"Counting the Cost Means Bearing the Cross"
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Luke 14:25-35
September 9, 2007
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Buffalo, New York
Jesus says: "Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (v. 27).
IN NOMINE JESU
I do believe that there are no coincidences in the Church, especially within her liturgical character. Part of the Church's liturgical character is the use of a lectionary—a collection of readings taken from Scripture and read publicly during the Divine Service. The Readings are part of what are known as the Propers—those parts of the Divine Service that change for each Lord's Day or festival day. Those parts are the Introit, Collect, Readings, Psalm, Gradual, and Verse, with the occasional change of the Proper Preface, which changes with the season or the tides within this post-Pentecost season. The Propers give a united theme to the Divine Service for that day. That theme changes, then, from week to week, with the theme built around the Holy Gospel appointed for the day or whichever Reading the pastor uses as the text for the sermon. Those parts of the Divine Service that do not change are called the Ordinary: the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Creed, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
I mentioned that I believe that there are no coincidences in the Church with respect to her liturgical character. I say this on account of where we are in the liturgical year with respect to the highlighted verse of our text: "Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (v. 27). This verse has less to do with today being the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost as is does with this Friday being Holy Cross Day and with this part of the post-Pentecost season being Martyrs' Tide. Regarding Holy Cross Day, let us go back to the fourth century. The Roman emperor was Constantine, who in 313 became a Christian and legalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. His mother, Helena, went to Israel to find sites of great importance to the newly-legalized religion. She was aided in her quest by pagan shrines that the Romans erected over "Christian" sites two centuries earlier. It has been reported that, on September 14, 320, Helena found what she believed to be the sites of the Crucifixion and Burial of our Lord. Fifteen years later on that date in 335, on these sites a church building was consecrated for use by the faithful. The next day Helena brought out the cross she reportedly discovered for adoration by the faithful. The events of that day in 335 formed the basis for an annual commemoration not appropriate for Good Friday, and evidence is given for this in Constantinople (in present-day Turkey) in the fifth century and in Rome by the seventh century. On that date the churches in Constantinople, Rome, and Jerusalem that had a relic of the cross would show it to their congregations in a solemn rite called the Exaltation of the Cross.
I also mentioned we are in what is called Martyrs' Tide. Martyrs' Tide is the section of this green season, as noted by the paraments displayed and the stole I am wearing, in which we give a bit more attention than normal to those who went before us, denied themselves, took up their crosses, and followed Christ even unto death. We think especially of St. Peter, who, according to tradition, was crucified upside down, and St. Andrew, who, also according to tradition, was put to death on an X-shaped cross, for neither of them, as they reportedly said, deserved to die the same way their Lord did. We also remember St. Laurence, a third-century deacon and martyr after whom this tide is actually named: St. Laurence' Tide. We recall and give thanks to God for those who counted the cost and bore the cross for Jesus' sake and for the sake of the Gospel, just as He had instructed them in the words of our text.
Jesus is instructing us to count the cost, too—the cost of discipleship. He wants us to examine what it would cost for each of us to follow Him. The cost is not necessarily monetary. Our Lord is not directing us to simply look into our wallets or purses. He wants us to look into our own hearts and see what we are willing to give up to follow Him. This involves more than merely looking to see if we want to part with a one-, five-, or ten-dollar bill and put it into the offering plate. He wants us to be willing to part with everything we hold near and dear to us for the sake of following Him. We are to be willing to leave behind our families and give up our own lives for our Lord if the situation calls for us to do so. Jesus does not promise that Christianity, the Christian life, will be easy—no beds of roses and no pieces of cake. There will be sacrifices to be made on the part of the Christian. When Jesus called His disciples, they immediately gave up their jobs and left their families. They would later lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Our Lord is not saying that we should go out and be hit by a truck or to seek a divorce or to run away from home. But Jesus wants out commitment to Him to be so great and so high that we are willing to give up our careers, families, and lives for Christ and the Gospel, and that we do that when of if we are called upon to do so. As one now sainted Lutheran commentator said, "'Take up his cross' denotes willing acceptance of the cross, as Christ willingly took His cross. The Christian's cross is anything and everything which he suffers for Jesus' sake. His own flesh is a heavy cross. It tempts him to unbelief, compromise, giving up, despair, etc. First the Christian must willingly accept his very own cross… [and] must willingly follow after Jesus. Jesus is pictured as the Christian's example…. He does not expect us to go before Him. He says 'after Me.' Note that 'take up and follow' are in the present tense, a constant taking and following. To refuse the cross means to deny Christ, to be unworthy of Him, to lose one's own soul" (Buls).
