Rev. Will Conner
I like free things as much as the next guy: buy one get one free; free samples at the grocery store are always nice; free water at a restaurant. A particularly great free item that I appreciate is free Wifi—especially when hotels have it.
How about a call for a free vacation? Odds are you have been offered a free or deeply discounted vacation in your past. A few years ago Hope and I got a call and were offered a vacation voucher to a Hilton property of our choice. I was assured that there was no catch so we signed up.
Planning for this worked out great. We had good friends who lived in South Florida, so we planned to meet them in Orlando at the condo that we rented at the discount. On top of this discount we were supposed to receive extra Hilton Honors reward points and free night stay at hotel of our choice. The vacation was great. We sat by the pool, enjoyed our friends, and just had a nice and relaxing time.
Now, if you have ever been in a similar circumstance, you might guess where this is going. The only catch is that we were required to “tour” one of the nearby properties and listen to a presentation. After all, they weren’t just giving us a discount, they wanted to give us an opportunity to purchase a wonderful time share – an opportunity we were told that would save us tons of money.
Perhaps you have a time share and it works out great for you, but I just could not get my head around how spending $20,000 (that we didn’t have) was going to save us money. This answer wasn’t good enough. Our salesman laid it on thick. He was an Iraq war veteran, while he was deployed his wife was cheating on him, now he’s a single father trying to raise his son. Then when he called in for back up, he called his manager who was an ex-professional wrestler. I mean you can’t make this stuff us.
Here I was thinking I was getting a deal on a vacation and come to find out I was getting guilt tripped into purchasing a vacation product that I had could not afford and really didn’t want. I continued to tell them no and we were eventually released—and I just have to say I was ready for a shower and a nap. This thing that was supposed to be free and easy was neither.
Have you ever had an experience like this? Where you thought something was going to be free and then it ended up being more hassle than its worth or perhaps it ended up costing you extra money.
Have you ever been lured in by one of those, so called, free trials? You know the kind that promises you something amazing for absolutely free. Free magazines, free television, free HBO, free music, free gym membership, free software… free, free, free.
And when you sign up for those free trials all they want you to do is forget your username and password that you signed up with. Then when the trial is up it will be a couple of months before you figure out that you’re being charged 19.99 a month.
I think sometimes churches do this too. Too many times you will hear preachers telling people how easy it is to become a Christian. That you just have to trust Jesus and he will take care of everything. That you just have to believe that Jesus is God and then all will be good. Just believe in Jesus and God will take care of you.
And this kind of teaching, that being a Christian is simple, makes some sense for children. We want our children to learn the basics of faith and that God loves them. But as you move into adulthood we know the world isn’t that simple.
Last week we talked how to gain a relevant faith. But I think that one of the reasons many people don’t find faith relevant is that too many preachers and too many churches don’t take seriously the complexities of life and the complexities of faith. If you are like a lot of people, as a child you had a simple life and so it’s ok to have a simple, easy faith. But as you get older your life gets complicated you encounter new and difficult things, and these things challenge the relevancy of that simple faith. A faith that is free and easy just doesn’t really have enough meat on its bones to get through the fullness of life. Often when things promise to be easy or free we find that they actually cost a lot and can be hurtful.
Everyone likes the allure of free and easy. It always sounds good at the beginning. This is something that Jesus was well aware of in his ministry, and he actually took some time to address it.
If you have your Bible, I invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 14. Here we find another story that Luke tell us about Jesus.
First Luke kind of sets the scene, he says, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus.” Jesus was a charismatic figure. He healed people, he performed miracles, he was a wise teacher. So, it’s no surprise that there was such a large crowd traveling with him.
If you are familiar with the stories of Jesus, you often hear about his 12 closest followers, often called disciples, but beyond this small inner circle of friends, you had larger crowds. I don’t know how large these crowds were at this time, but earlier Luke tells us a story about a large crowd following Jesus that was as large as 5000 people. We don’t really know if this crowd is that big, but we know it’s big.
