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Too Much Of A Good Thing

Read: Luke 14:25-35

What is your favorite type of restaurant? Do you like to dine in those eateries that serve particular varieties of ethnic foods—like Indian, Chinese, or Hispanic? Do you like steak houses that specialize in serving finest cuts of beef? Do you prefer seafood restaurants serving shrimp, oysters, or clams? Maybe you like pizza places, pasta joints, or fast-food restaurants. What is your favorite type of restaurant?

Me, I like a restaurant that gives me some choices. I like restaurants that offer me some options when it comes time to eat. I like a place where I can choose to skip over the salads and vegetables, and move right on to the macaroni and cheese, yeast rolls and fried chicken. I like a place where I can put chocolate ice-cream on my chocolate cake and smother it with chocolate syrup. (Am I making anybody hungry?) Me, I like a buffet—a smorgasbord—a place that offers me the freedom to make some choices when it comes time to eat.

What I like about a smorgasbord is the same thing we all value about our society. We value the freedom to make choices about the way we are going to live our lives. We value the freedom to choose between banks, brokers, grocers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, politicians and gas stations. We value the freedom of being able to choose the make, model, and color of our car. In short, we value the freedom to make choices about how we are going to live our lives.

I. Too Much of a Good Thing

I love going to a buffet. I love the freedom it affords me to choose what I want to eat and how much I want to eat. The problem is that usually I abuse this freedom. I make some bad decisions. That’s what the doctor was trying to tell me this past week. He said I need to drop some weight and lower my cholesterol. In essence he was saying that I’ve had too much of a good thing. The freedom to choose has allowed me to eat what I’ve like without considering whether its good for me!

Sometimes I wonder if our society has not had too much of a good thing. Do you ever stop and wonder whether we have too many choices? Do you ever stop and think that perhaps we have too much freedom? Think about it! We have the freedom to make so many choices about the way we are going to live our lives that we have developed an attitude that says that we have the right to make choices about everything. We take this attitude with us everywhere we go. We even take it to church.

We think we have the right to make choices about everything. We even think we have the right to make choices when it comes to the way we will live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. Many times we swagger up to a smorgasbord of discipleship to choose what we want out of the Christian faith. On one corner of our plate we put a small helping of church—the kind that meets our emotional and social needs without asking too much in return. In another section of our plate we place a good-natured preacher whose sermons are always affirming, never challenging, and always over by twelve o’clock noon. In the middle of our plate we put a pleasant prayer life, the kind that makes us feel good about ourselves, not the kind that will keep us up all night in sobs of sorrowful repentance. In another section of our plate we put a very small serving of stewardship, the kind that allows us the right to give only the widow’s mite, even though our savings accounts are quite full. We go to smorgasbord of discipleship and serve ourselves heaping helping of the blessing of the Christian life, avoiding the aspects we don’t like—the one’s that talk about servanthood, cross-bearing and sacrifice. Given the choice, we want a Christian discipleship that isn’t too difficult. Wilbur Reese writes with biting sarcasm:

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
I’d like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

That’s pretty well how we approach discipleship, isn’t it? We want to pick and choose what our discipleship will involve. We want the blessings without the commitment. We want to call the shots and choose all the disciplines. We want Savior Jesus but not Sovereign Jesus. It seems to me that maybe we’ve had too much of a good thing.

This attitude has had a tremendous impact on the mission and ministry of the church, hasn’t it? If people really feel they have the freedom to choose what they want out of the Christian religion, then congregations begin to face the temptation to give folks what they want in order to gain their support and purchase their allegiance. The church ends up promoting the blessing of Christian discipleship without calling folks to fulfill their obligations to Jesus Christ in the world. The church succumbs to the temptation to accommodate the call of gospel in order to make it more appealing to our society. The prevailing wisdom is simple: Give folks what they want and they will choose to attend your church.

