Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 8, 2013

2013.09.08 “Kiss What Goodbye?” – Luke 14: 25 – 33

Central United Methodist Church

Kiss What Goodbye?

Pastor David L. Haley

September 8th, 2013

Luke 14: 25 – 33

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)

Welcome to Rally Day.  Rally Day is not a name you will find on any liturgical calendar, or in any book about church liturgy.

Even if you google “Rally Day,” you might get the wrong idea, because what you get (I know, I tried) are lots of pictures of race cars. If you’ve got one of those and you’re driven it to church today I’m impressed (and I’d like to go for a ride before you leave), but that not what our version of Rally Day is about.

On the other hand, if you google “Church Rally Day,” you’ll get images of churches all across America doing what’re doing, calling people back from summer wanderings to Sunday School and church. Often with the enticement of food, such as potlucks and picnics, just as we are.  Free whiskey might work too, but we are – after all – Methodists.

Rally Day is a purely late 20th century American invention.  It came about due to the recognition that summer is a special time on the calendar, when children and youth are out of school, and therefore the time when families take their annual vacation, if they can afford one anymore, given the price of airfares and gas. If people have boats on a lake or summer cabins they are usually at them. In short, summer is traditionally a time when people are coming and going, with the result being that there are less people in church on a regular basis.

For example, I ran into one of our church couples in a restaurant recently. We see them fall, winter, and spring, but not summer. Why? The answer is one word: golf.  (Perhaps we could arrange to get a hole or two placed on the church property?)

So Rally Day, usually the Sunday after Labor Day weekend, is the day we return to the year-round schedule of choir practice and Sunday School and invite everybody back to one combined worship service. And so we call it “Rally Day,” as in, “Rally the team, rally the troops, rally around the flag.”

Does it work?  Not really. There may have been a time when it did, but now, not so much anymore. School athletics renders Rally Day pointless, at least for families with children.  Sundays is no longer a holy day in the week as it used to be, but a time for school athletics, such as soccer and football, which places Christian families in the awkward position of having to choose between one or the other. Because of such factors, the new norm for church attendance is more like 2 out of 4 Sundays but rarely 4 out of 4, which means a church needs twice the number of worshippers, just to stay even.

Also, just when families with children are back at work and school, comes the time when childless and retired people choose to travel, and rightfully so: as soon as school begins, airfare and hotel accommodations drop significantly; non-peak season they call it. Yes, I am jealous; I always feel like the guy who asks his wife if he could skip church on Sunday and take a drive in the country to enjoy the fall foliage. “No,” she says, “after all, you are the Pastor.”   Responsibility and faithfulness call for sacrifice.

Which brings us to our Gospel today, in which we hear Jesus’ calling all “would-be” disciples to give up everything to follow him. “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.” And then he concludes: “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)

 Any way you look at it, that’s extreme. Nor is it ever the best message for Rally Day; in fact it’s almost like an anti-rally day, because as it starts off, “there were great crowds of people following him.”  After he said this, I expect, not so much.

After all, who can do this?  “Hate your father, mother, sisters, brothers?” I remember hearing it as a child, and being troubled by it; who wants to have to choose between parents and Jesus?  Maybe, instead of Rally Day, we should have Reconsideration Day, in which we seriously consider this statement of Jesus, realize we can’t do it, turn out the lights, leave, and lock the door. After all, if we can’t follow Jesus, we’re not a church.

But before we do that, let’s look at the context. Since Luke 9:57, we are on the road with Jesus to Jerusalem. But what is the nature of his journey? Is it a funeral procession? So far, apparently only Jesus has grasped the seriousness of his journey, and the possibility he would die there; the Twelve have not, nor has the crowd following him. Is it a march? Some seem to think so, looking forward to what would surely be an exciting clash: Galilee vs Jerusalem, peasants vs power, laity vs clergy, Jews vs Romans, Jesus vs the Establishment. Is it a parade?  Obviously this crowd thinks so, because they are oblivious to any sacrifice that would have to be made, any price that would have to be paid, any cross THEY might have to bear. The crowds swell; after all, everybody loves a parade! And so what does Jesus say? In a word, “You really need to think seriously about what you are doing, and decide if you are willing to go with me all the way.” (Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 1990, pp. 181-182.)

