Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What will it cost? Whenever my kids wanted to buy some new electronic game system or software, that was always my question. What will it cost? Jesus is talking about the cost of being a disciple in today’s Gospel. It doesn’t sound like it at first, but I assure you, that is what he is talking about. When we meet Jesus in today’s Gospel, his reputation has grown and large crowds are following him. He was famous. He was a topic of conversation, because of his constant conflict with the Jewish leaders. He spoke with astounding power and authority. Jesus healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, and taught about the coming of God’s Kingdom with amazing authority!
The crowd was large and growing larger. Some folks followed Jesus because they had been healed by him. Some folks were there because they had heard his messages and seen the miracles. Others came because his fame spread by word of mouth. They were following Jesus to Jerusalem. The folks in the crowd are full of excitement to be in the presence of the Messiah! It felt like a party. They were on their way to Jerusalem in triumph. Suddenly Jesus turns on the crowd and says, “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.” That must have been a shock for everyone following him. They knew the meaning of the cross. It was an instrument of torture and death. Why would Jesus talk about torture and death?
When we hear these words from Jesus, we tend to squirm in our seats a little. Isn’t Jesus supposed to talk about peace and love? Why would Jesus want me to hate my family? Even my own life? When we hear the word “hate,” we think of an emotion—actually a very strong emotion. How many of us have heard our own child, or someone else’s, say to their mother or father, “I hate you”? When we say, “I hate you” we are expressing very negative feelings. The word Jesus used, which we translate as hate, meant something a bit different to the crowds following him. It was more an expression of changing priorities. In that time and culture, the most important thing in everyone’s life was family. Extended families took care of each other, lived near each other, and even worked in the same trades. To hate your father and mother meant you were leaving behind all the security and honor, of being part of a family group, to follow Jesus.
Imagine how the first Christians must have struggled. For many, becoming a Christian meant leaving your family, being rejected by those closest to you, being alone for the first time in your life. Jesus wants the crowds following him to know this is not just a fun excursion to Jerusalem. Following him was dangerous. When Jesus gets to Jerusalem, he will be arrested, tortured, and crucified. The people in the crowd, even the disciples, have no idea how dangerous it will be. His followers must be committed enough to following him that they are willing to give up everything—family, safety, profession—maybe even their lives. That’s why I said Jesus was talking about cost. The cost of discipleship for those folks was high.
What is the cost of discipleship for Christians today? For some, the cost of discipleship could be as high as it was for those first followers of Jesus. Christians in some parts of the world risk losing their family and friends. They risk losing their jobs, and some have even lost their lives. But what about us, here in our country, in our town, in this congregation today? What is the cost of discipleship? Of being a follower of Jesus?
Jesus said, “Whoever does not pick up their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. It is not enough to believe in Jesus. It is not enough to be nice to our neighbors. Jesus calls us to up pick up a cross and follow him. That’s what it means to be a disciple. For us, the cost of being a follower may not be the same as it was for the early Christians, but there is still a cost to picking up that cross, to committing to following Jesus. Sometimes, bearing our cross will mean making sacrifices of money or time to support the mission of the church, feed the hungry, or visit the sick or imprisoned. We pick up our cross when we dare to share with another person the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.
The world would say we are foolish to be so vulnerable to criticism and ridicule by talking about our faith in a time when church attendance is down and being a Christian is not particularly popular. But to follow Jesus, we have to act like Jesus. We have to stand up for the outsiders, care for those in need, and even love our enemies wherever and whoever they may be. Loving our enemies does not mean becoming a doormat. It does mean disagreeing with actions and words that are contrary to our Christian beliefs. Bearing a cross means always leading with love and keeping Jesus in our hearts always. Amen.