I once had a conversation with two friends who pastor churches in Richmond. They were talking about another congregation in their community that had overhauled its style of worship and ministry—almost overnight. They stopped calling themselves Baptist—modern day folks, you see, don’t like denominational labels. They scrapped their order of worship. They stopped singing the old hymns in favor of more contemporary choruses. They replaced their hymnbooks with an overheard projector. They even redesigned their sanctuary—removing the old wooden cross that hung above their Baptismal pool. It was thought that talking about the cross too soon might offend some people in our contemporary society—with all that talk about suffering and dying. Basically this congregation changed its entire way of being church in an attempt to make themselves more appealing and attractive to the unchurched in their community. One of my friends said, “I’m not sure I agree with everything they’ve been doing, but I can’t argue with their success. That church is attracting folks like flies to sugar.” My other friend replied, “Sugar may attract flies, but I wouldn’t feed sugar it to my children for dinner.” He’s right! I once heard New Testament scholar Frank Stagg say , “If they come to it like hogs to slop, it ain’t the gospel.”

II. The Call of the Gospel

You’d think Jesus would have been happy with his success. Luke tells us that a large crowd was following him as he traveled. Preachers tend to like large crowds, don’t they? They like the idea of looking out into the eager faces of a large group of people who are just waiting in anticipation to here his or her next homiletical miracle.

Jesus was a preacher so he must have been pleased to see the large crowd. By the way, the crowd was not just large in number, they were also very energetic and enthusiastic. You might say that they were drawn to Jesus, like flies to sugar. They were drawn by his persona. They were drawn by the promises he proclaimed about the presence of God’s salvation. They were drawn by the hope that he was Messiah, the one who would lead them to freedom and independence from their captivity to Roman. The multitudes were drawn to Jesus. They were drawn to him because they could see in him the fulfillment of all their hopes and dreams.
As he traveled Jesus was accompanied by a large and enthusiastic crowd. It must have been like a giant parade. People were marching and singing and dancing and clapping and shouting and praising and playing. Little children were sitting on their father’s shoulders. It was a celebration. You’d think Jesus would be overjoyed by his accomplishments. You’d think he’d be happy to be escorted by such a large and enthusiastic crowd. You’d think that he would want to encourage them in their decision to accompany him—but he didn’t. In fact, Jesus seems downright dreary. There they were having a celebration. What does Jesus do? He stops them and rains all over their parade. Rather than encouraging the crowd, Jesus discouraged them by speaking to them about those who could not be his disciple.

William Barclay tells the story about a person who was talking to a scholarly professor about a younger man at the university. The person said: “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The professors answered was devastatingly, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” Barclay states that there is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. There is also a world of difference between accompanying Jesus while he travels and being a true disciple.

The crowds are accompanying Jesus as he travels. Jesus turns to them and says that their presence is not enough. More is demanded. Holding no punches Jesus outlines for them what shall be expected if they desire to continue with him on his journey. He tells them exactly what shall be required of them if they are to be his disciples.

To begin, Jesus says that none of them could really be his disciple unless they were willing to hate their family. Of course Jesus is not talking about a loathing and despising animosity. He’s speaking in hyperbole. He’s exaggerating to make a point. He’s saying that whenever a conflict arises between one’s family and the demands the of Kingdom, the Kingdom must always come first.

Next Jesus declares that none of them could really be his disciple unless they hated their own life. Once again Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. He is not advocating self-animosity. He is saying that a true disciple is a person who has relinquished control over his or her entire life. A true disciple is a person who has completely submitted themselves to the will of God. They have no right to make choices and decisions about their life because they have surrendered that right to Jesus Christ.

To illustrate this point Jesus says that a true disciple will carry the cross. Now what did Jesus mean when he spoke about bearing the cross? Now what did Jesus mean when he said that? Do you think he was talking about living with chronic pain or some sort of physically debilitating ailment—like maybe arthritis? That’s what an individual in my last church thought. While greeting her after worship, she told me that her arthritis was acting up. Telling her that I was sorry for her discomfort, she replied: “That’s okay, pastor. It’s just the cross I bear.” Do you think that is what Jesus meant? Is cross bearing simply a matter of learning to live with one’s rheumatism or station in life or inner struggle with guilt or difficult family relationships? I doubt very much that this is the what the people in the crowd thought when they heard Jesus make this statement. They were familiar with the cross. It was the official instrument of torture and death for those who did not tow the line and accommodate to the Empires ways of thinking. They had seen too many of their compatriots crucified on crosses to equate it with rheumatism or migraine headaches. When Jesus said that his followers would carry the cross I think the people in the crowd knew he was speaking about the price they would pay in suffering if they pledged their allegiance to him. When Jesus called them to take up the cross he was calling them to be prepared for death. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis because of his testimony, made this statement: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” To follow Jesus no matter what the cost—that’s the way of the cross.

