September 8 2019 “Taking on the Impossible”

SCRIPTURE READING         Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,  “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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 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?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

 

MESSAGE      “Taking on the Impossible”         Rev. James R.

Frequently Asked Questions

[1]  Can I chose both answers?   NO

[2]  Can I skip this question altogether?  NO

[3]  Can I add in a third choice, like “maybe”, “sort of”, “a little of both”, or “I’m working on it”?  NO

[3]  Can I see how others are voting before making my own decision?  NO

[4]  Can you define the terms more exactly, please?  NO

[5]  I don’t have a #2 pencil.  USE CRAYON, PEN, LIPSTICK SMUDGE, OR MUD ON A STICK

[6]  “Possible” really means “usually” and “Impossible” means “sometimes”, right?  WRONG

[7]  Will this test be graded on a curve?   NO

[8]  Who is scoring this test?  GOD

[9]  What happens if I fail the test?  WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T FAIL THE TEST!

[10]  This is all a joke, isn’t it?  NO

OK, does everyone have their score sheet ready?  Where is it?  It’s the front cover of the bulletin.  Does anyone need something to write with?  Has everyone reviewed the frequently asked questions on the back of the bulletin?

Here’s how it’s going to work.  I am going to describe something, and your job is to determine if what I have described is POSSIBLE or IMPOSSIBLE.  Ready?

Could we build a tower of blocks that would reach the ceiling?

Could people walk on Mars someday?

Could a cow jump over the moon?

Could the Buffalo Bills win the Superbowl this year?

Could a boy or girl pass through childhood without spilling even one cup of milk?

Could cancer one day be easily cured?

Instead of rain falling down from the sky, could rain fall up from the ground?

Could we serve veggie burgers instead of turkey on October 20?

Could someone here in this room do 50 push-ups?

Could Lily become a famous artist?  Could Ellieana become a famous musician?  Could Bert become the world’s expert on dinosaurs?

Could a dog ever learn to speak English fluently?

Could we teach every single person in this room to juggle?

Now, let’s turn to what Jesus asks us to do.  There are three challenging questions he asks:

Could you be a disciple of Jesus who hates your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even life itself?

Could you become a Christian, who has to carry a cross?

Could you give up all your possessions to become a disciple?

I don’t know about you, but if these are the requirements to become a disciple, it seems nearly impossible.  Can you picture a sign on our front lawn inviting people to join us this morning that says, come in and we will teach you to hate your family, give you an incredible burden, and you will lose all of your possessions.  Not only would few come in, but we might lose most of the people we already have!

I want to think that I’m a good disciple. I believe in Jesus. I call myself a Christian. I try to help people.  I try to be generous and caring.  I try to read my Bible.  I try to pray.  But, so far, I haven’t hated my family, I’m fairly sure that I don’t regularly carry a cross, and I have not given up all of my possessions.  Maybe I’m fooling myself that I’m a disciple?

I’ve read a lot of comments from learned, experienced people about these three things that Jesus said.  All of these comments end up leaving me feeling dissatisfied.

One view is that Jesus is just challenging our priorities, in effect asking us what’s most important in life.  Hating our family, is just a figure of speech. Carrying a Cross is symbolic. Giving up everything we own, is just a way of getting us to dig a little deeper to support our ministry and mission.  This view mostly lets us off the hook, and leaves us feeling that if we just lean a little bit more in Jesus’ direction that we’re doing OK.

Carry the cross?  I actually read about a female student at Columbia University who had been sexually assaulted by a male student.  But nothing was done about it, so for the rest of her years at Columbia she carried a mattress everywhere she went, including when she walked across the stage to receive her diploma.  Can you picture yourself doing something like that?  Seems nearly impossible.

Give up all your possessions?  It’s amazing to me how we water that one down.  We give away possessions that we no longer use, that we’ve grown out of, that are no longer fashionable.  I never give a new coat to the clothing closet, I give an old coat that I don’t wear anymore.  It hardly seems like a sacrifice at all.  Some years ago when our youth group sorted seven tons of food donations at the Buffalo Food Bank, one whole ton of food had to be thrown out because the cans and boxes were well past their sell-by date.  Cans and boxes were leaking, some were covered with mold.  I thought it was an insult to the hungry.  But there’s something revealing about that.  We give our possessions as long as it doesn’t materially affect our own families.  And there’s even an Augustinian rationale for that.  I may choose to give up my possessions, but if my spouse, children and grandchildren will suffer I should be cautious.  I shouldn’t bind others with the choices I make for myself. Giving up my possessions means that my children will wear rags, have to beg to eat, and never save up money for college.

Another way that these verses have been interpreted is that Jesus was addressing specifically only those twelve disciples long ago, getting them to commit their loyalty to him.  In fact, there’s another story where the disciples reveal that they have left their families behind to follow Jesus.  It doesn’t mean that he makes these demands of all Christians since then.  That interpretation lets all of us off the hook.

Every so often I hear some TV preacher proclaiming the desire to transform America into a more Christian country.  And they cite chapter and verse from the Bible about our country’s moral failings.  But I never see this verse about possessions mentioned by them.  There’s one preacher in particular who promises that the intent of the Gospel is to make Christians prosperous.  One thing I know is that he has become very prosperous as people send money to him.  Another preacher has a fleet of jets to carry him around the world where he stays in the finest hotels.  Just like the people in the end zone who hold up John 3:16 posters, I want to hold up Luke 14:33 posters.  At least to remind us of a much higher standard than looking out for ourselves.

Another interpretation is to lift up the absurdity of this.  What kind of world would we live in if everyone hated their families?  Certainly a world filled with hatred is not God’s intention?  What kind of world would we live in if no one had any possessions?  Where would they live, what would they eat, how would they keep warm in the cold? Clearly, it would be impossible to live in a world like this, so Jesus is not speaking practically, he’s speaking symbolically.  There’s no impossibly high standard, he’s just trying to get you to think about what’s most important.  Don’t worry, your possessions are safe, this is just symbolic talk, so goes that theory.

Many years ago I served a church in a very poor neighborhood.  I noticed that the participants in a Bible Study we had one night had very different perspectives on this.  People of means had many cautions about giving up possessions, the impossibility about losing their possessions was easy to see, they came up with all manner of reasons why giving up possessions would hurt others, especially the poor.  In their opinion, giving possessions away would lead to dependence rather than initiative.  Meanwhile, at the same Bible Study table, those with little or nothing were excited that God was hearing their cries for help, and offering a way for them to receive the help they needed for food, medical care and shelter.  So if the logic of this reading troubles you, keep in mind that many find in these words the Good News that they are looking for.  That God knows, that God cares, that God is taking action.  This text is not fearful, it is hopeful.

Let me get back to the original question.  Possible or Impossible?  Let me speak from the heart about this question.  The reason I am a Christian is because we constantly take on the impossible in the things we do.  We aim to feed the hungry, bring an end to wars, shatter the barriers of racism, and to motivate the most stubborn, intractable people to transform their hearts.  Many, many times we fall far short of the impossible, but sometimes we delight in what has been done!  It begins with the empty tomb on Easter long ago.  If we can accept that then the impossible is more possible than we think!

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