elites with Jesus. And a second reason is that Jesus was teaching us who is important and what has value in God’s economy.
I often use the term God’s economy, and I am sure you may not understand what I mean by it. My theology teacher would use the term and it annoyed me. It annoyed me because I love the study of economics. I think that economic studies are one of the social sciences that can really help us understand those around us in a greater way. I say this, not because I am fixated on money and wealth, but because what people spend their money on, and what they invest their time and capital in tells us something about what has value within a society. We can know what people value by watching how they pay their employees, what they spend their money on, and where they go when they have free time. Economics is the study of what our culture values. And God also has an economy. There are aspects within creation that God deems valuable.
You are valuable in God’s economy. So valuable that God sent his one unique son to live among humankind: born of a virgin teenaged girl betrothed to Joseph and raised within a community of friends and extended family for thirty years. For seventeen years he worked alongside his father in this blended family, and his uncles in their construction company. He worked with his hand shaping rocks, cutting wood, building houses, and digging wells. I do not fully know what all he did, we say he was a carpenter, but the word could mean stone mason or handy man so basically Jesus was a construction worker. And he did that for seventeen years. We often think of Jesus as being a young man. But in that culture, he would have been more like our middle aged. A master in his trade, and at that time when most men would be teaching the next generation how to do the work while they supervised the labor, Jesus decided to take on a new career in ministry. And he did this because that was his purpose.
He lived a complete life. God knows what it is like at every stage of our human existence. He knows how irritating parents can be. He knows the stress of deadlines and having to come up with an alternative way of doing something because what you planned on doing failed. He even knows what it is like to have to start your career over after working for the same company for over a decade. God understands what it means to be human. And he knows the expectations of a holy God. He brought God’s holiness to humanity, and in him we are lifted to God. And he did this while we were still sinners. While we were still enemies opposing God, Christ died for us. He took on our wages, so that he could restore humanity to their rightful place among God’s created order. We have value.
Jesus looked at the rulers of the synagogues and the Pharisees and he challenged their systems and their norms. He asked why they were treating sons and daughters of Abraham with less dignity than beasts used to pull carts and a plow. He asked why they were more concerned with where they ranked in society yet seemed to be unconcerned with the very things that the God, they claimed to worship valued. They cared about the rules and neglected the people, yet it is the people that retain value in God’s economy. The Kingdom of God, the extent of God’s influence is not based on rules and laws, but in the hearts of the people that bear his image and are called by his name.
Have you ever wondered why one of the ten commandments is do not use the Lord’s name in vain? Does this mean we should not use God as a swear word? No, it is much deeper than that. We bear God’s image, we carry his name, and we should not tarnish his name but instead we should live in a manner that will honor and glorify that name. Have you even wondered why we should not make graven images of God? It is because we are the image of God, we are the containers of God’s Spirit. We are the sacred objects within God’s temple, because he created us to bear His image and to carry his name. We are his most prized creation, and we have value.
But somewhere along humanity’s long journey of life we have devalued the creatures God sees as precious. We lost our way and we decided to value other things, instead of valuing God and God’s precious creatures. And this devaluation has led us into devastating places. Places where can justify the mistreatment of others so that we can have what we want. Jesus looked at the rulers of the systematic society devoted to the worship of God, and he showed them that they were no better than the brutal Roman overlords. We would allow suffering if what we see as important is satisfied.
Jesus leaves that leader’s house, and the crowds accompany him. He is walking toward Jerusalem to face his final trial. He had set the course, he had riled up the opposition, so that redemption could be complete. He took human injustice onto himself, so that he could break the cycles and reverse what humanity lost in their fall. And on that journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus turns to this crowd and says, “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.”
This is where the squirrel tracks come. If this verse does not cause you to squirm just a bit, you probably have not read it. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate…” This is coming from the God of love. We want to be a people living the love of Christ with others and he is telling us that we must hate those that we love the most? I remember the first time my son James really read this passage. We were at my mom’s church on the farm, and James was getting tired of making the trip here to Kansas City and back every other weekend. And the pastor read this passage and James looked at me with the biggest question marks in his eyes. He knew that ministry was important and even told me that I should be a pastor again because I was not myself when I was not serving in this role. But he also knew that we bent over backward to make sure he knew that we loved him.
What does Jesus mean when he uses these words? He is using hyperbole. He is not speaking of emotion or passion, but value. We value our parents, our spouse, and our children above any other human beings on this planet. We would die for these people, and we would even kill to protect them. The members of our own family are the ones that we can understand God’s value for. But Jesus is telling us, that to be a disciple, to follow Jesus we must value the things of God at a level greater than our own family. That is why James had the question marks in his eyes that day. He was beginning to understand why I made decisions that I had made. I have not been home for Thanksgiving dinner for over twelve years, and thanksgiving dinner was the most important holiday on my family’s calendar. I have not been home, because Christ is more important.
Jesus goes on and says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This is the second time in Luke’s gospel that Jesus speaks of the cross. He mentioned it previously in Luke 9:23, but in that instance he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Both words, take up and to bear, mean to lift or to carry but to bear denotes a deeper burden. To bear has the idea that it is something that you cannot get away from like the seal of God or the mark of the beast in Revelation, it is part of who we are. We can take up a cross if we want to follow system, but to really be a disciple we must bear it.
