Sunday, September 08, 2013

Counting the Cost (Sermon preached September 8, Proper 18-C)

Sermon Text: Luke 14:25-35

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
In the name of T Jesus.
            The Church that fails to tell the truth has little or nothing to offer.  The Church that knows God’s Word and chooses not to share it; the Church that believes what the Bible teaches, but is afraid to speak of it; the Church that teaches only those things that will be well-accepted by outsiders while it keeps Jesus’ less popular teachings under wraps; the Church that confesses to have the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints of old, and for some reason does not confess it, and teach it, and proclaim, is a church that has little or nothing to offer.  That kind of church is no kind of church.  It is useless.  It is a church that has lost its saltiness.
            You see, salt preserves.  Put it in meat and the meat will last.  And in the ancient world, when there was no refrigeration, salt was used to preserve many things…until it would lose its saltiness.  And if it had begun to lose its saltiness, it had begun to lose its usefulness. It could no longer preserve, and what was worse, a salt that had begun to break down, could harm the soil, so you couldn’t just toss it on the ground, you had to, as Jesus says, “throw it away.”  Salt that is not salty is useless, for it cannot serve its purpose.  It cannot preserve.  It is as useless as a Church that knows the truth, but will not tell the truth.  He who has ears, let him hear.
            If you desire to follow Jesus; if you want to be His disciple; if you hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it; if you are hoping to fight the good fight, to finish the race, to keep the faith and be counted among the faithful on the day of resurrection, then the Church will do you no good, if it does not prepare you for what will be yours as a follower of Jesus.
            Like a Boy Scout troop leader who neglects to tell the parents that this weekend’s camping trip will cost $500; and like a CEO who conveniently forgets to tell his new Project Manager that his new job will require him to travel during the week, and will pull him away from his wife and new-born baby that is taking the job to provide for; and like an Army recruitment officer that does not share with his teenage recruits that they are likely to be serving in combat within six months; if the Church is not honest with you, and does not prepare you for what will be yours as a follower of Jesus, then the Church has lost its saltiness, and has little to offer you, for as Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, to be his disciples, and to follow him, is costly.
            He begins by saying, that a follower of Jesus must be willing to lose his family.  Now, of course, when we take the words of Jesus in the context of all of Scripture, we know that Jesus is not saying that every Christian will have to hate his mom and his dad, and his brothers and his sisters, and even himself, or he cannot be a follow of Jesus.  That’s not what he’s saying at all.  But make no mistake, Jesus is saying that your father or mother, or brothers or sisters, or even your own life and family, cannot be allowed to keep you from following Him.  He is saying that no matter how close you might be to a someone, that person cannot come between you and Jesus.  If it happens, then you are not able to be his disciple.
Of course, thankfully, there are many of us who have fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and even a spouse and children who would never want to come between us and Jesus.  There are many of our dear family and friends who would affirm our faithful desire to follow Jesus, and love Him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.  There are many of us who are blessed even to be encouraged to be faithful in our seeking after Jesus, and that is a tremendous blessing for which we are thankful.  And if that is the case, then our fathers and mothers, and sisters and brothers, and even our own household will not be something we need to deny, but will be those with whom we will be united not only in this life, but for all eternity.
But unfortunately, that is not always the case.  And when it is not the case—when our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, or any other person would attempt to keep us from following Jesus, Jesus says quite clearly that even our closest family members must take a back seat to our following of Him.
Jesus teaches this quite clearly, and so must the Church.  Jesus says your families may very well want to stand in your way of following Jesus, and you will have to choose.  You will have to choose between your apathetic or unbelieving family and your following of Christ.  And if the Church fails to share this truth; if the Church is less than honest with those who hear its teaching and preaching, then those who want to follow Jesus will not be able to follow Jesus because when their family begins to question them, they won’t be prepared.  They would be like seeds that are sown on the road and are trampled and eaten by birds.  For when apathetic or unbelieving family members are allowed to keep us from following Jesus, we show ourselves unable to be His disciples.
Of course, your unbelieving family members are only one of the difficulties that you will be given as you seek to follow Jesus.  For not only must you be willing to choose Jesus over your own family, but you must be willing to suffer on account of your faith—you must be willing bear your cross.  And when Jesus speaks of bearing a cross, he’s not talking about sickness, or disease, or the lack of a well-paying job.  He’s talking about the suffering you will do because of your following of Jesus.
