(Luke 14: 25-33)
On January 20, 1961 President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address to the nation. More famously known as the “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You” speech he laid out his vision for a world that was in turmoil and in the grips of the Cold War. Although he wanted to send a message to the watching world, his goal was not to boast about the great power of the United States but to strike a conciliatory tone of working towards a better world for all people. He spoke of how different the world was since the birth of the United States of America but that the beliefs of the forefathers were still the same-the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God. America, like Christianity, was looked upon by the poor and disenfranchised as an entity that would come to their aid because it was just the right thing to do. To this end, he said; To those people in huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge—to convert our good words into good deeds—in a new alliance for progress—to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. He talks of all the work that needs to be done around the world and of how it should be accomplished in a spirit of cooperation and not competition. When he says; All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin, he’s saying that the task is big, and we may never see the end result, but it is our obligation to see it through. He issues a call to action against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself. He then comes to the part of the speech for which he is remembered; And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. He puts the thrust of his first term in perspective when he concludes; Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.
And that’s what Jesus is telling us in our scripture reading for this morning. If we’re going to make a difference here on earth, the work we undertake must be God’s work. In order to be a disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world we must take up our cross and follow him.
When Jesus turned to the large crowd that had been following him and said; If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yet even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. At first blush, this seems pretty harsh. In order to be a true follower of Jesus you have to hate your family? Jesus isn’t saying you have to turn your back on your family. What he’s saying is that the cost of discipleship is that you are now putting him above all others. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, verses 37-39, he phrases it differently when he says; Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more then me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. In John 12: 25, 26, Jesus says; The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. He’s talking about commitment. Commitment to the Word of God.
Christian commitment may separate friends and loved ones. In saying this, Jesus was not encouraging disobedience to parents or conflict at home. Rather, he was showing that his presence demands a decision. Because some will follow Christ and some won’t, conflict will inevitably arise. As we take our cross and follow him, our different values, morals, goals, and purposes will set us apart from others. Christ calls us to a higher mission than to find comfort and tranquility in this life. Therefore, a disciple must be ready to face and accept rejection. Jesus is talking about the cost of discipleship. In his analogies of building a tower or going to war he is telling us that you don’t undertake such a project without careful planning and study. You have to be all in, committed. You can’t go so far, decide the cost is too high, and then quit. He’s asking for a careful consideration of the action the disciple may choose to take and whether he or she will be faithful to the task. Following Christ is not something to be taken up on a trial basis. It calls for the ultimate commitment. He was urging the people to think about what it would mean to follow Him, and not to take it lightly. To take our cross and follow Jesus means to be willing to publicly identify with him, to experience almost certain opposition, and to be committed to face even suffering and death for his sake.
Jesus invites us to follow him. But for many, it’s much easier to believe than follow. You can sit in the comfort of your own home and believe. You can believe all those stories you read in the four gospels and be content in the knowledge that you are a good person. But following requires more. It requires getting up. It requires leaving; leaving comfort, family, friends and hobbies. Following can be costly and it can hurt. You can feel alienated, ostracized and alone. Still, Jesus says to follow. But where will Jesus lead me? He seems to like hanging out with a pretty rough crowd. People who are lepers, prostitutes, and thieves. You know, those people. His crowd could hurt your reputation. It could even be dangerous. Though the risks of acting on your faith may be high, so is the reward of living as Jesus would have us live. It is unrealistic to believe we can solve every problem, but we can be the light of Christ in their lives, bringing the glory to God through faithful and sometimes unappreciated service.
In his book Falling Upward, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr says our theology should be a strong turn toward participation, as opposed to religion as mere observation, affirmative moralism, or group belonging. It should be more about doing and less about self. According to Rohr, the first half of life is all about us and the second half is about the other, it’s about service. In our former life, it’s been all about our ego and the need to feed the ego, the self as opposed to serving God, doing his will and working for others. The ego hates losing, even to God. When you finally make this transition, you are free to stop your human doing, and are free to enjoy your human being. You discover your true self. You move from the starter kit of belief to an actual inner knowing. You’ve learned to live in the big picture, to live in the kingdom of God. You’ve learned to let go of your smaller kingdom and now have plenty of room for communion and no need for exclusion.
In following Christ, we may never live to see the end result, but it is our obligation to see it through. This is Jesus’ call to action against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself. We need to ask ourselves what we can do together for the freedom of man, freedom from sin and bondage?
Unlike the crowds that were following Jesus to see what he could do for them, what kinds of miracles he was going to perform and who he was going to heal, we’ve transitioned from not asking what Jesus can do for us to asking what we can do for Jesus. We need to ask God’s blessing and his help knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how we want to live a life for Jesus, a life that is true where we strive to please him in all that we do. Move us to discard the things in our lives that lay claim upon our mortal allegiances so that we may live glad-hearted and free walking the pathway of blessings you have always meant for us. Our hearts sing with joy for our Lord and Savior and we give ourselves to him as he gave himself for us. We owe no other master and our hearts shall be his throne as we give our lives so we can live for Christ alone. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.