Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18, Year C)

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on September 9, 2007. 
Based on Luke 14:25-33 (Proper 18, Year C).

Do you read labels at the grocery store? While I have a special place in my heart for Yellow Number 5, I’m not a big label reader. It’s frightening to know some of the stuff we willingly ingest. I’m pretty good about eating healthy foods but there are some things I cannot live without, regardless of what the label says. Like Cool Ranch Doritos. And if I started reading the ingredients list on this most inspired creation, I might have second thoughts about whether they make the perfect complement to my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. So ignorance is bliss. I’d rather stick a handful of Cool Ranch Doritos into my mouth than reflect upon the health benefits of monosodium glutamate and Yellow Number 5. 

My own dietary shortcomings aside, it’s generally a good idea to know what you’re getting into. This is what Jesus is telling the “large crowds” in this morning’s gospel passage. Throngs of people had gathered to hear this renowned speaker and Jesus wants those who are considering becoming his followers to know precisely what they’d be signing up for. There’s no false advertising here. Quite the contrary. Jesus isn’t trying to lure in a bunch of new converts with unrealistic promises. He’s telling it like it is – and discipleship isn’t easy. Jesus is quite clear that discipleship isn’t about easy answers or personal gain. It’s about the cross. And that’s a hard sell. 

No snake oil salesman stands up and says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” And ends by telling his audience that “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” You wouldn’t sell a whole lot of snake oil that way. Now, Jesus doesn’t actually demand that we “hate” our families or give up all our possessions. It’s just that commitment to Jesus Christ must be the primary focus of our lives, transcending even the most sacred of human relationships.

There used to be ads on TV for a product called Ginsu Knives. You may remember these ads – they were basically the forerunner of the infomercial. They’d start out with the phrase “In Japan the hand can be used like a knife.” And you’d see a hand karate chop a 2×4. Then the announcer would say, “But this method doesn’t work with a tomato.” And you’d see the same hand squashing a tomato. Of course the knives were actually made in Ohio but whatever. With the announcer’s building energy and enthusiasm they’d show and demonstrate the collection of knives you’d get if you would only “act now.” Then they’d throw in something else like the Miracle Slicer, asking “Now how much would you pay?” But if you thought that was it, what sounded like the voice of God would announce, “But that’s not all!” And then they’d throw in another bonus knife (“How’s that for a clever cleaver”) until the deal was so sweet it made you feel like this was an offer no sensible person could dare refuse. Which was precisely the point.

But it’s not Jesus’ approach. He’s not concerned about big sales and he’s not into advertising gimmicks. He’s not concerned with the number of disciples; he’s concerned with the commitment of the disciples. Which is a pretty good lesson for the Church. Our concern shouldn’t be exclusively with “growing the church” but rather with making disciples. And this can lead to some tough decisions – decisions that we may not agree with or that make us uncomfortable. But if we’re being true to our calling, making disciples by increasing our commitment to Jesus Christ, is precisely what we’re supposed to be doing.

So in this passage from Luke, Jesus is in effect reading the ingredients list. There are no surprises when you sign up for the Christian life. You get all the good stuff – the sense of peace that comes only through an active relationship with God, grace, forgiveness, the promise of eternal life. But it’s not always an easy faith. And Jesus wants his potential disciples – you and me – to know precisely what we’re getting ourselves into.

In the end, discipleship does require giving up all that we have – not literally our family members and our possessions – but our hearts and souls and our very lives. This we hand over to God. And not everyone is willing to make this commitment. I’m sure lots of people in the crowd Jesus was addressing walked away disappointed that day. They’d come expecting to be dazzled by this man they’d heard so much about. They were all set to sign on the dotted line and join this great movement. At least until Jesus forewent the sales pitch and told them up front what was truly involved in following Christ.

All of us could be better disciples. We could all follow Jesus with greater conviction. The point isn’t to be discouraged by how little we pray or how little we give back to our community. But to build upon what we are doing – no matter how limited. To answer Jesus’ invitation to discipleship with an ever-resounding “Yes.”

So we’ve moved from Cool Ranch Doritos to Ginsu knives to discipleship this morning. Not the most logical progression, perhaps. But everything we do in our lives must begin and end with discipleship. As long as that’s the key ingredient in our lives, we’re not far from the kingdom.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2007

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