Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? (Read the whole thing)
Does anyone else feel like summer shouldn’t be over yet? But here we are a week after labour day, the first few days of school under the belt. All those work and volunteer and church commitments that took a little hiatus for a few months, are now back in our calendars. The summer road trips and weekends at the cabin on the lake are coming to an end or over with seemingly too soon.
So of course, as fall seems to be fully here, even if not technically arriving until the end of the month, Jesus throws us right back into the busy pace of modern 21st Century life. And he does it all the way back from the 1st century Israel.
Jesus starts talking about discipleship. Whoever comes to me does not hate their family cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not give up all their possessions cannot be my disciple.
Okay… hate family, carry cross, give up possessions.
Add them to the to-do list, hopefully we can get to those things by the end of the month, if we are lucky. As long as the frost doesn’t come, the rain stops long enough to mow the lawn, the baking for that school fundraiser gets done, there isn’t too much extra work for that committee that just started back up… we should be able to get the discipleship jobs done.
But I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind.
Discipleship, following Jesus, practicing our faith… these are pretty big questions that come at us in a pretty busy and task filled life. I read a few months ago about the idea of the bottom half of the to-do list. The half of the list that most of us never have time to get to. And if we are honest about the way discipleship is often practiced in church, it is usually a bottom half of the to-do list thing.
Of course, Jesus would probably take issue with the idea of discipleship being something on a to-do list, but we live in a busy world where things that aren’t on lists and in calendars don’t get done at all.
And yet here we are in the midst of the some of busiest times of our calendars and year, and Jesus is talking about Discipleship. And not just about to-do list items, but about giving all that stuff up, jobs, family, possessions, in order to follow him.
It almost doesn’t compute with us on a week like this.
And then Jesus gives us a couple other examples of what discipleship is like, and things get even more confusing.
As Jesus speaks to the crowds that he was walking down the road with, he asks,
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?”
And then he asks the same question again in a different way.
“Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?”
I wonder if anyone raised their hand or laughed…
Because if we don’t think about it much, of course everyone makes plans before a building project, and certainly before going to war. And yet, how often does a project not go over budget or time. And how many of the remembered stories of history are about battles between opponents facing overwhelming odds… like the Spartan 300 or the Alamo.
Recently, in Winnipeg, it was big news that the new Waverly St underpass came under budget and year of ahead of schedule. Things going according to plan is big news.
If we do think about Jesus’ questions about discipleship and we answer honestly, we need to admit that almost every one sets out on big projects not knowing the true cost or time for certain. Kings and armies and nations go to war all the time against the odds. Human beings are, in fact, really bad at predicting the future and really bad at imagining the implication or consequences for our choices.
And so what is Jesus really getting at today when he talks to the crowds and to us about discipleship?
Well, he is not talking about items for our to-do list. He is not talking about a faith that is crammed in between work and volunteering and caring for family and hobbies and leisure and summer relaxing and fall busy-ness.
Jesus is not giving instructions for or prescribing the steps to a fuller discipleship.
Jesus is telling us what will and what is happening because God has caught us up in a story that we could never imagine or plan for or make a to-do list for in our wildest dreams.
Jesus is telling the crowds and us that following him will mean we end up in places we never saw coming. For the crowds the next place was Jesus riding into Jerusalem a King and being nailed to the cross a criminal.
And for us who know the end of the story, we still cannot predict what following Jesus to the cross will truly mean for us. And we certainly cannot imagine how Jesus’ resurrected new life given for us will change us.
And that is the point that Jesus is making.
We cannot imagine giving up our family, even as God welcomes us into a new family, the family of the Body of Christ.
We cannot carry the cross, even as Jesus goes to the cross for our sake, dying to sin and death and rising to new life.
We cannot imagine giving giving up all our possessions, all that we cling to in this life and that clings to us, even as God gives up all power and might, in order to join us in creation, to take on flesh to show us love and mercy and grace.
We cannot imagine discipleship as Jesus talks about it today, because it doesn’t fit on a to-do list and cannot be squeezed into the empty slots on calendar. And because as human beings we are bound to sin and death, we are stuck in an imperfect and limited world of our making. We cannot predict the future very well, whether it is building a tower, going to war, electing a government, building an underpass, planning a career, growing a family or ensuring a faith community like this one carries on for our children and grandchildren.
And yet our ability to plan, to know and understand what following Jesus will mean for us is not what matters.
Rather, it is Jesus who does discipleship for us. It is Jesus who sets us on the path of following him to new places. Jesus who shows us the way out of sin and death, out of limits and imperfection. Jesus shows to us to the cross, to resurrection and new life. Jesus transforms us, even while we don’t know what the end result will be.
Discipleship isn’t a task that Jesus is handing on to us, following Jesus isn’t really something we can do at all.
Because Jesus the one following us, the one coming to us, the one giving up his father, the one carrying our cross, the one giving away all he possessed, in order to hold on to us. In order to carry us from sin and death, to the new life the resurrection… to new life that we could never predict or imagine or plan for.
For Jesus, discipleship has never been about what we are doing but about God transforming us from sinners to forgiven, from suffering to wholeness, from death to new and resurrected life.