Counting the Cost bu Stephen Beazley

15 Sep 2019 by William Tibben in: Sermons

  We see in the news about countries like Afghanistan, India, Philippines or the Middle East where Christian aid workers and church workers, both foreign and domestic, have been imprisoned or killed for no other reason than that they bear the name of Christ.

 Some things have not changed in the last 2000 years.

  As it was in the Roman Empire - where, over a period of about 250 years hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people were tortured and executed for saying "Jesus is Lord" - so today it can still cost people everything to be a disciple of Jesus.

  Most of us will never face that kind of choice in our lives. We will not be asked to give our freedom or perhaps even our lives for the sake of the Gospel.

  But what about the other costs? The giving up of self that people are so reluctant to do? The giving up of a lot of our self control - which is no easy thing - so God might rule in us?

  The giving up of hatreds and resentments against those who injured us or slighted us.
   Or - and this can really hurt - the giving up of meaningful amounts of cash money to do God's work - money that could be better spent on our pleasure and comfort?

  Discipleship is what today's passage the Gospel Luke is all about. The discipleship - the following - that calls us to love God - to love Jesus - above all other things, to love God more than our mother and our father,  more than our wife and children more than our brothers and sisters, more even than our own lives.

  What is the commandment - the commandment that comes to us from the Covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai - and which is lifted up by Jesus for us as the greatest
of all of God's commandments?

  Is it not the greatest commandment "Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength"? 

  How we talk about love is most interesting to me - and I am sure it is to you as well.

  I know people who love the views that they can get from the top the mountains round about here.  I know I love it. 

  There is nothing quite like what you see when you ascend to the lookouts. It is absolutely incredible.

  But - I ask myself - what if it wasn’t easy to get there?

  People have told me that view from the mountains around Lake Toubarie is absolutely wonderful. I love that kind of view.
  I love the pictures that folk have taken there, but I have not yet gone up there myself.  I haven't expended the sweat and the energy it requires to ascend the trail.

  It seems that I love ice-cream and watching television as well - and I find it easier to pick up a spoon and push buttons on my remote control than to strap on a pair of running shoes or hiking boots and start climbing.

  I have to ask myself from time to time - and perhaps you do too - is my love of God, like my love of the view from the top of those mountains out there?  

  Now my love of God is a real and genuine thing; - but is it one in which I am willing only to put in so much effort?

Is it but one love, as it were, among many?

  These kinds of questions, my friends, my brothers and sisters, as we allow ourselves to struggle with them serve a deep purpose in our lives.

  They are like the hands of the potter we heard about in the reading from the prophet Jeremiah, the hands that shape the clay into a pot  - and when he see that the clay is marred pounds and reshapes the clay into a new and better form - until it is pleasing and useful to him.

  We can assume that is not always a comfortable process for the clay - but the results are worth it - for the potter is God -       and God, as the bumper sticker says, does not make junk.

  There is a difference between loving God and doing what God wants us to do - a difference between loving Christ and being his disciples, being those who take up their crosses and follow him.

  The Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote his History of the Jewish people during the time that Rome ruled Israel - in the middle of the First Century - talks about the cross and what it was like in those days to walk the main road that led into Jerusalem. 

  He records how, along that road there would be - at times - as many as 2000 or 3000 crosses lining the way - each with either a fresh victim of Pax Romana - the peace of Rome – nailed or tied to a cross - or the decaying and rotting body of an unfortunate one baking in the heat and causing a great stench to hang over the roadway.

  Unless we have seen with our own eyes and smelt with our own nose the horrors of places like Vietnam, Rwanda, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq we can't really grasp what it must have been like to walk into the city beside a row of crosses with folks dying or rotting on them.

  Nor can we grasp the absolutely insanity that the words of Jesus must have conjured up for his prospective disciples - when he told them - a people who often said "cursed is the one who hangs on a tree" - that to be truly his, they must "pick up their crosses" and follow him.

  It was the worst possible image that Jesus could have used if his whole intention was to get people to love Him - and to love God - in the way that I and so many other people love the view from our mountains.

  Jesus uses graphic images today to remind us that God wants more from us than our eagerness to receive bread without cost and wine without price.

  He uses words about hating all those we should love to shock us he uses words about taking up the cross to horrify us - and help wake us up to what is at stake: to help us realize that for his followers there is more to loving God than simply feeling thankful to God, more to loving God than simply waiting for God to pour a handful of goodies into our laps.

  God wants us to be disciples, to be followers - to be vessels able to receive his love - vessels able to hold his love and then to pour it out upon others.

