May 6, 2012
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
NOW TO GET SERIOUS
Next week we start a series on the family. So you might expect that this morning we’d be setting the stage. Getting you curious. Giving you reason to come back next week and learn all about how Jesus wants to bless our families. I’ll bet you weren’t expecting to hear what you just heard. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own [family], he cannot be my disciple.” So now I know you will all be eager to come back next week to begin a five part series on how to hate your parents, your spouse, and your children.
I wish Jesus didn’t say this. This is one of several things I wish Jesus hadn’t said. The Bible tells us Jesus had so much to say, many of the things he said weren’t even recorded. Why couldn’t this have been one of them?
But he did say it so we have to deal with it. To deal with it, it helps to understand three things. One is that Jesus loved to use hyperbole. That’s a big word that just means exaggeration to make a point. Kind of like the baseball announcer who said Cool Papa Bell was so fast he’d turn off the lights and be under the covers before the room got dark. Jesus may have been exaggerating just a bit when he told us to hate our families.
The second thing is that the word translated “hate” is a word that really means to “love less”. So it really means we have to make sure our love for family does not get in the way of our love for Jesus. In other words, when Jesus tells us to hate our families, it’s not as bad as it sounds.
And the third thing that’s important here is that Jesus is saying this to people who needed to know that following him isn’t going to be easy. The first verse we read said that “great multitudes” were following him. Whenever you have great multitudes you probably have quite a few who are just along for the ride. They aren’t serious. They’re just following Jesus just because it’s the thing to do. So Jesus is saying, anyone here who loves family more than me had may as well turn around right now. I don’t want fair weather disciples. I want disciples I can count on no matter what.
To drive this point home he then talks about counting the cost when you build a tower. When we were house shopping here in Nampa we saw a few that had been left unfinished. The builder had run out of money before he could finish. One home was supposed to have a deck outside the upstairs master bedroom. We opened the door and all there was a 12 foot drop to the ground below. Not good for sleep walkers. It would be embarrassing to start building something and have to stop before it’s done. Jay Leno had a good headline the other day: “$41 Million Jail Does Not Include Cell Doors”. If you’re going to build, you’d better build with some awareness of how much it’s going to cost to complete the whole thing. Including the master bedroom decks and the jail cell doors. Otherwise, you probably shouldn’t even start building.
And so Jesus says, it you think you’re serious about following me, count the cost. Because it’s going to be costly. Costlier than you think.
This passage is at the turning point of the story of Jesus. This turning point can be described in terms of geography. It comes when Jesus leaves Galilee and heads to Jerusalem. It’s a turning point not just for Jesus but for us. There’s a big difference between Galilee and Jerusalem. It’s the difference between innocence and maturity, between feeling good and doing good, between fair weather and stormy weather, between life the way we have it planned and life the way it happens in spite of our plans.
In Galilee Jesus in teaching and healing. In Galilee, wherever he goes a great multitude is tagging along. In Galilee being a follower of Jesus was the thing to do. You were part of a big, growing, popular movement that was going to change the world. It was so exciting! In Galilee, Jesus talked about “the birds of the air and the lilies of the field”. In Galilee he said, “let the children come to me.” In Galilee he taught us the Lord’s Prayer and he told us that prayer moves mountains. Ask and it will be given to you.
Multitudes followed Jesus and multitudes still follow Jesus wherever the Galilean Gospel is preached. Nothing wrong with that. That is part of being a Christian, this assurance Jesus gave us about all the wonderful blessings God has for us. Prayers answered, problems solved, questions resolved, and the wonderful assurance that:
This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings and around me rings
The music of the spheres.
That’s a song for Galilee. It’s a happy song. It’s a song for the multitudes. That’s the first part of the story.
But there’s a second part, and it begins when Jesus leaves Galilee and sets his face to go to Jerusalem. He’s no longer the teacher and the healer. He’s now the warrior preparing for battle. He’s the army recruiter, enlisting those who are brave enough to follow him on this part of the journey. To go to battle with him. To die with him.
