The Cost, the Return, and the Good News

The Cost, the Return, and the Good News

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Scripture: Luke 14:25-35

When I was in college, I called my dad one Sunday evening just as he was probably getting ready to go to bed and asked him if he’d be willing to meet me downtown Ann Arbor in an hour to talk. I believe my girlfriend and I had broken up, and I needed to talk with someone. Now, my father is not, and never has been, a night person. The idea of getting dressed and heading into town at that time probably wasn’t at the top of his to-do list. And yet even though he was half asleep, that’s exactly what he did. Because it’s what parents do, right? We sacrifice for our children. Not only because it’s what expected of us, but because deep down it’s worth it. We know that the future return will be the worth the sacrifices we make today. In other words, it’s worth the cost.

Let’s be honest – who hear enjoys “counting the cost” for anything. Unless that cost is ‘nothing.’ We like free stuff. But we also know that there is many things in life that are worth the cost of doing them.

Is there a cost to having and raising children? Absolutely – in the fullest sense of the word! It costs you your freedom to do what you want, to go where you want, to get a good night’s rest, to have much of a social life, to eat a hot meal, etc. But we do it anyway, because in the end it’s worth all the sacrifices we make.

Does it cost anything to get a college degree? Certainly. There’s the financial cost; almost every student will finish college with $ tens of thousands of debt. There’s a significant amount of time and effort that goes into getting a college degree. And if you pay for college through ROTC, then you’re going give the next six years of your life to Uncle Sam.

How about travelling? When Rachel was in the Saline Fiddlers, they decided on Great Britain as the location for their summer tour. Caroline and I spent quite a bit of time wondering if it would be possible to meet them in Brecon, Wales, for the second week of the tour. Caroline’s parents were from England, and one of their stops would be just outside the city where Rachel’s grandmother grew up, and was eventually buried. What an opportunity this could be for us to help Rachel connect with that part of her family history. But international travel and lodging isn’t inexpensive. And we pretty much lived paycheck to paycheck. It would cost us a lot, but would it be worth it? In the end, we decided to go. And even though in some regards we’re still paying down the costs incurred from that trip, in the big picture of life, it was absolutely worth it.

Now, the flip side is also often true. If there’s little or no cost to us, it’s often of little or no value. That’s not always the case; but very often it is. One simple example of this is most churches have realized the hard way that when a class is offered that requires participants to make use of a book, when participants have to pay some amount of money for that book—even a small amount—they’re much more likely to do the work, come to class, and participate until it’s done. When we try entice people to come by providing all the necessary resources for free, there’s usually a few people who will stop coming as soon as it gets a little harder to be there every week. It hasn’t cost them anything to be there. And so it doesn’t cost them anything to not be there.

So here’s our starting point: anything that’s worth doing is most likely going to cost us something. It’s going to require something of us, and that something is rarely easy.

In 1967, the Secretary of Defense produced a long report which revealed that the Johnson administration had systematically lied to the congress and the public about their expanded involvement in the Vietnam War. And how subsequent administrations had colluded in the cover-up. This report became known as the Pentagon Papers.

In the film, The Post, we watch as Katherine Graham, the owner of the Washington Post, struggles with having to decide between publishing or not publishing the Pentagon Papers. Going public, she knows, would be in violation of a federal injunction against going public with the contents of that report. And so she weighs the cost of either choice. There would be a cost for publishing them—namely, a legal cost, quite possibly going to jail. And there would be a cost for not publishing them. They could be seen as failing to exercise their 1st Amendment rights as well as failing to exercise the freedom of the press as granted by the Constitution. Though not spoken aloud, the viewer knows she’s asking the question, “Would it be worth the cost we might incur either way?” There was no easy answer.

In 1940, Winston Churchill, England’s newly elected Prime Minister, found himself facing a horrific situation, and had to choose between two ghastly options. Just across the English Channel, on the beach outside of Dunkirk, France, were 300,000 British soldiers who were trapped. The sea lay before them, and the German army was coming up behind them. It was truly the modern-day version of Moses and the newly freed Hebrew slaves at the edge of the Red Sea. Churchill absolutely needed to get the soldiers off the beach because those 300,000 men pretty much constituted the entire British Army. Losing them would be tantamount to giving Hitler the keys to England itself. And so Churchill asks himself, “How can I get those 300,000 men off the beach?”

Back in the War Room, the Prime Minister looks at the giant map of Europe, noting who’s fighting where. And he sees a possible solution. But it’s a terrible, horrible solution that will come at great cost. Located 30 miles from Dunkirk was a brigade of about 3000 British soldiers who were situated to be able to hold the German’s off just long enough to get the men at Dunkirk evacuated. It would be 3000 against 25,000. Everyone knew what the outcome would be. Churchill counts the cost, and concludes that it’s better to lose 3000 than 300,000. He decides to sacrifice the lives of 3000 British soldiers so that Hitler cannot have England.

In both real-life scenarios, there were the costs to consider. Whether choosing to break the law and reveal a federal government scandal, or sacrifice the lives of thousands for the sake of saving a greater number of lives, there would be no way of doing it without it costing something precious. And yet, in both situations, even knowing the cost, the decision was made to do the hard thing.

So, what about us? As Christians, is there a cost to following Jesus Christ that we would be aware of? In Luke 14:28 Jesus tells us to make the decision to follow him only after we first identify what doing so will require of us. Just like a contractor doesn’t start building until they’ve figured out all the financials, so following Jesus begins by deciding whether it’s worth it or not. Why? Because it’s going to cost you something.