This then got my mind going down yet another squirrel track. This is before the cross was set on Jesus’ shoulders why then would he be speaking about the cross? The cross in the first century was not something that people wore on a gold chain around their necks, but it was a familiar symbol. The cross was used to execute those that opposed the authority of the Roman government. The cross was an instrument of terror and oppression to those that were among the minorities within the culture. Just the mention of it would silence and disperse the crowd. There are things like this even today. During the civil rights movement and even more recently with the riots and protests a couple of years ago there were symbolic representations of terror that could be found from people that wished to silence the minority voice. When Jesus says that we must bear our cross, it does not mean that we have endure some minor inconvenience, but we must literally look death in the face. We must face ridicule and threats as we oppose the values of the dominant society that result in the exploitation of others. This is difficult to do. Especially if you are a member of the dominant society. But to be a true disciple of Christ we cannot tolerate injustice or exploitation of any kind within our society. We must speak up even if it means we will lose everything we think is important.
Jesus then has a squirrel moment of his own, probably because everyone was staring at him in shock, and he tells two parables. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost whether he has enough to complete it?” Usually when we hear this parable we tend to think of this as being a skyscraper, something that we ourselves would never build because we do not have the funds to even consider it. This is not what he is speaking of. The tower he is speaking of is most likely a farm building. Either a tower on a wall surrounding a vineyard, or maybe a silo to store grain. Everyone that was listening to him had or will have to consider building something like this. When he says that they would count the cost, they know exactly what Jesus is meaning. It is like when you buy a new car, you want to make sure you will be able to cover the payments because it would be embarrassing to have it repossessed.
He then tells a second parable, “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” Jesus in this is not urging us to amass larger armies or improve our weapon systems. He is wanting us to consider what we are getting into. A king that went into battle with an inferior army would likely lose their life. So, it would be better to find an alternate method of resolution if at all possible.
These two parables, teach the same thing. You need to know what you are getting into before you get into it. You need to be aware of what will be asked of you, and what will be required. There will be times where we will have to move forward even when it does not make sense, but we still need to be aware. There are times where a king will be required to face the twenty thousand with an army half the size, because there is not another way, but we must know what it will cost us. There are times where we will have to start building a tower, knowing full well we do not have the funds right now to finish. We might face ridicule but if we do not lay the foundation will we ever build? Jesus is not telling us that we must have perfect knowledge and all our ducks in a row before we start. He is telling us that we need to be aware and be prepared to face the challenges that will come. And along with that we need to be mindful of those around us that face challenges that we ourselves may not face.
This is where yet another squirrel track came into my mind. I do not know what challenges a family will face when they immigrate to this country. I have the privilege of being born here. I do not know what it is like living in a nation that is in the grips of war. I have the privilege of being born in the middle of a continent surrounded by thousands of miles of land that belongs to one nation. We do not always know what struggles someone else is enduring. We do not know what they bear. Maybe the tower could not be completed because illness struck the family. Maybe terms of peace could not be negotiated because the opposing army only desires the annihilation of your kingdom. Maybe we should extend grace because we may not understand. And maybe we should listen and become aware of what is around us.
Jesus continues, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
I want us to just let this soak into your minds and deep into your soul. I want you to think for a moment of the conversation Jesus had with the rich young ruler that asked what he must do to inherit a place in the kingdom. Jesus said that man that he should sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor and come and follow. This is what Jesus is meaning when he says, “you who does not renounce all that he has.” What do you value? I must admit that I am tight fisted when it comes to the things that are mine, but I am also liberal when it comes to ministry. I will refuse to buy new clothes until my last pair of jeans has a hole ripped in them, but I will not hesitate to make a purchase to make sure we are able to encourage people in their faith. I have even stepped away from jobs so that I could spend more time working for the church. This is what Jesus wants us to do. Jesus wants each of us to consider what we value, because things can change in a blink of an eye.
If I put all my value in worldly wealth and neglect the people God loves, what do I have? The richest people in the world live in constant fear. They live in fear because they are aware that what they have built their lives on can be gone in an instant. Walmart was the largest retailer in the world for many years, most of us cannot imagine life without Walmart. Yet they are no longer the largest retailer. Things constantly change around us, and we adapt. And as we adapt, we reevaluate and change. The second largest phone company in the world, Samsung, did not always make electronics. When the company first formed it specialized in manufacturing fertilizers and sweeteners. They adapted. We too must adapt and reevaluate our directions. We need to let go at times, and at other times pick things up. But no matter what we do we need to stay focused on what is most important, the kingdom that resides in the hearts of people that bear God’s image. If we want to be true disciples, we need to renounce or say farewell to things that distract us from Christ. We need to let go of the things preventing us from following Jesus.
What is the Cost of following Jesus? We must reevaluate our most natural social bonds and put Christ before even the ones we love the most. We should be willing to look death in the face while we stand against injustice and oppression. And bear the weight of the least within our society even if we do not have to. To follow Jesus requires us to constantly be aware of what is going on around us so that we can bear God’s name into the world. And be willing to adjust and adapt as needed. And to follow Christ requires us to let go of the things that become an obstacle. Do we know the cost? Have we really thought about what bearing the image and the name of God in this world requires? Have we considered the cost if we don’t?
We can look at history and we can find every negative where religion has failed. But we can also look at history and see where religion caused humanity to improve. Our world would not be what it is without both. It is when we become people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others that we lift the sons and daughters of Abraham. But we bind and condemn those loved by God when we focus on ourselves and our systems. Will we count the cost and bear his name? Will we ask ourselves as we live our lives among our neighbors, “am I reflecting the truth of Christ’s love in my actions?”
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