Counting the Cost

If you have worked with me on worship, you know that I try to keep secular holidays and traditions from being the driving force in worship. However, when a significant day like September 11, Fourth of July, Halloween or Valentine’s day falls on a Sunday, I look for ways those events can be incorporated into proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These are life events and God is a living and active God so quite often the events in scripture can inform our understanding of the life events we celebrate.

For the past two weeks, the readings from Luke have been about sacrifice and the cost of discipleship. Jesus is calling his followers to be aware of the cost of discipleship before taking the vow to follow Christ and take up their cross. The first responders I know are aware of many of the costs of answering the call to be a firefighter, law enforcement or military personnel, EMT, high power utility line worker, or other vocation where one deals with life threatening unknowns. But like many Christians, none of those I talked to knew every sacrifice that would be required. They knew it would be hard but how can anyone know how hard? Each person is different and what may be a major sacrifice for one may be a minor inconvenience to another. Not all who take on the pledge to sacrifice face the same hardships and of course there are many hardships that no one could foresee or predict.

The readings from Luke for September 11 include the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Why would a person risk the wealth and comfort of 99 sheep to go look for just one? How many of us would spend time looking for one coin when they could spend the same amount of time at work and make more than the value of the coin that was lost? Why would even one person enter into a dangerous situation, burning building, war torn country, domestic disturbance or unknown bio hazard at a great risk to their own health, their family, “father and mother, [spouse] and children, brothers and sisters and yes even life itself” (Luke 14:26)?

In the 60’s and 70’s, when I was thinking about confirmation and church membership, there was not much talk about the cost of discipleship. To paraphrase one writer, “we were from the south and we preferred our tea and our Jesus sweet.” This one dimensional Jesus stopped working for me and for many others it appears. The congregations of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are gone with the exception of a few small pockets who will hang on until they close the church doors or the last member dies.

The ministry of Jesus as read from Luke’s gospel for the last two weeks is on a direct collision course with the “sweet tea” Jesus many of us grew up with. Some of the traditions and teachings that were dear to our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers that we too have loved and cherished will have to die if we are to take up the cross and be the disciples Jesus calls us to be. When the conflicts that are guaranteed to come when Jesus is not only the “sweet” Jesus of my youth but also the challenging Jesus of Luke happen, discipleship must be chosen over personal relationships and comfort. The decision to respond to the call as a first responder is made long before they stand before a burning building, downed powerline, armed and dangerous person or highly contagious plague. With Jesus, there is no “bait and switch”. The conflict between the vison offered by the world and the view from the cross is real.

So why do first responders do what they do? Some, because they believe there is something more important than their own personal safety and comfort. Personally, I believe most do it because they, for many different reasons known only to them, promised someone they would and they have not yet been released from that promise. “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” (Luke 14:28).

See you Sunday,