Not So Fast
The events of September 11 were an unprecedented call to Christ. American's responded streaming into churches in numbers not seen since Christmas. This is analogous to what is going on in our Gospel reading. Large crowds are being drawn to Christ. They are streaming to Him. You would think Jesus would welcome the masses with open arms, but instead He says, "Not so fast. Can you do what discipleship demands? Unless you can, you can't be My disciple." Three times in this rather short text we hear the refrain, "You cannot be My disciple."
Jesus said to the crowds streaming to Him in our text and Jesus says to the crowds streaming to Him now, "You cannot be my disciple unless I am first place in your life." If Jesus is not first place in your life, He is no place. If your father, mother, sister, brother, wife, children, or especially yourself comes before Jesus, you can't be His disciple.
Everybody wants to come to Jesus in times of tragedy, in times of sickness, in times of unrest, in times of worry, but what does Jesus do? Welcome them? Nope, He throws stumbling blocks before them. "Coming after Me is not enough. In comparison to your love for Me, you must hate everyone else, and when you come after Me, you must be carrying your cross."
Come to Jesus all you want. Stream to Him in this time of crises, but don't forget the last words of our text. "Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple." Jesus doesn't say "some," but "all." Not a tenth but a 100%. Not the best you possess, but all you possess. Hear what Jesus plains says: you can't be My disciple unless you hate everyone else in your life including yourself, carry your cross not drag it, give up all your possessions not just some.
And you know what? In a time of crises, such as now, people readily say, "Okay." They act toward Jesus like young people are acting toward the military now. "Sure I'll leave my home, join the military, go overseas, fight and possibly die for my country." It times of national crises, patriotism runs high. In times of spiritual crises "Jesus-ism" runs high too. But Jesus says, "Not so fast." He tells two parables which emphasize sitting down and calculating. This "sitting down" is a key feature of this text. Indeed it is a key feature of the Gospel of Luke. You don't have to sit down to calculate; you don't have to sit down to deliberate, but Jesus emphasizes this action in both parables.
So take a seat. Consider what Jesus says to us as we stream toward Him in these turbulent times. Can you really hate your father, mother, sister, brother, wife, kids and especially self? Were people in the Bible able to do this? Isaac loves Esau so much that he tries to give him the inheritance of the firstborn despite God saying it wasn't his. David loves the evil Absalom so much that he will jeopardize the entire kingdom for him. In the New Testament, the mother of James and John is so blinded by love for her sons that she dare ask Jesus to honor them above everyone else.
Take a seat. Consider whether you can carry the cross. Do you think you can do what Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Peter did not? Noah couldn't carry the cross of living in the harsh conditions of the post-flood world without falling into drunkenness. In a time of famine, Abraham couldn't carry the cross of staying in the land God told him to. Moses couldn't carry the cross of leading God's people without dishonoring God before them. Peter couldn't carry the cross of the foolishness of the Gospel before Jewish Christians who demanded the Law was still in force.
Take a seat. Put down on paper all that you possess. Your home, your stocks, your cash, your furniture, you cars, your collection, everything you own. Now consider each thing. Can you give it up? If you're honest, you will conclude you can give up some but certainly not all. Then, what does Jesus say, "You cannot be my disciple."
Jesus wants to bring us would-be followers to the point of saying, "I can't do it." The parables show this. When Jesus asks the people to calculate building a tower, you can't hear that as modern people who know of private citizens who have built towers. In Jesus' day, it was kings and governments that erected towers. Private citizens would have to admit that they couldn't do such a project. Likewise, when Jesus asks them to consider going to war against a force of 20,000 with an army of 10,000, they knew no king would. But they also knew that in the Old Testament God did send His people to war grossly outnumbered. It takes a miracle to overcome 2 to 1 odds. Jesus wants those coming to Him in a time of crises to know that it will take a miracle if they are going to be His disciples.
You will miss this if you believe the reason God gives you the Law is so might know how to follow Jesus. The primary purpose of the Law is a mirror, not to show you what you can do but to show you what you cannot do. Just as we give the arrogant child a task we know he cannot do to show him how weak he is, so Jesus sets before us what He knows we can't do. As we give the five-year-old who believes he's strong enough to carry any of the grocery bags the 20 pound sack of potatoes to prove to him that he can't, so Jesus gives us commands that no sinner can do perfectly.
