Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 5, 2010

2010.09.05 “Why Jesus Would Not Be a Good Megachurch Pastor” – Luke 14: 25 – 33

Central United Methodist Church

“Why Jesus Would Not Be a Good Megachurch Pastor”

Luke 14: 25 – 33

Pastor David L. Haley

September 5th, 2010

“One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters — yes, even one’s own self! — can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

“Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

       “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.”  (Luke 14: 25 – 33, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson)

The Rev. Gregory A. Boyd is the Pastor of Woodlands Hills Church in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s a megachurch packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals.

Like most pastors leading thriving evangelical megachurches, Rev. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes. The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd – who has degrees from Yale Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary and also (by the way) preaches in blue jeans and rumpled plaid shirts, finally became fed up. Before the 2004 presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.  Said Rev. Boyd:

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

The response from his congregation was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992 with 40 members, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

In addition, Mr. Boyd gave his sermons while his church was in the midst of a $7 million fund-raising campaign. But only $4 million came in, and 7 of the more than 50 staff members were laid off. Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.

Mr. Boyd now says of the upheaval: “I don’t regret any aspect of it at all. It was a defining moment for us. We let go of something we were never called to be. We just didn’t know the price we were going to pay for doing it.” (“Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock,” by Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, July 30, 2006)

        Yes, there’s always a price to pay. I can tell you that preachers think about such things. “Hmmm, I wonder what so-and-so will think if I say this?”  Who will stand up and walk out if I say this?” While preachers are obviously not above saying things that are dumb and wrong, there is also a cost, which must be considered, of saying that which is true and right. Perhaps this is why prophets so rarely come from large, affluent churches or institutions.

It seemed not, however, to bother Jesus.  Which is why he would not have been a good megachurch pastor, perhaps not a good pastor at all.  He didn’t – after all – get nailed to a cross for keeping his mouth shut.

Today, for example, in the Gospel, when he noticed large crowds were following him (that’s a good thing, right?), he turned and launched – in effect – a preemptive strike, saying something which made most of them stop in their tracks. In fact, what he said still remain as one of the hardest sayings in the Gospels:

      “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters — yes, even one’s own self! — can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.” “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.”

 

Not a good way to kick off either a membership drive or capital campaign.

      What Jesus challenged those who would be his followers with, if they really wanted to be his followers, was what they needed to let go, and what they needed to take up. As those who seek to be his followers today, let’s examine more closely, exactly what those are.

      First of all, what do we need to let go? Let’s see: father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters — yes, even one’s own self!” And, as Eugene Peterson renders the latter phrase: “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.”

      Yikes!  Kiss the people we most dearly love, all our stuff, everything dearest to us, “goodbye,” and let it go, in order to follow Jesus? Surely, he’s exaggerating. In fact, most scholars do believe this is what’s known as Semitic hyperbole, the exaggeration of opposites, to make a point.  In this sense, your love for God and God’s kingdom, your desire to follow Christ, is so great, that your love for everything else – including those we love, becomes a relative value, “hate” in comparison.

      Remember, this is spoken by someone on his way to Jerusalem where it’s increasingly clear he’ll be arrested and killed, a story whose outcome we know. So, Jesus has in fact, let everything go, on behalf of the mission to which he’s committed.

      No wonder he says, “if you want to follow me, you better count the cost:

       “Is there anyone here who, planning to renovate a log cabin, who doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the roof patched and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘They started something they couldn’t finish.’

      “Can you imagine a national leader going into battle against another country without first deciding whether it is possible with his hundred-and-thirty thousand troops to face the radical insurgency of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?   (Oh wait, these are my translations . . .)

      If we really count the cost, we will in fact realize that everything we have, everyone we love, we do have to let go of anyway. That’s what life is: a journey of letting go: of all our possessions, of the people we love, of the children we’ve raised, of our health, of our very lives. 

      We may have a lot of stuff that’s dear to us, or a lot of money. But in all the funerals I’ve officiated at in 36 years of ministry, I have yet to see either a moving van or a Brinks Truck in a funeral procession.  Go ahead and let it go, and give it over to God.

      It’s a painful lesson we have to learn at all the stages of life.  What parents haven’t shed tears, taking first graders to school, and again taking freshmen to college; as fathers and mothers giving daughters away in marriage; parents or spouses, sending their children or husbands off to war; loved ones weeping, at the bedsides of those they have loved. We have to let them go, and give them over to God. 

      Even as we do ourselves.  That’s why I like the Zen saying: “Go ahead and die, then live the rest of your life.”

      Sometimes I think you have to be at least forty or fifty years old – or young and deployed to a combat zone – before you get this.  Perhaps that’s why the young often do not appreciate why faith and religion are so important; it’s literally what life is about; counting the costs both of what we give up and what we take up.

      And that’s what we come to next. In the light of what we lose in life, we come to what Jesus invites us to take up: our cross, which we choose as followers of Jesus.

      When we think about what it means to “take up the cross”, we often think in extremes: the one extreme being some burden that’s fallen to us; the other extreme being actually losing our life, as Jesus did. The German Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died as a martyr at the hands of the Nazis, once famously wrote that “when Jesus calls a man or woman to take up their cross, he calls them to die.”  As indeed Bonhoeffer did.

      But what if it’s simpler, more ordinary than that? What if it doesn’t mean dying for our faith, but living by it?  Alan Culpepper, in his commentary on this text in The New Interpreter’s Bible, says:

      “The language of cross bearing has been corrupted by overuse. Bearing a cross has nothing to do with chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships. It is instead what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ.” (Alan Culpepper, “Luke”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 236.

 

If this is true, then we are invited to take up our cross – that is, have our life shaped by our commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God – anywhere, anytime, by doing just about anything. Whether you are a voter or a volunteers, a website manager or a temp worker, a bus driver or a barber, a student or a secretary, a parent or a payroll officer, a plumbers or an electrician: when we offer our time, our talent, and our labor to God, we are bearing our cross by allowing our life to be shaped by our commitment to Christ. In this way, what we do here today is related to what we do every day, in every way, every day of the week. (Thanks to David Lose, Working Preacher, 08/29/2010)

      So in these two things, in letting go of our lives and taking up our crosses, we learn what it means to live as followers of Jesus.  Put plainly, it means this: if you try to keep to keep your life you will lose it; but if you let it go and give it to God, you will gain not only your life, but more besides.

      In 1956, Jim Elliott, a young Wheaton College graduate, went to Ecuador as a missionary to the Auca Indians. Unfortunately, when the plane landed, they were attacked and killed, in what was later revealed to be a tragic misunderstanding. But long before, while Elliott was at Wheaton College, he had written in his diary these words, perhaps the best summary of today’s Gospel, ever written: 

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep

to gain what he cannot lose.”

      So let us give that which we cannot keep – everything dear to us – to gain that which we cannot lose, a life of substance, lived in the name of Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

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