All the way. And at the end.

Pentecost 13 Proper 23 Yr C 2019

Jeremiah 18:1-1;1  Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18;  Philemon 1:1-1:21; Luke 14:25-33

I don’t know about you, but I always thought that Jesus’ disciples, once they were called, and decided, to follow him, were with him all the time. 

On my one and only trip to Israel we were taken to the church of The Pater Noster, on the Mount of Olives, in Jerusalem. It is built over a grotto – an underground cave basically – in  which tradition tells us was where Jesus and his friends had sheltered at sometime, and where he taught them The Lord’s Prayer.

On the walls of the church, the Lords’ Prayer is  imprinted  in sixty  languages including Braille

When you see the insider of the cave,  you can imagine Jesus and his friends sheltering there, overnight.

So Jesus’ friends traveled with him and spent nights outdoors, probably sleeping around a campfire, or sheltering in caves.

But were they with him continuously?

In the Gospel of Matthew there is an account of Jesus and his friends going to Peter’s house where they found Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. Jesus touched her and healed her.

So Peter had a house, and a mother in law, and of course, a wife. Children too?

We aren’t told.

But I am persuaded that Jesus’ disciples weren’t necessarily with him all the time, but followed their trade – Peter as a fisherman for example – and traveled with Jesus when he went on his missionary journeys.

On the particular  journey recounted by Luke today, Jesus was progressing toward Jerusalem and the cross.

Now of all those  who traveled with Jesus, some may have been disciples and some may have been mere followers.

A disciple would be one who was totally committed to Jesus – having left family and job behind. and ready to face whatever befell them.

A follower, on the other hand, may have been someone who had been moved by Jesus to seek a better life, and is following him but without real conviction.

Without the will to sacrifice.

Hence Jesus’ words, which sound so unremitting, ” If any man comes to me and doesn’t hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.”

Eastern language, I am told,  is always vivid in that way. And Jesus is using the language of the time. But he doesn’t really mean that we should hate our families, rather, he is saying that no love should compare with the love we have for him.

Not love of earthly pleasures, or riches. 

Not even love of family

And he is saying that his disciples, those who follow him, are not heading to earthly power or riches, but must be ready to suffer as he himself was to suffer on the cross.

They needed to be aware of what they were letting themselves in for.

Jesus is being painfully honest here.

And some followers may have turned away at what they heard. 

Most of us here today are not called to such sacrifice.

We don’t expect to be tested to that degree.

But we may be.

What Jesus is warning against is making commitments, promises, rash moves that may test us beyond our ability. So we should think about whatever step we are taking, or considering taking, very carefully.

Taking a certain road may require strength and courage we don’t even know we have.

Many people have experienced such trials.

Some have faltered on the way.

Some have persevered to the end.

Missionaries have gone to foreign countries, not even knowing the language, to bring the word of God to people who have never heard it.

When I was a little boy – perhaps ten or twelve years old, a missionary visitor came to our church and I remember  him telling the story of  The Three Freds: Fred Roberts, Fred Wright and Fred Dawson.

These three friends went together to  Brazil to bring the Good News to the Indians of the Amazon.

If you Google The Three Freds you can read about them for yourselves.

As I remember the story, they hadn’t been heard from, so another  missionary went to search for them and found out they had been killed.  Their boat was found at the bottom of a river, weighed down by stones. To hide it.

The man who traced them, met the chief who had had them killed.

Incredibly he introduced him to the Gospel, and that Indian chief later accepted Christ into his life, and was baptised.

Did the Three Freds  count the cost before setting out?

I don’t know of they thought they may be committing their lives in their quest to bring Christ to those who didn’t know him.

But in their lives and their deaths they were instrumental in opening up that part of the world to Christ.

In our own day, we have an excellent example of what Jesus was talking about in Doctors Without Frontiers.

These brave doctors and nurses, and other helpers,  set up hospitals in the most dangerous places, such as war zones, plague-ridden areas and so on,  to bring healing to the wounded and suffering who would no doubt  die without their ministrations.

We have heard recently, of instances where their hospitals have been bombed and some of them killed or injured. One doctor who was killed was the only pediatrician for hundreds of miles around.

Did they look at the dangers? Did they count the possible cost of doing what they were called to do?

They must have known, and still they answered the call.

It may be that Jesus, knowing what lay ahead for him, and knowing what would lie ahead for his disciples after his departure, felt the need to warn them.  

They would have to be committed to him before anything or anyone else.  And if they couldn’t be that committed, then they should not venture.

To conquer the world for Christ would be a dangerous assignment.

So what does this mean for us?

Today? “

For me?

And you?

We are not called to go out and conquer the world for Christ – just the world around us –  but whatever challenge we face, we need to look at the potential cost, danger, of any path we may choose, and be aware of that cost.

And don’t venture if we can’t fully commit.

But what if you feel called by Christ to take on a challenge, one you know will be difficult,  and what if you accept that challenge? “

And what if it is fearsomely difficult?

What then? 

I remember reading about a young boy, not much older than twelve years of age, who went blind.

Incurably so.

As you might expect the little guy’s heart was broken.

And you can only imagine how his parents felt.

He mourned the loss of his sight. Could not imagine what life was going to be like from now on. Refused to leave his room. Wouldn’t eat. Ignored the appeals of his friends and family

His parents didn’t know what to do with him.

But obviously they had to do something. He had a life ahead of him. It was not going to be easy but life beckoned nevertheless.

Summer faded away and the little boy seemed to be fading away with it.

So when the colder weather came along, his father decided he had to do something to shake his son out his depression. 

He took him out to the shed, took his hands and guided him to where the ladder was, and the storm windows, and told him he was going to town and when he got back the boy had better have those windows installed.

The father got into his truck, and drove away.

The boy was sorry for himself, cried in frustration. How could anyone expect a blind boy to install storm windows? 

Then he got mad.

” I will show him,” he said to himself, and dragged out the ladder.

He found the back door steps, located the kitchen window, then placed the ladder.  He went back again to the windows, and felt around each frame, to identify the correct window.  And groped his way outside again. 

It was hard. It was frustrating. But he managed to get the first window in.

It hadn’t seemed as tough as he had thought.  And he went on.

But he had to scramble up the ladder, hauling heavy storm windows, and he got scratched and bruised and cried, as he did it, but finally, after three hours of struggle, he was finished.

He made his way to the porch steps and sat down thoroughly tired, and, he had to admit, very proud. Despite his tear-stained face.  To wait for his dad.

He had done it.  Blind, he had done it.

By himself. he had done it.

What he didn’t know was that his father had driven away, and parked a ways off, and came back to watch his boy, and make sure he didn’t get hurt.

He quietly moved things, clearing the way  for his son to work, safely,  without his knowing.

When you take something on for Christ, then you know, as surely as those brave disciples knew, that whatever demands you face, you do not face them alone.

In the words of William Barclay, ” Those  who are called by him to the steep road, will walk with him every step of the way and he will be there at the end to meet them.”

All the way.

And at the end.

Amen.