Like when that coach who benches you because you missed a Sunday practice.  You chose to be faithful—to remember the Sabbath and to be present where Jesus was present, giving His gifts in Word and Sacrament—but your coach thought you’re your soccer team was more important.  And so you suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
Or when you’re hated at work or school simply because you stated your position on a controversial subject on which the Bible has something to say; or when you’re excluded from the conversation at the coffee pot, or from the birthday party, or even from Uncle John’s will, because you have simply confessed your faith in what Christ has done and taught; or when you’re reviled because you uphold a biblical view of marriage; or when your name is smeared and spurned as mud because your friends, or classmates, or colleagues, or teammates, or neighbors would rather ridicule you than hear you, when you speak of your Savior, and how you cannot deny His Word.
None of that is easy, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  None of that is what itching ears want to hear.  None of that will be easily accepted by those who want to inherit the kingdom, but are not willing to bear their cross, and follow Jesus where He leads.
And so, while the Church may be tempted to shy away from such difficult teachings, and to spend its time looking through rose-colored glasses and preparing people for a life filled with health, wealth, and prosperity, the truth is, if you want to follow Jesus, you will suffer—you will bear a cross, for that is where Jesus will lead.  Better for you to know it, and be prepared to endure it, rather than to expect something else, and to be destroyed when it comes.
If it is good for a builder to sit down and count the cost before beginning to build, then it is also good for Christians to be made aware of the cost of discipleship.  It would be foolish for a builder to embark on an ambitious building project with only half the materials.  When he runs out of money, and the passersby see his half-built tower sitting there, he would be the punch line of many jokes.
But it is no laughing matter for those who desire to follow Jesus not to be told of the cost involved.  It is no joke to be forced to choose between a life of faithfulness and a life of comfort with an unbelieving family.  And it is not funny, when those who call themselves pastors have preached a kingdom where those who are faithful, and those who follow Jesus, will be free of pain, and sorrow in this life.  And it is tragic, when churches that claim the name of Jesus will not share the teaching of Jesus, for if the church has prepared you to expect a life of popularity, and prosperity, then when the life that Jesus describes in our text is the life that you’ve been given, then you will not be prepared for it, for you will not have been taught to count the cost.
Be it in an Adult Instruction, or Jr. Confirmation Class; be it with your friend who recently lost a loved one, or with that man who is always so skeptical; be it with those who have gotten bad news from the doctor, or even our little ones who begin to discover that life is not always nice, if the Church is going to serve its purpose, then the Church must retain its saltiness.  If the Church is going to help preserve the faithful, then the Church must give the faithful what they need.  If the Church is going to have anything to offer, it must continue to believe the Words of Jesus, and teach the Words of Jesus, and confess the Words of Jesus to be true, even if the Words of Jesus are likely to be rejected by many.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls his followers the salt of the earth.  And today, the Church where the Word of Christ is taught and preached in all its purity; the Church were the people hear it, and receive it, and believe it, is that salt.  Which means that you, together, as followers of Jesus, are the salt of the earth.  And as salt of the earth, you are prepared for what will come your way.  Jesus has told you what to expect, as you strive to follow him.  Some of you will have families who will encourage you in the faith, and some will have families who will hate you for it.  But regardless of your family, you are called to follow Jesus.  And in your following of Jesus, you will be mocked, and excluded, and reviled, and ridiculed, and some of you may even be persecuted.  But it will not surprise you, because you have been prepared.  Your ears have been opened.  You have heard.
You, who are willing to give up everything rather than give up Jesus; you will, together, continue to be the salt of the earth.  And together, as the Church, we will believe the words of Jesus, and we will teach the words of Jesus, and we will confess the Words of Jesus wherever we have opportunity.  And in so doing, the Church will be the salt; and the salt will continue to preserve for the Lord a people. For that is what salt does.  And that is what the Church will do, as it counts the cost, and trusts in Christ, and speaks of Christ, to all who have ears to hear.

You see, when the Church is speaking, and speaking all of Christ, then the Church will be built in its entirety, for Christ is the builder who not only begins His project, but completes it, and perfects it as well.  In the name of T Jesus. Amen.

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