Follow the order of the Divine Service. We confess our sins; we are forgiven of them by the pastor. We hear God's Word to us for today in the Introit that we read responsively. Right after that what do we do? Burst into activity? No, declare our passivity by singing the Kyrie. Although we are forgiven sinners, although we are indeed disciples of Christ, we cry out "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." We join blind Bartimaes as reported by St. Luke SITTING beside the road who cries out to Jesus, "Mercy me."
The Gospel of Luke is a story of being passive. From the outset, Zechariah is made unable to speak. He must wait for the Lord to reveal the forerunner of the Messiah, John. Zechariah's wife after becoming pregnant in her old age doesn't run around telling people of the miracle but hides her condition. The Virgin Mary responds to the angel's news, "May it be done to me as you have said," a completely passive response. In the story of Mary and Martha, which only Luke relates, Mary sitting by the feet of Jesus hearing His Word is praised while Martha busy running about doing things for Jesus is not. And while Matthew and Mark report the healing of the man of Gaddarena who was possessed by a legion of devils, only Luke tells you this man who had been running about and shouting before being exorcized is sitting beside the feet of Jesus afterward. Finally, the Gospel of Luke is the only one that ends with Jesus telling the disciples literally to "sit" in the city of Jerusalem until they're clothed by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Jesus seeks to take people streaming toward Him in turbulent times and make them passive receivers of His gifts. That this is His purpose even in our text can be shown by what follows. Right after this text we find Jesus telling 3 familiar parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons. All that the found do is get lost. They don't hate their loved ones, carry their crosses, or give up all they possess. Jesus finds them and rejoices over them. Jesus makes them His own by finding them. Jesus is active; they're passive.
Our flesh responds to trouble, to disaster, to crises by doing. I'm going to start taking Jesus and His Word seriously. I am going to follow Jesus wherever He goes. I am going to do what He commands, believe what He says, and change my life. O would that we could do these things. Would that we had the strength, the determination, the faithfulness to do these things. But we don't. The spirit may be willing but the flesh is always weak. The Law is given to show us our weakness, to show us the impossibility of saving ourselves. The heavy, absolute requirements of the Law presses on us till we cry out, Lord have mercy.
Friends, St. Paul tells us in Galatians if the Law could save us, God would have given a Law to do just that. The error of the Jews was believing that God had given them the Law to save them. That's why Paul preaches to them in Acts 13 not of the Law but of Christ. He says, "Let it be known to you brethren, that through Christ forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses." That's why we sing in one of our hymns, "My soul no more attempt to draw thy life and comfort from the Law."
We can never be saved by our hatred of those who would draw us away from Christ, we can only be saved by Christ's love for us. Christ did put His family behind Him. He put His heavenly Father's business, which is saving us for all eternity, above His mother and step-father. In these troubled times, we will see things that will make us afraid for not only our life but our salvation. The proper response is not to be turned to ourselves and our resources, to be turned to what we must do, but to be turned to what Christ has already done for us. We can close our eyes in peace at night not because we have completely and always put Christ before our earthly family, but because Christ put us before not only His earthly family but His heavenly family too.
In these stormy times, we will want to be faithful Christians bearing the crosses of suffering, hardship, and sacrifice that will come upon us. But we aren't saved by our determination to bear the cross or the imperfect cross bearing we do. We are saved by the perfect cross bearing of Christ. If we really examine ourselves, we will find that our cross-bearing is always faulty, always inadequate. If we keep looking at this, we can only despair. That's why on our altar, we have Christ on the cross, Christ bearing the cross not you or me. That's why in your baptism, at the Communion, and in the Benediction it is the cross of Christ I put on you, not your own.
In these disturbing times, we might indeed have to give up "goods, fame, child, and wife" as we have always sung in "A Mighty Fortress." We shrink at this prospect; how can we ever do this, we ask? But no strength, no hope, no help will come from that question. Our salvation is secure not because we have, do, or can give up our possessions, but because Christ has, did and could. He did what we can't do, and so won our salvation, and He won for us the sure promise of God that He gives more to His people than they ever give up.
Not so fast. Don't grab on to the words of Law in this text and think you have the answer to the tumultuous times we face. The harsh words of Law here are to bring you to the point God's people in the Old Testament frequently came to. They saw the battle before them; they saw their limited resources and were tempted to despair. At such times the Lord would say, "Stand back and see the salvation of God; the battle is not yours but Mine." Our battle against unbelief and fear, our battle against our very own sinful flesh to be disciples of Christ in these turbulent times is not ours but Christ's. We can only be disciples if the Lord makes us so. He will. His Word says so. His Water says so. His Body and Blood say so. And so we say, "Lord, have mercy!" Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XVI (9-23-01) Luke 14:25-33