Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 5, 2010
“Do You Have What It Takes?” (Luke 14:25-35)
Have you ever tried out for a team? Whether in high school or college, whether for football, baseball, basketball, or volleyball, if you’ve ever tried out for a team and made it, you know how thrilling that can be. And if you’ve ever tried out for a team and not made it, been cut, you know how crushing that is. But there are conditions you have to meet and maintain, in order to make the team and stay on it. Your performance first has to impress and measure up, and then you have to keep the team rules and do what the coach says. And if you don’t meet those conditions, you will face the consequences: You’re cut from the squad, you feel awful, you’re left out, and you don’t get to share in the team’s glory. So the basic question to ask yourself and be honest about, before you even try out for the team, is this: “Do I have what it takes?”
Do you have what it takes? You know, Jesus has a team he is assembling also. It’s his team of disciples, the band of brothers and sisters in all ages who hear his voice and heed his call to come and follow him. There are certain conditions you have to meet in order to make this team and stay on it. And there are some very serious consequences you will face if you don’t make it or get kicked off. Today this question comes to us also, in terms of being Jesus’ disciple: “Do You Have What It Takes?”
Our text is the Holy Gospel, from Luke 14. There Jesus lays out three conditions you have to meet in order to be his disciple. And he describes three consequences, bad consequences, that will happen to any would-be disciples who start to follow but fail to follow through. It’s serious business. Do you have what it takes?
Jesus lays out the three conditions in statements all of which have the same format: “If anyone does not do thus and such, that person cannot be my disciple.” Let’s take them one at a time, and as we do, ask yourself, “How do I measure up?”
First, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Whoa! This sounds pretty extreme! Hate your own father and mother? I thought we were supposed to honor our father and our mother! Hate your wife and children and brothers and sisters? But that’s what Jesus says. And yes, even hate your own life. If you don’t do that, you cannot come to Jesus and be his disciple. Well, I guess that leaves me out. My family ranks pretty high on my priority list. And even if you put the family members on the side for the moment, I know there are times when I don’t hate my own life. In fact, I kind of like my own life, being in charge of it, satisfying my own desires. So I guess I don’t qualify on that count. How’d you do?
Well, let’s go on to the second condition. Maybe we’ll do better on it. Jesus lays out another disqualifier: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Ew, this does not sound pleasant. Bearing a cross? Who wants that? Crosses are made for killing people. And as painfully as possible. Getting crucified? That’s part of being a disciple? Not very appealing! Count me out, I don’t like to suffer. How about you?
Well, not so good, huh? OK, let’s try the third standard that Jesus sets out for being on his team: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” No, no, now you’re getting a little too close to home, Jesus. Now you’re messin’ with my stuff! My stuff and my money, Jesus! Hands off! Renounce all my possessions? Are you kidding? Unless I turn my back on all that I have, I cannot be Jesus’ disciple? Who’d want to do that? Would you?
Do you have what it takes? No, it’s a bit much. Too extreme. I guess we don’t measure up, do we, we don’t make the cut. So much for being Jesus’ disciple. Oh, well, there are other things we can do with our life, aren’t there? No big deal, not being a disciple of Jesus. That sounds just too–oh, what’s the word–strenuous. Who needs that?
But there are consequences. It’s not good to not make the team. Coming to Jesus, thinking about being his disciple, but then not following through–that’s a serious matter, serious and dangerous. Jesus describes the situation using three images: building a tower, going to war, and the taste of salt.
First, the would-be disciple is compared to a man who starts a building project but doesn’t have what it takes to finish the job: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” It’s kind of like Ballpark Village: You become the butt of jokes. Being a Christian and following Jesus to the finish line is going to cost you. So first count the cost: Do you have what it takes?
Second comparison, going to war: “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” Being a Christian, being a disciple, means going to war. You’ll have an enemy coming against you, attacking you–the devil, and he is relentless. Can you stand against him? Do you have the strength? If not, the surrender terms will not be good.
Third consequence for not staying faithful as Jesus’ disciple, the salt metaphor: “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.” To lose your distinctive quality as a disciple of Jesus is to become worthless, useless, not even fit for the dung pile. To be thrown out like saltless salt is to be cast off for eternity.
Don’t meet the conditions, and there are some really bad consequences. So we return to our opening question: Do you have what it takes? Do you have the resources you need to make the team and stay on it? Do you have what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus? No, you don’t. Not in and of yourself. You will fail miserably, and you will be cast off.
But when we look at this from another perspective, and we ask the same question, we will discover a different answer. Do you have what it takes? Yes, you do! Do you have the resources you will need to be a disciple of Jesus and thus enter into life with him? Yes, you do! For you have Jesus himself and everything he brings with him.
Here’s what I mean. No, you don’t have enough resources or strength or will-power in you to get the job done. But Jesus does! And when he calls you to discipleship, he is at the same time calling you to receive his life and his resources and his strength. The call to follow carries with it the strength to follow through. For discipleship means precisely that you give up on yourself and your own life and you receive the life that Christ has for you.
That is why these other things get in the way and are barriers and impediments to discipleship, when they compete with following Jesus. Even good things, like father and mother and wife and children–if they take a higher place with you than following Jesus, then they have become a false god, and you should hate them in that sense. Or take the fear of persecution and suffering for the sake of Christ. Bearing the cross does come with the territory when you become a Christian, but if you place a higher value on a life of ease and comfort than on the life that Jesus has for you, you have made the wrong choice. And your possessions, your money, your stuff–all too often mammon becomes an idol that will lure us away from Christ, who is our greatest treasure. So think of this strenuous call to discipleship–“If you don’t give up on family and self and money, you cannot be my disciple”–think of that no so much as conditions to be met but as barriers that would block you from following Jesus, your only source of real life. Thus they must not stand in the way.
Jesus is your only true life. Nothing can get in the way between you and him–not family, not comfort, not material possessions, not your own life that you hold on to so dearly. Any detour is a dead end. But to follow Jesus is to enter life. The way of the disciple is to walk with your Master on the path of life. You don’t want to get separated.
Jesus has all the resources you will need. You have him, you have what it takes. Look at all he gives you. First there is the forgiveness you need to take away your sins, which is the big disqualifier. Without that, you’d be out, done, and finished, before you even got started. But Jesus is taking a journey to Jerusalem to take care of all that. The Son of God left the comfort and the riches of heaven to bear his own cross and carry it to Calvary for you. He laid down his life for your sake. And so by the shedding of his holy blood, you have forgiveness for all the sin and selfishness and straying from the path you have done.
And with that forgiveness comes the sure hope of everlasting life, built on the firm foundation of Christ’s own resurrection. Not only so, Christ your mighty king gives you the strength you need to face down your enemy, the devil, whom Christ has already defeated. Yes, God will richly resource you to complete the tower that is a life of Christian discipleship. Count the cost, yes, but then also count your supply.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The one who calls you is the one bled and died for you and now lives to lead you to the finish line. He gives you the ears to hear and the feet to follow. Do you have what it takes? Oh yes, you do! For you have Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.