With such a large crow I can’t imagine that all these people really knew Jesus very well. These weren’t those that were closest to him. These aren’t the people that Jesus shared secrets with and had intimate conversations. These were just people in the crowd. Many of whom, I’m sure, where following Jesus because they thought he was the next big thing. Many of whom followed Jesus because they figured they could ride Jesus’ coattails into something. Many of whom followed Jesus because they were certain that Jesus offered a new and easy way to live life. And they were excited about where Jesus was taking them.
I think Jesus sensed that these people were looking for something easy. They were looking for that free vacation or that free trial. Sensing this, Jesus stops and turns to the crowd and says some really strange things. Luke tells us that Jesus said:
“Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. 30 They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ 31 Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? 32 And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. 33 In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.
I told you these were strange words. Jesus says something about hating your family, then tells a couple of stories about a builder and king and then talks about giving away all your possessions.
That doesn’t sound like a man likely to have crowd following him. That doesn’t sound like the time share Hilton tried to sell me. That sounds pretty tough.
In these words, though, Jesus knows something we all know—life is tough. Jesus knows that even though ad agencies try to sell us things to make life easier or better it doesn’t always work out that way. And Jesus is trying to warn his followers that life following Jesus isn’t always easy. Jesus is trying to tell his followers that to follow him, one must have courage and one must willing to change one’s life.
Jesus is trying to prepare them for the difficulties that are ahead. Jesus is trying to prepare them for what it takes to really be a follower of Jesus, to really be a person of faith. Jesus is telling his followers, that following Jesus really does have a cost and they need to think it through before continuing on their way. At this point Jesus is giving them a choice, continue to follow me and face the difficulty or stop and do something else.
A 20th century theologian and writer by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about a book about this cost, he called it the Cost of Discipleship. Later, Bonhoeffer would be killed by the Nazis for his faith—he is a man who knew that the life of the Jesus follower could run into some difficulty.
In the passage we read, Jesus talks about choosing God over one’s family and about being willing to leave your possessions, your past, your work, your well-being behind. Bonhoeffer knew something of this and wrote,
“If we would follow Jesus, we must take certain definite steps. The first step … cuts the disciple off from his previous existence.”
In the previous existence one looked inside for guidance. In the previous existence, one looked to one’s family or to money or to hard work or to something else to give guidance in life. Perhaps, in this previous existence, one is living her life always looking for the easy road or for the next free offer.
But when Jesus enters the scene, you have to leave you previous existence behind and allow Jesus to guide your way.
Now, not everything in your previous existence is going to be in conflict with Jesus or what Jesus wants. But when things are in conflict with what Jesus wants, Jesus calls us and expects his followers to choose the priority of Christ. This is what Jesus is trying to communicate to the crowds that are following him—one day you will have to choose, and it might be a difficult choice.
Fundamentally, Jesus is telling us that being his follower is not easy. Jesus is telling us that being his follower costs something – it costs your life.
While the price is large, the reward is great.
I recall one evening when my boss and friend took Hope and I out for dinner. We ate at the Capital Grille in Buckhead, outside of Atlanta. It was an amazing evening. The Capital Grill is a pricey restaurant. The thing about restaurants is that you can get good food at inexpensive places or pricey places, and the same is true with bad food. But the thing that should separate an expensive establishment from somewhere that is more budget oriented is often the service.
We had a great meal that evening. But what I remember most is how professional and extravagant the service was. We weren’t paying for the food, we weren’t paying for the wine, we weren’t paying for the view, we were paying for the whole experience.
This is not too different from what Jesus offers. The cost of following Jesus is great, but the experience of following Jesus can’t be matched. When we follow Jesus we aren’t left alone to serve ourselves. To use the words of another, “the cost of discipleship also includes salvation.” It may be pricey, we may have to give some things up, but what we receive is matchless. We receive love beyond all love. We receive grace beyond all grace. We receive acceptance beyond all acceptance. We receive new life beyond our wildest dreams. That’s what Jesus offers; That’s not cheap; and it’s great.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.