“So therefore,” Jesus declares to the adoring crowds, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Jesus sets up that cheery punchline by telling would-be followers to hate their families. Wannabe disciples should get ready to be crucified for their commitment to Jesus. Count the costs, he says. If you’re not all in, you can’t be in at all.
That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think? I’m not sure it’s the best recruiting strategy. Are you looking for conflict and struggle, pain and persecution, ridicule and rejection? Then, do we have a deal for you! Apparently, following Jesus is like living in Nebraska. “Honestly,” the tourism slogan says, “it’s not for everyone.”
Following Jesus – honestly, it’s not for everyone. Is that today’s message? I don’t think so. Let’s rewind a bit and see if we can get a handle on this.
Following Jesus means real freedom. Will we go along on the ride? That’s the thought I hope you’ll take with you this week.
Let’s look again at verse thirty-three. “So therefore, none of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.” Here’s another way to read that verse. “In this way, therefore, each of you who does not say goodbye to control over all of what belongs to them will not be able to be my disciple.”
Jesus doesn’t say that one who doesn’t renounce control over their stuff will not be permitted to be his disciple. Jesus says that one who doesn’t renounce control over their stuff will not be able to be his disciple. This verse is less of a demand and more of a description. The discipleship fail is not a condemnation but rather a consequence. Jesus invites and empowers us to be freed from our bondage to control over life and freed for real living.
That’s why I played “Things We Leave Behind” to warm us up for this worship service. In particular I appreciate these words in the song.
Every heart needs to be set free,
that hold it so tight
‘Cause freedom’s not found in the things that we own,
It’s the power
to do what is right
Jesus, our only possession,
giving becomes our delight
We can’t imagine the freedom we find
from the things we leave behind.
In Luke’s gospel, voluntary poverty isn’t a requirement for every would-be disciple. In Luke 19, Zacchaeus is generous, but he doesn’t bankrupt himself. Matthew Levi leaves everything behind in Luke 5, but he has enough left over to give a huge feast for Jesus at his house. In Luke 18, Peter says that he and the others have left everything behind, but he seems to still have a wife, mother-in-law, and a house in Capernaum. In Luke 8 we hear that some well-off women underwrite the costs of Jesus’ mission.
The mission of the church has always relied in part on the generous support of people who have and maintain financial means. Something deeper is at stake in our text.
Following Jesus means real freedom. Will we go along on the ride?
Of course, this text is about removing obstacles in our lives to faithful Jesus following. That’s the “Law” part of the text. But the “Gospel” part is that we are released from our addiction to power over others. That addiction to control makes us hostages to our stuff. That addiction makes us less than fully human. That addiction leads us to treat others as means to our ends rather than as ends in themselves.
That’s how we should understand Jesus’ demand that we “hate” our loved ones. To “hate” family or life itself is not to emotionally reject those loved ones. We modern folks understand “hate” always as an emotion. And our parents told us it’s wrong to “hate” anyone or anything.
When Jesus uses the verb “hate” here, Jesus means saying goodbye to, moving away from, giving up allegiance to someone or something. Disciples say goodbye to the security and power we get from things (and people) we control. Disciples say goodbye to “power over” others as the means to abundant life.
Whenever we are freed from our addiction to power over others, we become more fully human as bearers of the Divine Image. This freedom will come with a cost because we are so deeply committed to our addiction to power over others. “Hold everything in your hands lightly,” Corrie Ten Boom once said, “otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” Dying to self is the path to life. Saying goodbye to god-like control is real freedom.
Following Jesus means real freedom. Will we go along on the ride?
None of this would make any sense if God were not faithful. Yet, that is precisely the Good News we proclaim in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Letting go of our illusion of god-like control may feel like falling sometimes. But it’s really resting in God’s faithful care.
Let me illustrate. Last weekend we took family members to a local high ropes course. It was a series of cables, footbridges, ladders, and platforms about thirty feet off the ground. We were well harnessed and supervised. Each person had two secure connections to the main cable. One was a steel “trolley” that never left that cable. The other was a heavy-duty carabiner that served as a backup. The system was reliable and resilient.
The payoff for all the rope work was a zip line ride at the end of each loop of the course. The zip line platform was an angled ramp, and with good reason. No matter how intellectually certain I was that my connections were secure, I wasn’t really ready to leap into the air and trust the system. Fortunately, once I got on the ramp, I began to slide toward the edge. In seconds I was zipping down the cable toward a rather unceremonious dump on my rump (not the hoped for outcome — but any landing is a good one, right?).
The cable was strong. The connections were secure. But it still felt a lot like falling. And it felt a lot like freedom. The only way I could experience that freedom was to let go of control, trust the system, and risk the falling. I imagine that with a certain amount of practice I could learn to fully embrace and enjoy the experience.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s not a bad one either. What belongs to me that I must renounce in order to be a faithful Jesus follower? Perhaps we can flip the question on its head for a moment. What has such a hold on me that I am not free to follow Jesus? Do my possessions possess me? Does my anxiety about my own life keep me in bondage to sin, death, and evil? Yes and yes.
If it had been just up to me to leap into the air, I’m not sure I would have done that. Instead, I was pushed and led, by the structure of the platform and the firm encouragement of one of the staff. I’m not willing on my own to say farewell to my addiction to power and control either. Especially in the Lukan account, this renouncing of my dependence on stuff is always first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit within me and us. I can resist and be miserable. Or I can relax and enjoy it.
Following Jesus means real freedom. Will we go along on the ride? Let’s pray…