  Jesus is telling us that being half-hearted is about as much good as having no heart at all. 
  Giving up some things, but not everything to God, he tells us - can only earn us the ridicule of others.

  "Count the cost", he says in our reading today, "and pick up your cross and follow me."

  Oh, how much I want it all to be easy. How much I want every mountain to have a Gondola ascending it. How much I want to not have to suffer or die, to live forever without having to pass through the grave, or - as my mother always put it - how much I want to have my cake and eat it too.

  I want to be a beautiful vessel for God my potter but I don't want to be shaped or formed on the wheel if it means that I will be pounded on and pushed around and have water soaking me and wires and wooden edges cutting and shaping me.

  And isn't this the truth about most people? Isn't that the reason why Jesus talks to his followers in the way he does? Isn't that why Jesus challenges us?

  How easy I want it to be - and how awful the way of the cross appears to be. But - I can't help thinking - because the gospel has touched me - that perhaps all the suffering that I fear, all the self-sacrifice that I am loath to make, all the humility, the thinking about myself; thinking about myself less and about others more, is more than worth it for the sake of that which has been revealed, and is yet to be revealed to the children of God.

  You see the cross that Jesus speaks of, the cross that he himself was raised upon, does not end the story.  If that was so - the story would not be told and people would not offer their lives in service to God in places like Iraq or Afghanistan or India.

 The one who talked about the cost of loving God not only has shown us what true love is like when he died for us upon the cross - he also has shown us what God's love for us is like when he was raised from the dead on the third day.

  God's intention and purpose is to have us become beautiful vessels - beautiful pots - ones that can hold his love and pour his love out upon others.  God's intention is to make us more like Christ in every way, every day, to make us ones who are a blessing to others - and who ourselves know the blessing, the presence, the peace, that only He can give.

  What do we need to give up? What do we have to give up? 

  Well, we don't live or work in Afghanistan or any of the other places in our world today where people are killed for telling others that Jesus is Lord of Life, and of Death, and of Life beyond Death - unless of course God has called us to one of those places specifically.

  But there are things to give up to God right here; perhaps those things indicated in the beatitudes of the Devil that someone sent to me, things of the self.

  The Devil's beatitudes for believers in Christ - for those who start, but do not finish, go like this:

   Blessedare those who are too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend an hour once a week with their fellow Christians, they are my best workers.

   Blessedare those Christians who wait to be asked and expect to be thanked - I can use them.

   Blessedare the touchy. With a bit of luck, they may stop going to church - they are my missionaries.

   Blessedare the troublemakers - they shall be called my children.

   Blessedare the complainers - I'm all ears to them and I will spread their message.

   Blessedare the church members who expect to be invited to their own church - for they are a part of the problem instead of the solution.

          Blessedare they who gossip - for they shall cause strife and divisions.  That pleases me.

   Blessedare they who are easily offended - for they will soon get angry and quit.

   Blessedare they who do not give their offering to carry on God's work - for they are my helpers.

   Blessedare they who profess to love God but hate their brother or sister - for they shall be with me forever.

   Blessedare they who read or hear this and think it is about other people - I've got you..

  Our gospel reading today ends with the words: "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."

  Some things are well worth giving up to God, they cause us and others nothing but grief.

  Other things are well worth giving up to God - because God can renew them and remake them, - because God can renew and remake us.

  In any case those things we treasure that get in our way, we can't keep them anyway.

  All flesh is mortal and suffering will come to us whether we are dedicated to God or dedicated only to ourselves.

  How much better than that if we are to suffer - we suffer for the Lord who is forgiving.  

  How much better than if we are to die - that we die for the Lord who gives life to those who call upon him.

  God is the potter - we are the clay.

  May we - may you - may I be ready to have him mould us and fill us.

  May we follow Jesus not counting the cost as people of this world count the cost, wondering if we can do what we purpose to do, but rather counting the cost as Jesus counted it - knowing that this slight, momentary affliction will prepare us for eternal glory, and knowing that in Christ we can do all things for he loves us with a love that overcomes the world.

  Blessed be God - our Father - our Creator - the one who forms us as Potter forms the clay. 

O Father, We know following Jesus will be filled with hard challengers, not just the challenges of normal life, but also the challenges that Jesus’ enemies and Satan’s allies will throw in our path. Even so, we truly want to follow Jesus, to become like Him in how He lived with character and compassion. So we ask for the strengthening of the Holy Spirit to give us added courage and endurance as the Spirit works at conforming us to Jesus; our Teacher, Saviour and Lord. In whose name we pray. Amen