Sermon for Pentecost 13, Proper 18C, preached on Sunday, September 8, 2019, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
In today’s Gospel reading, we heard some confusing and harsh words from Jesus. It sounds like Christ is encouraging us to hate: to hate our parents, our spouse, our children, our family, to even hate our very own life. This sound right. The great one word summary of God’s commandments is love: love God with your whole heart; love your neighbor as yourself. And yet here Jesus plainly 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” (Lk 14:26). So how do these go together? How can God command us to love and Jesus tell us to hate?
First, we need to understand that God’s command to love and Jesus’ words of hate aren’t contradictory. When we love the Lord with our whole heart, we will love our neighbors as well. And yet, if we don’t love God with our whole heart, if we have other loves before Him, then we can’t love our neighbors. So if our love for family prevents us to love God, then Jesus’ words are spot on. We must hate everything that we put before our Lord. It must be Christ above all.
Jesus spoke these words to a crowd who was following Him. That’s what disciples do, they follow. They closely follow a teacher, and Jesus wasn’t the only one who had disciples. There were other teachers who had close followers, people who left everything, their homes, their occupations, even their families. As a disciple, the most important thing was the teacher and his word. Christ’s followers are to value nothing more than Him, not even the closest relationships that we have.
This ultimately means that following Christ has a cost. Discipleship carries with it sacrifice, even a sacrifice of relationships. That’s what Jesus is talking about. This can be a hard cost to handle. Our family is supposed to be one of the most important, if not the most important thing in our lives. Our parents gave us life. They raised us and cared for us. Our spouse and children bring us joy. We share fond memories with our siblings. Sure, not all of family life is great, and family can bring with it great pain and sorrow, but for Christ to tells us to hate them, this is a hard thing. Blood is thick and the family bond runs deep. And yet, following Christ means putting Him before them, even at the expense of losing family relationships.
This cost of discipleship, sacrificing relationships, this can be hard to bear. And yet, the most difficult sacrifice for us to make is our self. We hear Jesus’ words of hate and we’re shocked. Shocked so much so that it’s easy for us to not hear what He says about hating our very own life. Of all things, this is the most unthinkable thing to hate. How can Christ tell us to hate our lives? Shouldn’t we love ourselves? Isn’t it important to have good self-esteem? Shouldn’t we be proud of who we are and what we can do?
We love our life, and that’s the problem. We love our life too much. We put it first. That’s what sin is. Sin is the reordering of things so that we’re on top and everything else is below us. Sin puts us first in all of our relationships. It puts us first before God. This is the greatest cost and sacrifice of discipleship; hating ourselves; denying ourselves, putting Christ first.
We want to live a self-first life. We want to be on top. We want to be the most important thing. We want the world to revolve around us. We want to be self-sufficient and in charge. And this even applies to our faith. We want to be the one who chooses to follow Christ. We want to be responsible for our salvation. But we can’t, because we can’t pay that ultimate cost.
As Jesus was talking to the crowd that was following Him, He told two small parables. On the surface they seem to be simply wise words about considering the cost of something before you do it. Before you start a building project, before you start a war, you need to sit down and be sure that you can finish it. But what does this have to do with discipleship? Jesus used these parables to teach the crowd that there was a cost to following Him. They would have to sacrifice to be His disciples, and they needed to know that upfront so that they could be ready for it.
This is important for us to remember. There’s a sacrifice to following Christ, and we need to be ready for that. We can’t assume that our life is going to be all puppy dogs and roses. Following our Lord is difficult, so we need to be ready for those trials and temptations. But more than that, we need to sit down and understand the true cost of discipleship and realize that it isn’t something that we pay.
The true cost of discipleship isn’t us reordering our lives and putting Christ first. The true cost of discipleship isn’t a giving us leaving our family. The true cost of discipleship is Christ Himself. The true cost of discipleship is His righteous life for your sinful self-first life.
We hear Jesus words we put ourselves at the center of them, thinking that we have to pay to be His disciples, and yet the opposite is true. Christ paid so that you would be His disciple. Christ paid so that you would be cleansed from all your sin. Christ paid so that you’d be rescued from death and the devil. Christ paid so that you’d have life. Christ paid so that the Spirit could create faith within you through the proclamation of the Gospel. Christ’s sacrifice, Him giving up His life on the cross for you, that’s the only way you can be His disciple.
There’s nothing we can give of our own to be Jesus’ disciples. There’s no reordering of our lives that we can do without first receiving the gift of faith. And with that faith, we can follow our Lord. With that gift of faith we can count the cost of disciples and meet it trusting our Lord. It’s only by the grace of God that we can be called disciples. It’s only by the grace of God that we can be a part of His family, having brothers and sisters in Christ, a family bond that runs deeper than any earthly family relationships we have. . Praise be to God, that Christ paid the cost and we’ve been made His disciples. In Jesus’ name...Amen.