The examples Jesus uses, would turn away most anybody.  Hate one’s own family, one’s own self? “To hate” is a Semitic hyperbole, meaning, “to turn away from, to detach oneself from, to let go.” If we take it literally, it would cancel all the calls to love, to care, to nourish others, especially one’s own family, found throughout the Bible. To hate oneself, is surely not a call for self-loathing, to regard oneself as a worm, to toss oneself on the trash heap of the world. What is demanded is that in the network of the many loyalties in which we live, the claim of Christ and the Kingdom of God not only takes precedence, but, in fact, redefine all the others. This can and will necessarily involve some detachment, some turning away from lesser things.

The two parables which follow say it in their own way. Before you build or buy that house, you better count the cost; do you have enough to complete it, pay for it?

Louis C.K., in his show on FX Network, Louie, humorously illustrated this in the Season 2, Episode 3, “Moving.” As a standup comedian, and the divorced father of two young girls, he’s tired of living in the same apartment and goes looking for a house. He finds one he loves, it’s from the outset obviously way beyond his means. So he visits his accountant, and tells him he has found a house.  “How much?” “It’s quite a bit: $17 million.”  “What do you think?” “Let’s do the numbers: you put down $3.4 million; and your monthly mortgage payment is $77,000 plus maintenance and tax, say $80,000 per month. Now let’s compare that to your current assets, a savings account of $7,000. In other words, 10 times less than one mortgage payment.”  Louis C.K.: “What could I afford?” Accountant: “Well, right now you could buy a house that costs $7,000.”  Ooops!

The second parable pictures a royal house (White House?) where issues of war and peace are decided. Isn’t it amazing how relevant the words of Jesus can be, on any given Sunday? “Before you go to war, you better count the cost!” Have we learned that lesson yet?

All together – whether rich or poor, royalty or peasants, individuals or nations – the question is the same when faced with any major expenditure of time, property, or life: “Will this cost more than I am able or willing to pay?” What Jesus is saying is that the question is no different when we decide to follow him: “I have the enthusiasm to begin, but do I have the faith and the commitment and the resources to carry through?”

Someone might say, you won’t attract a following, or grow a church, preaching such a message, the message of sacrifice. On the other hand, I think we understand sacrifice, many of us are already sacrificing. People spend hard earned money to join a gym or participate in diet programs to get healthier. Parents give up weekends for their kid’s sport teams. Spouses make great sacrifices taking care of each other in old age. People put in long hours at jobs they don’t love in order make ends meet or secure their futures.  Members of the military and their families sacrifice terrifically to serve where and how our country tells them.  Most of us understand sacrifice. We are already making sacrifices, and Jesus says Christian discipleship calls for the same.

So, on this Rally Sunday, I’m with Jesus. Don’t come here to Central on Sunday because we’ve got free food. Come here because you want to follow Jesus, and be Jesus’ disciple, whether as a beginner or a long term follower, seeking to carry through. Don’t come expecting us not to ask nothing of you; come expecting us to ask what Jesus asked, that you will serve him sacrificially with the best of your ability, by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness.

Not that it ever has been, or ever will, be easy. Even after those who decided to stick around jumped up and joined in a chorus of “Are Ye Able, Said the Master,” even with good intention and prayer, reflection, fellowship, and activity, all of their commitments would be severely tested once they got to Jerusalem, no longer a distant goal, but a painful reality. The enthusiasm that placed Jesus before all other commitments would cool before the question, “Are you one of his disciples? Suddenly, all those other commitments to job and station and family would again come first, and Jesus would be left to die alone.

Loyola University here in Chicago is named for Ignatius of Loyola, who lived from 1491 to 1556. He was originally a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family. After being seriously wounded in the Battle of Pamploma in 1521, he underwent a spiritual conversion while in recovery by reading a book about the Life of Christ. In 1539, he would found the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

I have always liked one of the prayers he wrote, which is contained in our United Methodist Hymnal, Number 570. Obviously, he brought his soldierly experience to following Jesus.  Perhaps, on this Rally Sunday, we might think of it as a response to what Jesus asks of us in our Gospel today:

Teach us, good Lord,

to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not the count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil and not to seek for rest;

to labor and not to ask for any reward,

except that of knowing that we do your will;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.






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