sermon preached September 5, 2010
Text: Luke 14:25-33
Play the first two minutes of “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla
Counting blue Cars youtube
This song is about someone walking with a child, playing childhood games and listening to children’s questions. The games and questions move from simple to profound. While walking they avoid cracks in the sidewalk. Any of you ever play that game? They count only blue cars. The child asks about God. Simple to profound. We would do well to listen to our children’s questions.
One counting question that children ask with some frequency, at least when they begin to understand something about money, is “How much?” “I would really like that game.” “We don’t have enough money today.” Well, how much is it?” How much – counting the cost. In our lives, the question of how much, of the cost of something, can become quite far-reaching. The other day I heard the president of St. Scholastica talk about the coming year at the college. Enrollment is up, they will be doing some new construction at the school. He said that things may, at times be busy, chaotic, and messy but that this was “the price of progress.” At the end of the video series, “The Beatles Anthology,” George Harrison says about the group and their fans: “They gave their money and their screams. The Beatles kind of gave their nervous systems which is a more difficult thing to give.” Counting the cost.
Jesus speaking to a large crowd lets them know that following the way can be difficult. It can create conflict, even in one’s most intimate relationships – father, mother, wife, children. He uses stark language – exaggeration, hyperbole – to make his point. He is not really encouraging hate, but encouraging deep thought. Following Jesus, following the Jesus way has its costs. We take up our cross, which is to say, we find how we can use our best gifts in the service of God and others – and this can lead to trouble sometimes. In yesterday’s Budgeteer, I was labeled a “deceiver” – not by name, but that’s what a paid advertisement said about any religious leaders who don’t unequivocally condemn homosexuality. I don’t consider “deceiver” a term of affection. Sometimes following Jesus means we step out of the economic mainstream – again Jesus uses hyperbole, there is no indication that every follower of Jesus even then gave up all their possessions, though some certainly did and some still do. Following the way may cost us our nervous systems sometimes in order to create beautiful music in the world – the music of peace, love, reconciliation, hospitality, justice, compassion.
Following Jesus has its costs. For some, it cost everything, their very lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer followed Jesus and was killed by the Nazis for his opposition to Adolf Hitler. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador followed Jesus and was killed by a right wing death squad for his advocacy for poor Salvadorans. Recently in Afghanistan ten medical missionaries, inspired by their Christian faith to help Afghanistan’s people, were killed. Some of those killed had been there for over thirty years, including Dan Terry, a United Methodist mission worker. (The Christian Century, 9-7-2010, p. 15) There are other costs to following the way. Ardell Graner, a United Methodist missionary who our church has supported for 18 years, visited here on Tuesday. As she discussed she and her husband’s work in Bolivia, one of the things that struck me was the cost. Their children live in a world where they are neither Bolivian nor American, and that can be a difficult place – the cost of the important work the Graners are doing.
Following Jesus can cost. There is a suggestion in the reading that Jesus is telling the crowd this so they can consider whether or not they want to be followers. But that seems kind of odd. Is that really how faith in God and following Jesus works? Do we really sit down and calculate a cost/benefit ratio? Are you going to, when the invitation for communion is given begin to think – well, Jesus just might do something kind of crazy to me when I go up there and I have a really busy week so I think I’ll skip communion today? That doesn’t seem to be how it works. Instead, God’s love grabs hold of us and we respond. Jesus touches our lives, and we respond. Things might get busy, chaotic, messy, our nervous systems might get a little jangled sometime, but we have decided to follow Jesus.
The people Jesus was talking to had decided to follow. For some it had meant being estranged from their families and communities. For some it had meant economic dislocation. For some it had meant ridicule. They did not need to be reminded that there was a cost to discipleship. They were paying it. The same would have been true, maybe even more so, for the original audience of Luke’s gospel later in the first century. I think maybe something else is going on here, then. If the price is being paid, you don’t need to remind someone of the cost.
Maybe what is going on here is an acknowledgement that following the Jesus way can be difficult and with that acknowledgement an encouragement to continue even so. Maybe what we have here is something like what Scott Peck does at the beginning of The Road Less Traveled. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. When you are experiencing something as difficult, it helps to have someone acknowledge the difficulty. When you are experiencing something as difficult, how do you feel when someone says, “it shouldn’t be that hard”? But if someone says, “yes, this is hard,” don’t you feel better, more energized to keep at it? Maybe that is more of what is going on here – a shift from “how much?” to another question – “is it worth it?”
Following Jesus can be difficult, but it is worth it. Following the Jesus way of caring, compassion, hospitality, the way of the changed heart and changing the world will not always be easy. It will always be worth it.
Let me probe even a little more deeply into this new question raised by the text – “is it worth it?” Life has costs, all life costs. In fact, life costs itself, it spends itself until there is nothing left to spend. That is a rather convoluted way to say we all die. It is the price of life. The question is, how do we live, and do we live so life is worth it.
This question has pressed itself upon me this week. Monday I found out that a former neighbor and parishioner of mine on the Iron Range had died. I called her husband of over sixty years to express our sympathies. Tuesday is the first time in my twenty-five plus years as a minister that I have dealt with three funeral on the same day. In the morning, Bell Brothers called looking for a Methodist pastor to officiate at a funeral Thursday. Knowing what families are going through when death comes, I try to say “yes” when I can, and I could make this work. That afternoon I had already planned to meet with Loren Nelson who many of you know has been battling cancer. It is not going well, and so Loren wanted to talk about his funeral when that time may come. Loren was my candidacy mentor when I was going through the ordination process. When I checked phone messages in my office later in the afternoon, I had two messages from an old friend, Sharon. Sharon’s family and my family grew up in Lester Park. Our families both were part of Lester Park UMC. I graduated from high school with Sharon’s brother. Sharon’s mother has been quite ill and when I first heard her voice, I though perhaps she was calling to tell me her mother had died. Instead, it was to tell me her younger sister, Kris, age 46, had died and would I be willing and available to officiate at her funeral on Saturday. I did. The cost of life is life itself, and the question isn’t whether we will pay that cost, we all will, the question is will we live so that life is worth it.
I love the line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day” where she poses the simple question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?” Maybe that’s the deepest question of all posed in this text from Luke. Life costs itself – how are you going to spend it? Trying to avoid every adverse cost within life, trying to avoid every conflict, every risk probably means that you will not spend your life well. The Jesus way – the way of caring and compassion and hospitality, the way of the changed heart and changing the world – that way is a good way. That life is a life worthy of life. Sometimes it will be hard. We may disagree with those closest to us. We will make choices on a larger calculus than that of economic security. We open our eyes and our hearts to the hurting in the world. The Jesus way invites us to see life as a gift to be lived wisely and well. The Jesus way calls forth our best gifts and asks us to use them wisely and well in the service of God and of others. The Jesus way calls us to caring and sharing.
The question in life is not so much “how much?” but rather “is it worth it?” Those of us on the Jesus way say “YES!” Count on it. Amen.