sermon: discipleship in Luke 14

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 "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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 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? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
This morning as we gather to worship and to be family together, those verses hang heavy in the air over us. Part of our confession as a church is that the call God has on our lives is total. Jesus is the Good News, but he is severely good news. Out of context, those lines make Jesus sound like so many demanding tyrants, political and religious in our world today. In context, they are life and love and truth.

This morning we begin an investigation of discipleship, of trying to understand what it means to follow Jesus. Our task is twofold: First, we must understand for ourselves what a disciple is. As a church full of people who live and work all over So Cal, a church of various ethnicities and backgrounds, we need a unified understanding of what a disciple is. We want to hold some things in common, understanding how Jesus envisaged his disciples, and how he himself enfleshed discipleship to God. And we need to know what a disciple is in practical, tangible ways, ways that shape our real lives; our behaviors and our hearts. The second task is to understand that the call of Jesus to complete discipleship, even the call we just read, is good. The call to follow him is merciful, wonderful, and it is the most honoring thing that can bestowed upon us. Discipleship brings life to us and opens our hearts to God in ever deeper ways. (Pray)

When Jesus spoke these words, "you must take up your cross and hate your family,"{ you might think it was a time of crisis that called for a decision, but it wasn’t. He was doing quite well, actually. He had been successfully healing people around the countryside. He had gained some enemies, but he had become relevant, a real topic of conversation. He had been invited to eat at the house of important people, and now large crowds followed him to see what he would do next. His ministry was thriving. It was just the kind of ministry you would want to give money to; the stuff of shiny brochures and great conferences.

And to this crowd, Jesus turns and says, “Hate your mother and father,…take up your cross.”

Hate your family? How do you explain that? Well. clearly, he is being rhetorical. This is the same man who rebuked the Pharisees for the ways they valued religion more than caring for family. This is the same Jesus who expanded love to include, not just family and friends, but enemies, too. And it’s an artifact of Semitic thought transposed in Greek. But he follows it with something equally disturbing: pick up that symbol of oppression and crime, pick up your cross and follow me.

And so the 1st thing we see is that the call to be a disciple is total.
Jesus lets the crowd know that they cannot be disciples unless they value their master above all things. As he explains it, to be a disciple means you entrust Him with every corner of your life. You hand the keys over. You trust Jesus even with the things you hold dearest, like family. Your parents: his. Your family: his. Your future: his. Your plans: his. Your finances: his. Your goals: his, yes and even your life is his.

Following Jesus demands everything. Makes sense, doesn’t it? -That things like Immeasurable blessing, eternal comfort, and peace with God would come at a cost. We intuitively know that the best things in life require total commitment. We live wanting to fall in love and give our whole selves to someone else. We have children knowing it requires a total commitment to fill them with love. We live in the shadows of giants like MLK who found justice something worth giving even life for.

But the crowd experiences none of it. Though fascinated by Jesus, their lack of commitment keeps them from experiencing the deep things. In the gospels, the crowd sees Jesus do things. They watch. But they never walk on water. Never do the healing themselves. Never see Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead. Don’t get to feed 5000. They don’t get their questions answered. I think that’s true for us, too. I mean, we have to ask, heaven forbid, if you were to give up on Jesus would the only difference it makes be that some slots in your calendar are freed up?

And discipleship is unsatisfying without commitment. It isn’t discipleship. You don’t want half the right lotto numbers. You don’t want a surgeon only half committed to your surgery, you don’t want a spouse only halfway committed to be faithful, and most of all, you don’t want a pastor only half committed to ending on time.

It is wise and kind of Jesus to say this to the crowd. It’s too easy for them to be fooled. They can look around and think to themselves, “I’m here with all these other good religious folk. I have been following this guy around, -I must be on the path,” when the truth is they aren’t. They are only attendees. They can simply go home when they tire of trying. The crowds have no commitment, no investment. They are committed to following and listening and obeying when it’s convenient, as long as it’s fun, as long as it seems the thing to do. But a disciple is not. At one point, the crowds desert Jesus and he asks the disciples if they are leaving too, Peter responds, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. And though Peter could not commit as firmly as even he thought, nevertheless, his heart had made a commitment even if he fell short. Fortunately Jesus' commitment to us is sure and sustained. He recognizes the temptation not to commit.

And He tells these two parables to arrive at the point.
28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
The answer of course, is no one. A stronghold to protect you, a place to scan the horizon for enemies, is only good when finished. A half-finished tower is no protection at all. It looks foolish and it is unable to do you any good, to save you in a time of trouble.

Similarly the next parable is also about saving one’s self. No king in his right mind would go to war for an assured loss. In the face of overwhelming opposition, the king must wisely and painfully ask for terms of peace. He must surrender. Surrender. The only reasonable thing to do in the face of certain defeat is to surrender and seek terms of peace.

So the point to the crowd is clear. You cannot ½ follow Jesus. You cannot just hang around while it is convenient. You must give everything over to him, or you will end up looking foolish, and the terms of peace offered are total. God requires everything.

I confess there was a time in my life when I first loved this passage. When I became a Christian, it was in the middle of a small revival. Young and passionate, it was a clarion call to commit to the wild adventures of a disciple. We used this passage many times to let the word of God convict us that God demands everything, that there is nothing more valuable than discipleship. When Jesus said "Count the cost!", we would nod in approval, “Of course! Why wouldn’t you?” It was a passage that called for fearless and bold leadership, letting nothing stand between me and following Jesus, a rallying cry for those touched by the Spirit, committed to leading the world in to all truth.

But I’m not that guy anymore.

After the last couple of years we’ve had as a family, it’s just not in me. There has been enough suffering and loss for me to change my perspective. I still love this passage, but for different reasons now. I love the last parable most. I love that the king is defenseless, at the mercy of overwhelming forces, and his only option is surrender, because that’s how I feel. My reflections this morning are shaped by the loss of family and friends, of job, of my inability to finish all the things I need to get done. Our car got a flat, and my daughter threw up all over my pillow last night.

These days I feel like that king, overwhelmed by the world assailing me. And it is only by accepting the terms of peace that I can make it. And as much as I used to think Jesus was like a marine asking the crowds, “Do you have what it takes!?!” now I hear Jesus ask,“If you are only half in, what defense do you have against the terrors of the world?”
-Who will comfort you when you are lonely?
-Who will heal where you hurt?
-Who will redeem your mistakes?
-Who will secure a glorious future for you?
-Who will make sense of all this?

Putting Jesus first, carrying your cross -those are the terms of peace. And though we must lose our lives giving them completely to him, like the king, we save them in our surrender. And the terms of peace Jesus offers are an easy yoke and a light burden. But they are total. The call is to surrender all that we have, and all that we are.

So I don’t know where this morning finds you. Maybe the call to commit everything, the single minded pursuit of Christ, raises your pulse. Amen. There is nothing more noble and breathtaking than the life of discipleship. Maybe the call to find shelter and defense, a little peace and resolution, is motivation enough to commit completely to Jesus. Both are biblical, and still the call remains: We must surrender everything to Jesus.


  1. Erin, thanks so much for your posts...and especially your message to us on Sunday. This is raw...this discipleship thing is tough and honestly I'd rather run and bury my head in the sand like an ostrich. (and pretend I'm hiding when really the rest of me is exposed).

    It's so easy for me to forget that "God requires everything" sometimes. It's so much easier to hand over things that are obvious and forget about the parts of my heart that are hidden under layers of brokenness. For example, it's easy to say "God I surrender this crappy day to you" vs. "God you can take my selfish attitude and misshaped expectations that make feel like crap."

    Anyways, thanks again!


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