Saturday, September 7, 2013

How High Can We Count?

Luke 14:25-35
Do you ever wonder if Jesus had really bad days?
    Maybe the kind of days where we would say, “I woke up on the wrong side of bed?”

There is no easy way to hear the words from today’s chapter of Luke. We always look at the context to help understand Jesus. Unfortunately the words just before and after aren’t any lighter.

We do know that Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem. . .that he has ‘set his face’ to Jerusalem. Meaning that he is determined to go and face whatever may await him there. AND we know that he is quite aware the trip will most likely mean his death.

The expectation of death, or martyrdom?, and his personal determination may in itself explain his dire words. Certainly, it is appropriate for would-be disciples to first meet the conditions for discipleship.1

But did THEY...and do WE?...really have to HATE our families? . .

    . . .We believe Jesus is using familiar semitic hyperbole that exaggerates contrast so that it can be seen more clearly.2
Also the word translated as ‘hate’ doesn’t mean anger, as in our affective emotion, but means that when there is conflict, Jesus’ followers must disavowal their family allegience in favor of allegience to him.’3

But, this explanation doesn’t lighten his emphasis.
If Jesus is trying to show us the seriousness of the challenge that following him really entails, these words bring his challenge to life.

One could say that Jesus has a history of undermining families. I’m sure some of you will take offense at MY saying this. So let’s look closer at Luke’s record.

Just last week, still in chapter 14, Jesus advised his host NOT to invite his family and friends to dinner, but instead to invite the hungry people outside his door - people who couldn’t return the invite.
And 2 chapters before that, (12:51) he said,
    “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division. From now on, a household of 5 will be divided, ...
Father will square off against son and son against father;
   mother against daughter and daughter against mother, and
      mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and
         daugther-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Back in chapter 8 (8:19-20), Jesus was told his mother and brothers were standing outside, wanting to see him. Jesus replied, “My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.”
Let’s not even go back to what Jesus said to his parents when he was 12 and they found him back in the temple 3 days after the family group had left to travel home! (2:41-51)

Jesus raises words of tension that would promote actual conflict in families. --Advice that could break the bonds that were so vital in his day and are beloved In ours.

Can you feel a tension within you as you listen to these stories?

One scholar I read this week, Alan Culpeper, points to the problem by comparing Jesus’ requirements for followers to ours. He say, “Cultural accommodation of the Christian faith has progressed steadily in recent years. (he wrote almost 20 year ago) “As a result,” he says, “many Christians see no tension between the teacings of Jesus and the common aspirations of middle-class Americans.”4
. . .brief pause
Do you think Jesus would find tension between our aspirations and following him?

If Jesus was calling for each person who would be his disciple to consider in advance what that commitment requires, then how should we be advertising this (his) community?

I want you to take a minute and come up with some suggestions for a banner on our lawn. You can call out to me, or turn to your neighbor and share suggestions.
. . .
I don’t think Jesus-styple hyperbole will be understood, “You have to hate your family to worship here.”
. . .cross carrying competition - next a membership to ACoB
. . .
What if we just put up ‘Count Well The Cost’?

. . .
How does 21st Christianity comparte to what Jesus had in mind?

We tend to define commitment in term of priorities.
    Story: Not long after I had begun to work at a camp, I was asked by other friends to attend an intervention. A group of people were meeting at 8:00 one morning at someone’s office to ask a mutual friend to stop drinking. Arrangements had been made to take him directly from his office to a rehab facility where he could turn his life around, . . .IF he chose to do so.

I only had a supporting role, but found it a very complex situation and not easy to leave in time for me to be at work at 9:00 am. So I was late.
My boss, challenged me that morning. He didn’t discount the value in what I was doing, but said, “Nancy, you have to decide where your priorities are.”. . .
Have you been in that position?

Jesus did tell us two stories to help us understand the extreme discipleship he demands.
Can anyone summarize one of them, or put it into more modern terms?

Construction metaphors still fit. Perhaps we don’t see many towers built, but we see apartment complexes..& towers of offices...

What about the war metaphor?
    On this day after the ‘day of fasting and prayer’, does anyone want to contemporize Jesus’ metaphor? How would you compare the reconnoissance of 10,000 soldiers coming up against 20,000?
. . .

Brethren have the story of Alexander Mack to help illuminate this text. Do you remember it? (We already sang his hymn.)
In the 1700s Alexander Mack and Ernst Hochmann shared the pietist belief that all humans need redemption and that salvation is possible in Christ. They held these beliefs in common with other Christians5, yet their faith went beyond intellectual assent, to their daily living with the practice of daily devotional exercises, extensive study of the Bible, and the experience of God’s presence in their heart - all influencing the way they lived life. They had become disillusioned with the Reformed Church of their day - which was part of most German states.

When Mack had to leave his home town because of his participation in these illegal Bible studies, he settled in Schwarzenau, Germany and became the leader of a group of Christians. He became convinced thru study that baptism meant immersion, and that his and others’ baptism as infants wasn’t valid, -it wasn’t enough for the commitment they wanted to live.

Mack wrote to Hochman, who didn’t believe immersion was necessary  - about his desire to be ‘fully baptized’. Hockman understood Mack’s discernment and advised him to ‘count the cost’ of such action. (Remember a 2nd baptism was illegal. It went again the official Christian religion of the state. Something worth remembering whenever you hear someone promoting Christianity of a certain kind for a state religion!)

So in August, 1708, Mack and 7 others (5 men, 3 women) went to the Eder River. They read this passage from Luke 14 then drew straws so no one would know who did the first baptism. That person, baptized Mack who then baptized the others.
After the baptism, they prayed and sang hymns. They “dispersed in the full knowledge that in most German states what they had done would result in heavy fines, imprisonment, or exile.”6

Some time later, Mack wrote the hymn, ‘Christ Jesus says, “Count well the Cost when you lay the foundation.” Are you resolved, through all seem lost, to risk your reputation, your self, your wealth, for Christ the lord as you now give your solemn word?”

This is the heart of our baptism today. Whether it is practiced inside (here) or outside, at a river. We face no threat of arrest, yet we are still advised to count the cost and THEN make the commitment to follow Jesus.

If we truly follow the Christ, we may be as a un-welcome as Jesus was.
We may speak words as politically in-correct as he did. And
we may find ourselves standing in opposition to OUR government.

I can’t help but wonder, if we WE count high enough?
I trust that together, we can meet the challenge of follow Jesus into difficult places - Places of division and discomfort.

I invite you to count the cost today.

I invite you to count as high as you can, then commit to following Jesus, from this day on.
I invite you to be baptized, if you have not.
And I promise you the support of others in this place as we follow Jesus, together, counting well the cost.

1 Alan Culpeper Luke in NIB Vol IX (Nashville:Abingdon, 1995)292
2 ibid Culpeper, 292
3 Joel Green The Gospel of Luke in New International Commentary of the NT (Grand Rapids, Eerdmands, 1997) 564
4 Cullpeper 293
5 William G. Willoughby

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