These were hard words. They still are. Why do you think Jesus was so demanding? I think that he wanted to be honest and up front from the beginning. That’s something we are sometimes afraid to do in the church. We are afraid that a recital about the costs of discipleship might discourage and drive away some potential church member so we try to postpone such talk, if not eliminating it altogether. That’s not the approach Jesus took, is it? He wanted folks to know from the get-go what was to be expected of those who would be his disciples. He wanted the terms of discipleship to be clear. To accept his call would require a person to offer up all of their possessions, relationships, interests, ambitions, wants and desires on the altar of commitment. Jesus knew that they would find themselves severely tested when Jerusalem was not a distant goal, but a present and painful reality—he wanted them to be prepared. He knew that their excitement and enthusiasm would weaken in the face of persecution when they were asked: “Are you one of his disciples?” From the beginning he wanted them to stop and think about what they were doing. He wanted them to seriously consider whether they were really willing to stay with him all the way. To make sure they got the message he told them two stories.

First he asked them to consider the story of a person beginning a building program. He said, “Imagine a person setting out to build a watch tower. He draws up all the plans. He selects the appropriate site. He makes sure that the his land is properly zoned by the for the type of tower he wants to build. He does everything that is required for such a project except checking his savings account to see whether or not he has enough money to buy all of the materials. As it turns out, he didn’t have enough money. What happens next? Because he did not count the costs people laugh at the man every time they walked past his half-finished tower.”\

Next Jesus tells a brief parable about a foolish King who sets out to war. Jesus said: “Imagine a king going into battle with a neighboring realm. What’s the first thing he should do? He should check whether he has enough troops and resources to secure the victory. What would happen if he forgets to count the cost and ends up going into battle against a much larger and better equipped army. His army will be demolished and his kingdom destroyed. People would remember that foolish old king every time they passed battlefield where his troops were buried.”

In these two parables Jesus is asking the same questions: Are you sure you want to follow me? Do you know what is expected of you? Have you counted the costs? He wants those in the crowd to seriously consider whether they were really prepared to pay the price and stay the course. God did not enter the redemptive process with humanity without being prepared to complete it. Jesus did not set his course toward Jerusalem without being prepared to pay any sacrifice that would be required of him. No one should step forward and embark on this journey of discipleship without first being prepared to forsake everything to follow Jesus.

A large crowd had gathered around Jesus. They were accompanying him as he traveled. They had chosen to travel with him in the hope of finding salvation and deliverance. They had chosen to travel with him in search of blessings. They acted as though the ministry of Jesus was nothing more than a buffet, and they were all gathered around the dessert table. They were having too much of a good thing.

This is not to say that there no pleasure and blessings in the Christian life—there are! There is peace and joy, hope and healing, grace and forgiveness, salvation and deliverance. What Jesus is saying is that for discipleship to be authentic there will also be submission to God’s will, sacrifice for the sake of others, and a willingness to suffer because our commitment to Him. A disciple must carry a cross.

Is Jesus is asking for a guarantee of total fidelity in advance? I hope not. If that’s what he asking, I can’t give it! Neither can you! If that’s what Jesus is asking for then none of us could be qualified to be his disciple. So then what is he asking? I think he is simply asking that we consider in advance what shall be required of us before we claim to his disciples. “Before you make the choice to follow me,” Jesus is saying, “make sure you have counted the cost.”
Oh yes, there is a decision involved. There is a choice to be made. But the decision—the choice—is not whether we are going to believe something about Jesus in order the receive the blessings of his grace. It’s not whether we are going to accompany him as he travels, receiving the blessings of his salvation. The choice to be made is whether after counting the costs we will still be willing to be his disciples. The decision to be made is whether we, as recipients of God’s salvation, will respond to God’s grace by following Jesus as one of his disciples. Are you willing to count the cost and take up the cross to follow him? Yes or no—what is you choice?

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them he said…anyone who does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

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