Scripture: Luke 14:25-33
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. ~ Luke 14:27
One of the most important parts of growing up to be an adult is learning how to prioritize. Typically, as a child and even as a teenager, your parents make many of the biggest decisions in your life – what to eat, what to buy, how much time to spend doing x, y or z. As you get older you certainly need to improve your time management skills but it isn’t until you are out on your own, whether that be at university or after you get your first job that your decisions begin to take on primary importance – how will I spend my money, how will I spend my time and so on.
And when you experience that kind of freedom, often it doesn’t go so well. Teenagers with new found responsibility often (not always, I’m sure all of you were very responsible) spend their money on frivolous pursuits and entertainment, they spend their time doing everything but the one thing they should be doing and soon grades and bank accounts dwindle under the mounting pressure of bad decisions.
Soon hard choices need to be made about what to prioritize and what it means a good and productive life. Priorities matter. What you devote the most time and effort too shows whether that is family, work, self-gratification, or a million other things. As we continue into adulthood our priorities may change, but the ones we spend the most time and effort on will typically define the life we live.
Making the right choices, having the right priorities is difficult, because more often than not the ‘right’ priorities are the ones that take the most work, they demand more from us, and are not as fun or sexy as other things we want to make our priorities.
Priorities matter, even more when it comes to our life with God, to the lives God intends for us following his son Jesus.
In our reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is being followed by a large crowd, and he turns around to them and seemingly tries his best to disperse them, because once again the words he speaks are no soft platitudes or suggestions to live your best life today, they certainly aren’t the words your mother wants you to hear!
Jesus turns to the crowd and tells them that anyone who wants to follow him has to hate their father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, or even life itself can’t be his disciple. He doubles down by telling them that anyone who wants to be his disciple must carry their cross – must metaphorically (and literally for some) carry the brutal Roman instrument of torture that would mark where Jesus was heading.
Twice Jesus says that you have to give up everything and take up a cross if you are going to follow him. The implication is that these people had not done that but had found it altogether too easy to fall into line behind Jesus.
That was curious enough. But Jesus then goes on to tell two quasi parables (they are really more like analogies) that talk about counting the cost and doing prudent calculations in advance of undertaking major projects. The upshot of these two analogies is easy enough to discern. But the way Jesus told them seems to be a left-handed rebuke to the crowd. It’s almost as though Jesus is chiding the many people who were following him for not having a clue as to what they were doing in that they were the ones who had in fact not counted the cost ahead of time. They were the people who had to abandon a building project before it was finished because they ran out of money. They were the people who had gone to war against a superior opponent due to lack of prudent advance work as to the strength of the enemy. (Scott Hoezee)
This isn’t exactly motivational speaking 101.
Jesus makes the point that following him, that leading the life of discipleship is a weighty task, it isn’t something to take lightly, it isn’t something to do on a whim or part-time it is something far more than that, something far greater and all-consuming than we would ever choose ourselves.
Jesus isn’t out there preaching health and wealth, he isn’t marching to some rosy palace with a gilded throne – his path brings him face to face with the powers and principalities of the world, his path brings him face to face with human suffering, the marginalized and ostracized of the world, his path brings him face to face with the power and reality of death.
That’s the cross that Jesus bears, and that is the path he calls his disciples to walk as well.
But for all of us, or perhaps most of us here, the path of following Jesus has never been quite that difficult – and I want to begin by saying that it’s no one’s fault it is part of the time and place we live in. We have all for the most part grown up in the church, and grown up in a culture that until recently accepted and celebrated the church’s role in society – it has never been a hard choice to be a Christian.
In fact, over the last 50 years the church in North America, here in Canada, has catered to us, sought to make it easier for us to be a part of the whole endeavour. We have been taught that we should sing songs that make us feel good and happy rather than teach us about the truth of God; we have been taught that it is most important to hear a message that uplifts us rather than challenges our way of life and the ways of our world. We have been taught that being nice is enough, rather than truly loving our neighbour no matter how hard that may be.
And so Jesus’ words can sound particularly harsh to us, that we might want to overlook them, or soften them, or rationalize them as something from a bygone age. But we do so at our own peril.
Which brings us back to priorities.
Jesus knows that we cannot walk this path if it isn’t our number one priority. If it is secondary, or well below that if we’re honest, then we won’t walk the path, our life will not align with God’s intended life for us. And we won’t experience the benefits either.
When Jesus tells the crowd that they need to hate their families or even life itself, it sounds harsh and it is – but the word hate in the whole scope of the Biblical narrative typically means a lesser form of love, a strong preference for one over another. God didn’t hate Esau, but preferred Jacob over him, God didn’t hate the nations of the world, but preferred Israel and prepared them for a special purpose.
So Jesus calls his disciples, he calls us to love God, to love his way and his life over and above our families, over and above our jobs, over and above the other priorities that seem to crowd our lives because that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes for his kingdom to flourish in this world, that is what it takes for his kingdom of love and mercy to flourish in our lives, that’s what it takes when we experience abundant and eternal life.
Prioritizing God, prioritizing Jesus and his kingdom is hard – Jesus was pretty clear about this point throughout his ministry and especially in the passage we heard this morning. It means allowing Gods ways to shape and guide our decisions in every realm of our life. It means allowing God’s sacrificial love govern the way we love and shape our families and all of our relationships. It means allowing God’s priorities for justice to govern our political decisions. It means allowing God’s priorities for care of the poor and creation alike to shape our economic decisions. It means allowing God’s priorities to shape how we do church – yes even how we do church is not immune from changing our priorities!
To do this, we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we have the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the support, the encouragement and the challenge that our brothers and sisters in the church bring us. Let us take the hard road together, let us make God our priority in our lives and in the church – because that road leads to God’s Kingdom, that road leads to eternal and abundant life.
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