Listen to this short account Luke found important enough to include in his book:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man – (a Messianic title from the O.T. book of Daniel Jesus applied to himself) has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

According to this particular exchange, the cost of following Jesus includes ordering your life around a homeless man—which might mean choosing a life that doesn’t come with the comforts of “home.” It could also mean turning your back on your family. In the section that was read from the 14th chapter of Luke, Jesus makes a similar remark, but takes it one step further. Not only may it be that following Jesus could require us to walk away from our families, but the love we feel for them should look like hate compared to the love we have for Christ! And finally, he says something about having to take up your own cross. Ouch!! If this is what it takes to follow him, it’s certainly not for those who want it to be easy.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to meet a married couple who were Messianic Jews (Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah). One of them is an Israeli and the other is a Palestinian. As you know, Israelis and Palestinians are arch enemies. For this couple, though, Christ tore down that wall that separated them. They fell in love and married. Before they married, however, either one or both sets of parents (I don’t recall) made it abundantly clear that if they married the other, they would be disowned from the family. And that’s what happened. They literally had to choose Christ over family.

It comes down to this question: if I had to choose between my family or Jesus, who would I choose? Hopefully, none of us have had to, or will have to, find ourselves in that same position. But Jesus is very clear about the matter that if it did come to having to choose between family or him, the right choice is Jesus. And that’s because only Jesus is our Source of true and everlasting life. Good familial relationships are one means toward a happy and fulfilling life, but our parents and siblings and children are all broken human beings, just like us. Salvation is found in no one but Jesus Christ. And if you’re looking for ultimate meaning and purpose in life, that comes from him, too. Purpose and meaning can be enhanced through good relationships with friends and family. But it ultimately comes from a good relationship with Jesus.

So, what’s the cost of following Jesus and being his disciple? The cost for you is your own life. The cost for me is my own life. In the terminology found in the Bible, we “die to self.” But here’s the good news – and yes, it’s a mystery – when we die to self, we actually become our True Self. When we die to self, we actually gain a life.

Dying to self means giving up having to control every aspect of your life and submitting to God. When we profess Jesus as Lord, we cease to be our own lord. (“lord” is a title given to one who has authority over another). Letting Jesus be Lord means letting him have authority over us. When we choose to follow him, we agree to let him call the shots. He’s the driver; we’re the passenger. He’s the pilot; we’re the passenger.

But doing this isn’t easy. It’s not easy saying, “OK, I’m no longer in charge of my life; Jesus is!” Everyone here knows from experience how difficult it is giving up control. But God never told us it would be easy. In fact, Jesus made it pretty clear that it would be hard. In Luke 14.27, he says, “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” And although I could preach an entire sermon series on what it means to carry one’s cross, dying to self is what it means to carry your cross.

So, the cost of discipleship is dying to self, giving up the control of your life to Jesus. But the return is that you become your True Self and are given real and lasting life.

When you say yes to Jesus, God’s Spirit comes into you. Whereas prior to professing faith in Christ the Holy Spirit hovered around, if you will, now he comes into and fills every physical and spiritual fiber of your being. The Holy Spirit in you is your power to live into the new life you’ve chosen. He’s your power to resist sin. He’s your power to adopt a new attitude and eventually mean it. He’s your power to not allow yourself to get sucked back to the old self-destructive behaviors and beliefs. But—and hear me well—he’s also your power to choose to start over again when you do fall, when you do fail, when you do choose the old ways. Because you will. I will. We all will. But the good news is that God’s Spirit in us—given to us by virtue of our choosing Jesus Christ—is the power to get up and continue down the new path. Again, and again, and again…..and yet again.

There’s some more good news. The Holy Spirit in you means that it’s him—Jesus Christ—that the Father sees when he looks at you. Hear me well. When you mess up and do something bad, even for the 100th time, and you start to beat yourself up because you did it yet again even after you said you wouldn’t, God still only sees Christ in you. And when he looks upon you and sees his Son, he smiles. By virtue of the Son in you, your sin—even after the 100th time—is already forgiven. Does this mean we stop trying to do the right thing? Of course not. But it does mean that we can stop judging ourselves and passing a “guilty” sentence upon ourselves when our Heavenly Father isn’t doing that. The way I see it, the cost is definitely worth the decision to follow Jesus.

Discipleship—following Jesus Christ—isn’t a one-and-done thing. Yes, inviting Christ in to be Savior and Lord only happens once. But after that, the act of following him is a life-long endeavor. It’s something we choose to do every day. Some days we do well, and other days we do terribly. Some days we find ourselves up on a spiritual mountain and we can’t get enough Jesus. And other days we’re down in the dry, arid valley where we’re spiritually parched and the last thing we want to do is call on Jesus. But the good news is that Christ never leaves us no matter where we are.

In just a moment, we’re going to make use of the WESLEY COVENANT RENEWAL SERVICE as a way of affirming our commitment to following Jesus. If you can’t say that’s a decision you’ve already made, but would like to now, this service can be your way of making that  first-time commitment. The word “covenant” means a promise. Specifically, a two-way promise.  Marriage is a covenant; each person promises to uphold their  part of the agreement. You and I are in a covenantal relationship with God. We promise to be his people, to follow him, to listen to him. And he promises to bless us and give us life. And ultimately, to receive us into his eternal Kingdom.

You might be surprised by some of the things you’re agreeing to in this liturgy. Some of it may make you uncomfortable. You may say to yourself, “I can’t do that,” or “That’s impossible,” or “but I’ve already failed to live up to what it says I’m supposed to do.” Just remember this:  apart from Jesus Christ you would be absolutely correct in your assessment. But with Christ in you, God’s already given you the victory. Also, keep in mind what I said before, that discipleship is a daily endeavor.

There is a cost to following Jesus. The return, however, is a life of joy and peace and love, and purpose. And that life isn’t limited to this world. It’ll be love, joy, peace and purpose for eternity. And the good news is that no matter the cost—and for some it ends up being more costly than others—it’s worth it. And that’s a promise.

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