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STAND UP AND BE COUNTED
Before the fall of the Iron Curtain and the break up of the Soviet Union, Premier Nikita Khrushchev addressed the Supreme Soviet on the human rights violations committed by the former Premier Joseph Stalin. While he was speaking, someone sent a note to the speaker's platform that read: ""What were you doing when Stalin committed all these atrocities?"
Khrushchev shouted, "Who sent up this note?" Silence filled the room. None of the delegates stirred.
The premier bellowed, "I'll give him one minute to stand up!"
Everyone was afraid to stand up and be counted. Everyone was afraid of the cost. In today's Scripture lesson, Jesus tells us that the Christian life requires a cost. If we are to be his disciples, we must be willing to pay the price and count the cost.
After traveling throughout the land teaching, preaching, healing the sick, exorcising demons and raising the dead, Jesus had attracted quite a following. People were flocking to see this amazing wonder worker. They were mesmerized by the miracles and enchanted with his teaching. Jesus had really turned around his career when you consider that he had been born in a little backwater town like Bethlehem and did not have a formal education. It is rather amazing that he had become such a well sought after teacher. He never attended Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. After his first sermon, his hometown friends threw him out of the synagogue. But at this juncture in his career, he has become the talk of Israel. You cannot argue against those numbers. They speak for themselves. The mega churches that attract thousands of people must be doing something right, right.
So, at the height of his popularity Jesus steps to the microphone and tells the crowd, "Whoever does not hate his or her father and mother, children, brothers and sisters cannot be my disciple. Everyone stops their pushing and jostling to get closer to him. They are suddenly very quite. Then someone asks, "Did I hear him say what I thought I heard him say?" Another person asks, "Could this be the same person who told us to love our neighbors?"
To our ears, his words are quite shocking. "Hate" has such a strong
connotation. When used, the term is usually accompanied by strong emotions.
We scream, "I hate you!" and our message is laced with a venomous, vindictive
spirit. This is not our Lord's intention. William Barclay cautions us with
We must not take his words with cold and unimaginative literalness. Eastern language is always as vivid as the human mind can make it. When Jesus tells us to hate our nearest and dearest, he does not mean that literally.1
Allow me to be more practical. Allow me to get very specific. I believe very strongly in not overburdening the same people with too many responsibilities. If a person has to do too many things, they fun evaporate quickly. But I believe that everyone in this church is called to be engaged in at least one ministry. At the moment, far too many people have abducted their responsibility. In my opinion, those of you who are not involved in ministry in some capacity have placed other things before your commitment to your Lord. Little league soccer, weekends at the summer home, or RV camping is interfering with you service to Christ.
This has both an organizational and spiritual consequence. Organizational, we do not have enough people to teach our children during the SS school hour or at WACKY Club. We need volunteers to assist with the sound system during the worship hour. And the Board of Deacons is understaffed, preventing them from serving the needs of the congregation. The time commitments are not excessive. The Session is not trying to build a mega church. The Session is simply asking each person to find one area of ministry and lend a hand.
Spiritual, I am very concern. Jesus says if we are to be his disciple, we must be willing to put aside anything and everything that interferes with serving him. If our bowling league prevents us from helping with WACKY Club what is more important, helping a child is grow in faith or raising our average. What do you think God is more concerned about, knowing that your child is not only a baseball all-star, can hit an outside jumper from 20 feet and kick a soccer ball the length of the field or that you child knows the Bible stories that will prompt him to place his faith in Christ.
THE LONG HAUL OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
After Jesus tells his disciples that nothing can interfere with their loyalty and commitment to him, he then describes uses two analogies to describe the laborious and costly demands of discipleship. Many in the American church have forgotten that the Christian life is a long struggle. They would prefer to enjoy the benefits of their religion and deny its arduous labor. They would rather hear words of comfort than a message of conviction. They would prefer to sing songs of love than sacrifice their free to serve.
John Calvin notes that most people struggle in the spiritual journey because they picture it as "...unmixed enjoyment, as if they were to be always in the shade and at their ease."2 Calvin also notes that our Lord's use of a building and war are fitting symbols to the Christian life.
A building requires long and often tedious labor. There are few shortcuts but enormous expenses. The construction projects in the new millennium are not that much different from projects 20, 30 and even 40 years ago except that the costs are significantly higher. Ambitious construction projects require enormous sums of working capital without paying any dividends for several years. So, also in the life of faith and ministry, we may labor for many years, erecting walls of patience, laying floors of long suffering, and installing windows of joy but unless we are willing to commit our lives to a lifetime service we may never see the project completed.
Jesus next comes a king going to war with the Christian life. The apostle Paul would appreciate the use of this analogy. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul encourages the church to put on the full armor of God. He understood that each and every day, we go into battle against a spiritual forces. In war, a general knows that an army does not win every battle. Sometimes skirmishes are lost. There will also be the cost of human life and suffering in each battle. Not every solider will live nor will those who survive escape unscathed. But every general knows if he is to win, he must have enough soldiers who are willing to fight until the battle is won, regardless of the cost.
The Church of Jesus Christ needs a few good men and a few good women who are willing to pay the price and fight the hard fight.
COUNTING THE COST
The seconds ticked off. The hall remained silent and the delegates motionless in their seats.
"All right, I'll tell you what I was doing. I was doing exactly what the writer of this note was doing--exactly nothing! I was afraid to be counted!"3
Standing up to be counted under the Communist dictator would have required the ultimate sacrifice. Joseph Stalin was ruthless. He would execute his critics without a second thought. He allowed over 2 million Ukrainians to die of starvation because they would not agree to live in communes. Khrushchev and the other Soviet Communists knew that challenging Stalin would cost them their lives. And they were not willing to pay that price. Sometimes when you really believe in something, you must stand up and be counted even if it costs you your life.
Martin Luther once said "A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.4"
What type of faith do you have, unless you are willing to give, to suffer and to pay the cost a life of service.
1 William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Bible Study Series, Revised Edition, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press).
2 John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels, Trans. William Pringle.
3 James Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, Tyndale, 128, Online: http://sermonillustrations.com.
4 Martin Luther, quoted by Brett Blair, Online: http://sermonillustrations.com.
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