Counting the Cost
Rev. John P. Feagins
8 September 2013
25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For 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? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or 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? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
When I go to the grocery store, I often go early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Yesterday, I noticed that they had two large displays of pumpkins at a very good price, so I selected a smaller one. When I was checking out, the attendant noticed my pumpkin and commented, “That’s the first pumpkin I’ve sold this year. Don’t you think it is a little early?”
“I’m actually going to cook it and eat it,” I replied.
Perplexed by my response, she asked, “You can do that? Those are edible?”
In Spanish the word for pumpkin is the same as the word for squash: calabasa. There is no distinction. In North America, however, pumpkins are associated with Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns.
Pumpkins are a fruit. God created pumpkins with two purposes: 1) to nourish and 2) to multiply.
Somehow we’ve turned them into a vanity. The seeds are thrown away. The pumpkin is turned into an ugly face and left outside to rot. What God intended for food, we’ve turned into wasteful entertainment.
For the attendant, edible pumpkin is something found in a can. When found in its natural state, its “for decoration.”
So it has become for the Christian life.
Like the pumpkin, God has created the Church to nourish the human soul with hope, justice, peace, wisdom, faith, hope and love and to multiply itself through the sharing of the good news. We’ve turned it into something in a can. Pumpkin without seeds, without multiplication, something to be consumed or used for entertainment purposes.
One doesn’t need to look far to find examples of Canned Christianity.
Canned Christianity is self-centered. Its focus is on the consumer, the client, the church shopper and church hopper who is seeking the best value for the least cost. It is packaged in single servings, complete with all the artificial preservatives and additives to give it the best shelf life in case you don’t want to use it right away. The label doesn’t show the contents, but what some expert chef made from them, the promise of prosperity, health, success.
Canned Christianity is self-determined. It doesn’t seek to do the will of God, but rather a way to get God to bless what we want to do with our lives, our desires, our ambitions. The seeds are scooped out and thrown away. It is a ministry without a mission.
Canned Christianity is self-righteous. It approaches God from a sense of pride, of entitlement. It is concerned with its consumer rights. It will not tell you to change, to sacrifice, to repent, to reflect on your life. The customer is always right. And if you don’t like this brand, there are many competitors.
Canned Christianity is self-indulgent. It seeks not to sacrifice, but to indulge its senses with the best music, the most luxurious spaces, the easiest access, and the most eloquent, young, and attractive speakers. It offers us a Christian theme park, a place to escape reality.
Our spiritual ancestors walked away from the excesses of gilded altars in elaborate stone temples filled with the finest art, music, and treasure, but we have returned to those vanities. We receive catalogs offering us the latest in church tech. Bar-code readers that “swipe in” churchgoers’ digitally produced name-tags, tens of thousands of dollars in video and sound equipment, computers that track members every association, gift, and decision. With each innovation, our expectations, the bar of success, is raised higher and higher, and with it the cost of our vanity.
Canned Christianity shuns the Cross of Christ. In fact, in some of the largest Canned Christianity churches, the cross itself has been removed from the place of worship as a negative sectarian symbol of religious division or as a sign of scandalous failure and suffering.
Today’s text teaches us that we cannot have Jesus without the cross. We cannot have Jesus without joining the mission of Jesus, complete with its call to self-denial.
When we read the Lord’s words here, we are challenged to take them at face value. There is little room for metaphorical demythologizing or revisionist re-imagining. “If you want to be my disciple, you must risk your life, your relationships, your possessions.”
Is this expectation unreasonable? Is it too radical? Is Jesus asking too much? Who is this Jesus to expect us to leave everything and follow him even unto death?
To understand his call, we must understand his mission. He came to seek and save the lost, to heal a broken world, to redeem the created order.
If you haven’t noticed, we live in a very broken world.
Signs of this brokenness are everywhere. We don’t have to look very far from this church (La Trinidad) to see this brokenness, the homeless, the addicted, the incarcerated, the abused, the poor, the young people struggling to get an education in a society that undermines their every hope. We see it in the decline and decay of our urban churches, schools, and communities. We see it in the world. Neighborhoods in the Middle East poisoned by their own government, children exposed to toxic nerve agents and left to suffocate and die in the streets. Fanatical mobs burning places of worship and governments who cannot find a way to peace without coercion, violence, and destruction. The signs of hatred, depravity, destruction and death are everywhere.
Canned Christianity isolates us from that world. It causes us to deny rather than discern, to escape rather than engage, to retreat rather than to restore, redeem, reconcile.
The call of Christ may sound radical to us, unreasonable, extreme, but if it does, it is because we have lost our sense of urgency, of compassion, and of love.
Jesus calls us to take up our cross.
The cross is a sign of conviction: Not conviction in the sense of holding a strong belief, but conviction of sin. We cannot share what we do not receive. We cannot be agents of God’s grace without first receiving that grace. It is not the cross of Christ he calls us to carry, but our own. We must own that we are part of the problem. We are part of the brokenness. We share in the responsibility for the way things are.
The Cross is a sign of surrender. Jesus said, “not my will, but Thy will be done” before the Cross. When we take up our cross, we surrender our destiny, our life’s purpose to God.
The Cross is a sign of sacrifice. Justice, righteousness, atonement, redemption, salvation are not possible without sacrifice. We cannot be disciples of the One who gave his life for all and shun sacrifice. Carrying the cross places us in solidarity with those we are called to serve.
The Cross is a sign of faith. We are called to carry our cross, and we do so without fear of death, of rejection, of scarcity, because we follow a Lord who has already carried the cross to victory.
The cross has two beams, one pointing up to God, and another pointing to our neighbors. Once we have made this personal commitment to carry the Cross, we can respond to the missionary call to follow Christ.
Jesus came not only to heal the broken human soul, but also to restore that soul to community. We relate to various communities, our families, our church, our city and nation, and ultimately to the world itself. The brokenness of our condition has torn down and corrupted these communities. We cannot rebuild them without sacrifice. Jesus calls us to join him in this work of redemption, and that work carries a cost.
Our spiritual forefathers foremothers knew the urgency of their mission. Many came to San Antonio as refugees of a civil war in Mexico. They lived through times of great suffering, of poverty, of civil unrest. They felt first hand the urgency of sharing the gospel and strengthening the church, not as a Christian theme park, but as an agent of redemption and peace in a broken and violent world.
Let us remember the pumpkin – the calabasa. The pumpkin was created to nourish and to multiply. God has placed us here for a purpose. We are here to nourish, to heal, to love, and we are also here to share the seed of faith and multiply disciples. The enemy would like to take our pumpkin, to take our church, throw away the seeds, carve his scowling face on it, and leave it out to rot and decay.
When we respond to Christ, we say no to that waste, that vanity, no to canned Christianity and Jack-o-Lantern churches. We say yes to God’s purpose, to God’s mission – not only for us, but also for our neighbor and for our world. Yes, it is radical. Yes, there is a cost. But it is a price that Jesus already paid and place that Jesus .
He paid it because it is worth it. Is it worth it to us?