He says to those who have been following up to now, those in the multitude, that unless you are willing to give up your comfortable life, unless you are willing to risk losing everything you hold dear, family included, you can’t follow me any further than this. Because where I am going, there is going to be a cross. So are you sure you real want to follow?
There are two parts to the life of Jesus, just as there are two parts to each of our lives as Christians: Galilee, the time of learning to be a Christian and Jerusalem, the time of being a Christian.
The song for Galilee is “This is My Father’s World”. The song for Jerusalem is
Jesus walked this lonesome valley
He had to walk it by himself
Oh, nobody else could walk it for him,
He had to walk it by himself.
And then the second verse says that we must walk that lonesome valley, too. By ourselves. That’s why it’s a lonesome valley. The multitude isn’t there. This is the territory for disciples. Serious disciples. So don’t sign up for this part of the journey without counting the cost.
It’s getting harder for Christians in places like the United States to understand this. We don’t like lonesome valleys. We like mountaintop experiences. We like what Jesus has to offer us to enrich our lives. We’re not too keen on what Jesus demands of us to change the world. And yet the interesting thing is the church seems to prosper in hard times.
Jean Holland loaned me a book about a Christian leader of the house church movement in China. In China to be a Christian can put you in jail. So why would anyone want to be a Christian? And yet the Christian church not only survives under the oppression of communism. It thrives. It’s much stronger now than it used to be. It’s not a bad thing when people are forced to make that decision: Am I going to belong to the multitude or am I going to be a disciple?
It’s possible to be a Christian in this country with your only exposure to self-sacrifice and self-denial being in books you read about other Christians. Like Brother Yun, who wrote that book Jean Holland loaned me. He was tortured to within an inch of his life in prison. He miraculously escaped and fled to the West. Listen to what he has to say about our Western churches.
I presumed the Western church was strong and vibrant because it had brought the Gospel to my country with such
incredible faith and tenacity. Many missionaries had shown
a powerful example to us by laying down their lives for the
sake of Jesus . . . Before I travelled to the West I had no
idea so many churches were spiritually asleep. (The Heavenly Man, page 295)
What he really is saying I think is that we have so many churches in the West that have signed on for the Galilee part of the journey. And they’ve liked it so well they’ve taken up permanent residence there. They talk about the Jerusalem part of the journey. They have discussion groups about self-sacrifice and self-denial. They think it’s wonderful that there are Christians who actually do those things, who really do take up a cross daily and follow Jesus. But they are sure thankful that part of the journey is optional, not mandatory.
It is optional. It’s not for everyone. Jesus warns us to count the cost before we get carried away and sign up. It’s a lonesome valley. It’s a rugged cross. Know that going in. You don’t have to go all the way to Jerusalem. But Jesus did.
There’s a sign-post along the road. It points in one direction to Galilee. It points in the other direction to Jerusalem. We need to decide which way we’re going to go. Are we going to keep learning to be a Christian? Or are we going to start being a Christian?
I’m going to close with a little something to illustrate the contrast between these two. In Galilee this is how Christians talk.
Let’s pretend that you are someone who might be willing, in theory, at some point, possibly, to consider maybe doing something that, while not “evangelism”-type evangelism, still could be in some way construed as a sort of sharing of hope. Kind of. (A Shy Person’s Guide to Evangelism, a Booklet for Episcopalians, Steven Bonsey)
That’s Galilee. Nothing wrong with Galilee. But you’ll notice they talk a little differently in Jerusalem.
I am part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power. My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, let go, or slow up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops. And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problem recognizing me . . . my colors will be clear. (Dr. Bob Moorehead)
Some of us, God, need to get more serious about our faith.
We need to get off the fence and decide, and having decided, then to live a life consistent with what we’ve decided. We pray that you will use these moments of communion to speak to our hearts. We pray that we might listen. You are here. You love us. You will go with us on that scary but wonderful journey of following Jesus. Amen.