Are Ye Able?

I have just two simple questions for us to wrestle with this morning… First – what do you want? And second – are you willing to do what it takes to get it?

What do you want? And are you willing to do what it takes to get it?

Now – let’s be honest with one another… how many of you first thought of something you really want like a new car or a new house or retirement to come early? Show of hands =)

I hate to disappoint you all this morning, but I’m not one of those fancy television preachers that can promise fame and fortune and personal success if you just pray hard enough. Sorry.

No, I’m asking these questions – not because together they are the key to unlock a world of personal gain… but because they ask us if we are willing to lose everything.

What do you want? And are you willing to do what it takes to get it?

Some time ago, I had my congregation make a list of the five most important things in their lives. I asked them to write them down and to number them in order of importance.

I think that all of us found the task very difficult. While it might be easy to list those things that are really and truly important to us – our families, our work, our education, our faith – to place one of these things above the other, to make those kinds of choices is hard. It is hard because it means that some things in life – some things that we truly love – have to be placed second. Or third. Or stop becoming a part of our lives all together.

This morning, we are talking about allegiances, about priorities, and what we do when those priorities conflict.

As much as we love to talk about freedom here in the United States, the truth is, we are always, every day, constrained by choices. We are always, every day, limited in our ability to do one thing, because we have chosen to put another thing first. Whether it is our jobs or our families or a certain value like freedom itself – we live our lives so that that thing determines all of our actions.

Our courageous men and women in uniform understand this choice. Just as they are working tirelessly to defend the freedoms of others – they must sacrifice and put their own families on the back burner.

New moms and dads can attest to this fact – when a baby comes into your life – everything else stops. That infant child becomes the highest priority in the world to you… above work, about yourself, above everything.

And for most of us, we do that, we prioritize one thing over another because we truly love it. We love it so much that we would be willing to do ANYTHING for it.

We understand the word “sacrifice” when it comes to our jobs or our families…

But how often do we understand the word sacrifice when it comes to our faith?

I was driving around recently and caught a segment from BBC World News on the radio. It was a story about how the peace talks between Israel and Palestine are being perceived in Israel itself. One of the men being interviewed said very adamantly – I want peace, but I don’t want to surrender.

As I kept listening to him say those words: I want peace, but I don’t want to surrender, I found myself so frustrated by this attitude that says the only peace that is acceptable is the one that comes on my terms.

And I realized how often God must be frustrated with us… because we make the same choice. The only faith that is acceptable to us is the one that comes on our terms.

We want to be Christians, but we don’t want to surrender the things of this world.

Today in Luke’s gospel, Christ teaches us that we can’t have it both ways.

We can’t hang on to our own desires or hopes or dreams or things and also follow Christ.

We have to answer the question – What do you want? And are you willing to do what it takes to get there?

Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus? And if so, are you willing to do what it takes?

Photo by Michaela Kobyakov
Jesus looks out upon the crowd and asks us some questions. If you were going to build a house, wouldn’t you first sit down and figure out the supplies you needed and how much money it would cost? You don’t want to be stuck with a building you can’t complete? If you were a president going off to war, wouldn’t you first sit down and figure out how many troops you needed and how much money it would take? And if it was a fight you didn’t have the resources to win, wouldn’t you go to the other leader and surrender?

Take stock, Jesus tells us. I know you want to be my disciples – but are you willing to do what it takes to be one? Count the costs. Are they burdens that you are willing to bear?

Are you willing to hate your father and mother and spouse and child? Are you willing to give up your job and your security? Are you willing to give up your citizenship and your rights? Are you willing to lay it all on the line to follow me?

Hesitantly, we say yes – I want to be a Christian… but we wonder about where that line is.

You see, we draw our lines in very different places than Jesus would draw lines.

We draw lines around our family and say – I’m not willing to sacrifice this. Or we draw lines around our jobs – and will sacrifice it all for the next paycheck. We draw lines in the sand and say that this particular issue – whether it’s abortion or animal rights or Islamic religious centers or the creation of a Palestinian state – this issue is the most important thing and that we will never give up until we have gotten our way and if you stand outside of that line then you are the enemy. We refuse to surrender. We refuse to give in. And in the end, I think we loose it all.

Because you know what – Christ draws a line. He doesn’t draw it around our houses or cars or children or institutions or issues – but he draws it right down the center of our lives.

Remember, Christ turns the world as we know it upside down. To save your life, you must lose it. To be exulted, you must be humbled. To be first, you must be last.

Nowhere in the gospel does it say that if you go to church on Sundays and the rest of the week work really hard at your job and raise a good family then someday after you die you’ll go to this happy and wonderful place called Heaven. I wish it did, but it simply doesn’t.

No, the gospel tells us that we must hate our parents and our spouses and children and put it all on the line and bear our crosses – and then we will be his disciples.

Just bear with me for a second…

Because alongside all of those hard demands on our lives, there is the good news… Because the gospel also says that the sick will be healed. The gospel also says the poor will be lifted up. The gospel also says the oppressed with go free. The gospel also promises Emmanuel – God- with-us.

Those are the words and the promises that I find in scripture. I believe in the God that will set all things right… and that includes my sorry, screwed up life with all of this messed up priorities. I believe in the God that went to the cross to experience the agony of human suffering and who rose victorious on the other side. And I have to trust that if God says – turn it all over to me and I will make something beautiful of your life – that God means what God says.

Priorities and allegiances matter. What we want more than anything in the world matters. And Christ says that if we choose to be his disciples… if we chose to be known as his followers, then we are in the palm of God’s hand. We should not be afraid, because we have life in Christ. We will find our lives and our fullness, when we follow him.

Today – we are challenged to turn our lives over. We are challenged to surrender all of those things that we think we want and that this world tells us are so important. Here our lives are, Lord. Here we are, Lord. Use us to feed the hungry. Use usto heal the sick. Use us to lift up the brokenhearted. Use us to speak the truth in love to those who preach lies. Use us to stand with the oppressed. Use us to say “no” to a world obsessed with more. And if by chance the world turns against us – so be it. We will know who stands beside us.

My prayer is that we as a community can stand up and say to the world – We want to be Christ’s disciples – and we know what is asked of us. We are ready to live God’s kingdom in this world. We know what it asks of us. And we are not afraid. Amen.

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