Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one.
I have to admit, when I first read our readings for this Sunday, I was sort of frustrated. I sat at my keyboard going from Matthew to Romans back to Matthew back to Romans then to Jeremiah and finally to our Gospel lesson again. I felt that all three readings are somewhat harsh. I think what scared me the most is that all these verses are so matter-of-fact. If you get a divorce and remarry while your first spouse is still alive, you are committing adultery. God did not come to bring peace but a sword. Most of us have heard these things before but we choose not to think about them too much because of their obvious call to obedience.
God asks a lot from us because we have been set apart as His disciples. Because we claim to be His followers, He expects a kind of discipleship from us that would be impossible were it not for the gifts He gives us in His Word and Holy Spirit. We all know this. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as signing our names on an application or pledging our undying love. To be God’s disciples, there is often a level of sacrifice that’s hard for us to master.
Sam Nunn, an American lawyer and politician once said, “You have to pay the price, you will find that everything in life exacts a price, and you will have to decide whether the price is worth the prize.”
Here he is talking about anything worth striving for in your earthly life. The same can be said for your spiritual life. Is the goal precious enough for you to do whatever it takes to get you there. The great coach John Wooden told his players, “Understand there is a price to be paid for achieving anything of significance. You must be willing to pay the price.” Sometimes this might even mean sacrificing relationships with the people you love.
In the Gospel lesson for today, It pits father against son, mother against daughter and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law. It even goes so far as to call them enemies. It calls us to claim our own crosses and to carry them in humility, following Jesus all the while. He makes it clear that if you cannot do all of these things then you are not worthy of Him.
Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a man who truly lived his life as a dedicated disciple. He learned how large the cost of discipleship could be when he forfeited his life rather renounce his faith. The SS Doctor who pronounced him dead said, “I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
He knew that God wanted more than just that part we’re willing to give Him. He wants His disciples to commit their very lives to Him in every possible way, 100%, just like Bonhoeffer did putting God above all things, even his life.
Jesus said, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Matthew 10:35) here Jesus is quoting Micah speaking of a time when the people had fallen away from the Lord, a time of apostasy. I’m quite sure this was not a popular message from Jesus. Often He would be so black and white that it left nothing to the imagination. The apostle Paul even said that sometimes His message was a stumbling block. Because, although the Gospel is good news, it is often proceeded by some very bad news, the news that tells us of our sinful inclinations.
To be the person God expects us to be, it means dealing with issues we would rather ignore, like our own moral decay and the destructive relationships we have with others. It means putting God first in all things, even before those people we cherish in this world, but who lead us down a dangerous path. Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword. Part of the cost of discipleship can be division.
The cost of discipleship can be found in the choices we are asked to make. Verse 37 of our text says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Sometimes your choice to follow Christ pulls you away from those you love. If this happens, you have a choice to make, do I continue to follow Jesus or do I give him up to bring peace between me and my family.
This is the Abraham test. Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his own son. If that had been you instead, what would you have done? Abraham was prepared to do what he most passionately did not want to do because he put God first in his life. For this faith he was rewarded and his son was unharmed. God calls on all of us from time to time to make a choice. It may not be as drastic as what Abraham had to face, but they are choices we have to make non-the-less.
God calls on us to make choices that make Him the priority in all we do, even above career, family, or any personal dreams we might have. This is a hard request to honor because the world is so good at telling us the opposite, even in the little things. Do I sleep in or do I go to church? Do I take the time to do devotions at home or do I choose to do something else for myself? Do I get involved in ministries outside my church or have I convinced myself I just don’t have the time? Do I share my faith with my unchurched friends, or do I avoid it because I might be embarrassed if I’m asked to answer the hard questions? The cost of discipleship often calls us to make tough decisions.
Following Christ requires commitment. Jesus says in verse 38, And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Very black and white, no alternatives, you’re in or you’re out.
The cross was a terrifying instrument of torture. Just mentioning it here had to make his hearers uncomfortable. But Jesus was not interested in being politically correct, he was interested only in the truth, no matter how uneasy it may make us feel. Jesus is telling them and us, that the journey in faith He is calling us to may not be an easy one, but it’s one we must take to be worthy disciples. And to do that means we must be committed.
One of my favorite songs to sing is a song by Bebo Norman called “Yes I will.” My favorite lyric from that song is in its chorus, it says, “I will follow you Jesus all the way up that hill, to the cross where the river runs crimson even still, yes I will follow you Lord, I will.”
We are asked to look at the example Christ set for us and the commitment He showed as He walked up that Hill carrying His own cross. If we are to follow His example, it will take all the determination we can muster, a willingness to be transformed no matter the cost.
We know the costs but are we willing to pay the price? It’s only going to cost you everything. Is Christ worth it to you? Is the prize worth the sacrifice? Are you even willing to be transformed?
Because the message of Christianity is not just that we can be saved, but that we can be transformed.
As we place God first, as we become determined to carry our cross, we become transformed into God’s image and we shed the image the world tries to mold us into.
We learn that we don’t have to follow our own sinful desires or become a slave to them. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made new, willing followers of Christ and fellow heirs to the kingdom of heaven. We are not just forgiven people, we are forgiven children of the most high God. We can’t be perfect, but we can always be striving for perfection, growing in our ability to understand the kind of life God wants for us and the ability to live it. If we can do that then He will see us as perfect through the prism of His Son and declare us righteous despite our imperfections.
The more we understand what Jesus came here to do, the more we can appreciate just what He expects from us, the more we can rejoice in who He has made us to be. We can come to a point where we say. “Thank you God for all that you are. Thank you for your love that guides us. Thank you for caring enough, even before I was born, to teach me the lessons you have, so that I may follow you more faithfully. And thank you for your Son who has made all these things possible by His blood. Thank you for being the answer to so many of life’s questions, I am yours 100%, Use me in great and mighty ways.”
God knows that there will be struggles that we must endure to gain heaven. That’s why He provided us with everything we need to achieve that goal.
His love for us cannot be measured by human hearts. It’s a love that cares enough to show us the path to heaven and how to escape all the pitfalls along the way.
That is why He calls for our commitment to His guidance, because this life is not the goal. The path that God leads us on is an everlasting prize awaiting all who place their hope and trust in Him.
On the surface, it seems that God almost wants the impossible. How could we ever meet the qualifications. Well, we can’t, but God made that all possible through His Son. Yes, the road towards heaven is a hard road at times, but God has provided for us the way. Claim the reward He is offering you by doing everything you can possibly do to become a worthy disciple. If you want the ultimate reward, you must be willing to pay the ultimate price. With God, the reward is always much greater than the cost. Amen