These are not words we are comfortable in hearing. We struggle to understand why Jesus expects so much of us. Can't we just live our lives in peace without being bothered by Jesus? Jesus already died for me; why should I have to die, too? Things are going fairly well for me: I have a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a family that loves me; giving it all up for suffering, persecution, and death doesn't sound like a fair trade to me. We don't like to hear these words of Jesus because He shakes us out of our comfort zones.
We get shaken out of our comfort zones rather easily, and not just when we hear Jesus' words in our text. Our cages are easily rattled when we are asked for much lower levels of commitment, when we're even asked for some form of involvement at a congregational level. How often have we expressed fear and reluctance to serve here when asked, whether as an acolyte, an usher, a cleaner, a Sunday school or VBS teacher, or a member of some board or committee? We stutter. We stammer. We make all sorts of excuses to get out of serving the Lord here in this congregation. I don't have time. I've done it before. Someone else can do it. Someone else can make those kinds of sacrifices. If we get bent out of shape over someone's asking us to serve our Lord here in His house, think of how defiant we will be if we have to put our very lives on the line on account of our faith. If we are not committed to Christ, to His Gospel, and to His Church, not willing to take up our cross and follow Christ, then we are committed to the devil and are not willing to be one of Jesus' disciples.
What does it mean to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength"? It means that we are to commit our all to Him. As sinners, we cannot make this commitment to Him on our own. As sinners, we cannot help but run the other way. To count the cost of discipleship, take up our cross, and live (and die) as one of Jesus' disciples, we need to rely on Him who committed Himself for us—our dear Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus knew the cost of carrying out His heavenly Father's will. He knew the level of commitment this would require. He knew that carrying out His Father's will would commit Him to the cross of Calvary—to His death. Because we cannot by ourselves commit ourselves to Him, Jesus has committed Himself to us and for us. He loves us so much that He committed Himself unto death so that we would receive forgiveness for all our sins, including our lack of commitment to Him. Our inability to be a disciple cost Jesus His own life, a cost He willingly paid because He loves us. Jesus paid the cost for us because He knew He could afford it. He laid down His life, knowing that on the third day He would take it back up again. For our sake our Lord took up His cross, was crucified and died upon this cross. The cross was our Lord's altar and Mt. Calvary the His temple, for He was present there and made the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, including your sins and mine, giving His body and shedding His blood for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus' resurrection gives us life. We are forgiven and the recipients of the gift of eternal life. There is no cost there for us, for these are gifts of God and gifts from God. Our heavenly Father has freely given us these gifts for the sake of Him who paid our cost with His own body and blood. The payment Jesus made on the cross to His Father He also gives to us at His Table, His body given and His blood shed for the forgiveness of all our sins. His cost is our gift.
Our Lord has also given us His Holy Spirit, to set our hearts right with God, to give us the spirit of commitment to our Lord. The Holy Spirit creates and sustains in us faith that clings to Jesus, faith that commits to Jesus, forsaking possessions, family, and even self in taking up our crosses in following Him. This same Spirit of God moves us to joyfully serve our Lord there in this place, whether we are asked to do so or whether we volunteer our services. This Spirit creates in us clean hearts and renews a right spirit in each of us. He does not cast us away from His presence and does not take Himself away from us. He restores to us the joy of our salvation and upholds us with Himself—the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who moves us to take up our crosses, moving us to heed the words He gave Moses to speak in our Old Testament Reading: "Therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days" (Deut. 30:19b-20a). Our Lord says, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (Jn. 11:25). God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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