Sermon 15 Pentecost Yr C

15 Pentecost Yr C, 5/09/2010

Lk 14:25-33

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Costly Discipleship”

Herschel was a salesman. One day, as he was driving across the Mojave Desert he spotted what looked like a body by the side of the road. Herschel slammed on the brakes, ran over, and discovered a man who appeared to be on the brink of death. Taking the poor man into his arms, Herschel bent close so he could make out the man’s parched whisper.


   “Are you in luck!” cried Herschel exultantly. “Why in my carrying case, which I happen to have right here beside me, I have the finest collection of one hundred percent silk neckties to be found this side of the Las Vegas Strip. Normally, thirty-five dollars, but for you, twenty-two dollars and fifty cents.”


   “I’ll tell you what. Since you seem like such a nice guy, I’ll make it two for thirty-five dollars. That’s for a poly-silk blend, though.”


   “You drive a hard bargain.” Herschel shook his head regretfully. “Okay, any tie you want for sixteen dollars and fifty cents—but I can’t go any lower.”


   “What’s that? Oh, it’s water you want. Why didn’t you say so?” Herschel’s voice was filled with reproach. “Well, you’re in luck again. Just over that sand dune is a lovely resort; I used to vacation there myself. They’ll have all the water you can drink.” With that, Herschel got back in his car and drove away.

   With the prospect of nearby water to spur him on, the man managed to stagger to the top of the sand dune, and sure enough, a neon sign announcing Le Club Aqua was visible not far away. The man summoned the last of his strength, crawled across the burning sand to the resort’s entrance, and collapsed. “Water…thirsty…water,” he croaked.

   “Ah, you want water,” said the doorman sympathetically. “Well, you’re in luck, we have all kinds. We have mineral water, ice water, club soda, Perrier, seltzer. Only thing is, you need to have a tie on to get in.”1

   Although we may find this story humorous, there is a sober truth to it as well. The truth is that: life is costly. We have to be prepared to pay the price. In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us about costly discipleship. If we are going to be his disciples, then we need to be prepared to count the cost, since discipleship is costly. In order to get his point across, Jesus teaches the large crowds in a radical way. He teaches the crowds that a tower builder must first sit down and carefully figure out how much it is going to cost to build a tower. If he doesn’t have enough to cover the cost and finish the job, then everyone will gossip about him and criticize him for not being able to finish the job. His reputation would be seriously damaged.

   In a large city, there was a mansion on top of a hill that stood unfinished for many years. The people eventually called it “the Mansion of Folly.” Only after the builder had erected the walls did he realise that it would be too costly to complete the mansion. When Jesus told this parable he may have been beside an unfinished tower that had become someone’s folly. You see, it was common to build towers often in the middle of a vineyard; and there were many vineyards in the holy land during the time of Jesus. So Jesus the Great Teacher utilized what was familiar to the surroundings of the people to teach them spiritual and practical truths.

   In our time, there are also folks who build without counting the cost. Listen to the following story.

   Peter was the talk of the neighbourhood. He was building a house. Building it all by himself. One step at a time. The first year he put in his foundation. Then, before he could put the walls up, he ran out of money. He left the foundation open to the winter weather and in the spring he had to fix the cracks caused by freezing water. Then he began the walls.

   By the end of the second year, Peter had again run out of money. This time, the foundation was fixed, the walls were up and the roof was on. However, there were no doors or windows. Peter covered the openings with plastic.

   After a particularly harsh winter, the spring finally arrived. The neighbourhood waited with bated breath to see what Peter would do this year. They knew that the plastic torn off the windows and doors and they suspected that there would be severe water damage.

   The neighbours were right. That third year Peter tore down his house and burned the damaged lumber. He sold the good lumber. He then filled in the foundation. By the end of the summer a For Sale sign had been hammered into the ground.2

   Today Jesus bids us to count the cost of following him. Discipleship is costly. Everything in life has a cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch—even though many folks would like to believe that, it is not true. Someone, somewhere pays for the lunch. The question Jesus puts to each of us today is: “What price are you prepared to pay to be my disciple?”  And if you or anyone else misses that point, just listen again to the last verse of today’s gospel: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Ouch! Is that literally true? If so, then most of us fail the test—for that is an extremely hard thing to do, is it not? I think that each of us has to give our own answer to how much we are prepared to pay to be Jesus’ disciple. One thing is clear, Jesus gives us no illusions or false hope that following him is going to give us worldly success, wealth or popularity. In fact, for many down through the centuries the opposite has been true. Following Jesus is costly.

   In Ignazio Silone’s novel, Bread and Wine, Don Paolo makes the following observations on suffering, bearing one’s cross in the face of evil, and sacrificial love.

   “If we look sensibly at the evil which reigns around us, we cannot remain inactive and console ourselves with waiting for another life. The evil to be fought is not the sad abstraction which is called the devil; the evil is everything which prevents millions of [people] from acting like human beings. We too are directly responsible.”

   “I do not think there is any way of saving one’s soul in these times. [S]He is saved who conquers [their] own individual egoism, and [their] caste and family egoism, and who frees [their] soul from the idea of resigning [themselves] to the wickedness around [them].”

   “We must not become obsessed with the idea of security, not even the security of one’s own virtues. Spiritual life does not go with a secure life. You have to take risks to save yourself.”3 As followers of Jesus, we cannot save ourselves. Our only security is in Jesus alone—and that involves taking risks in a world often hostile to Christ and his followers. Yet we do take risks if we are faithful followers of Jesus. We risk trusting in Jesus completely to journey with him through life and give life its ultimate meaning and purpose.  

   Today’s gospel is a hard one—no question about it. If you are looking for security, health, wealth and popularity in the world; then our gospel is going to be bad news. However, if you are looking for challenge, risk, meaning and true purpose in life; then our gospel is going to be good news—even if it costs you your life. Following Jesus is worth it.    

1 Cited from: Bernard Brunsting, The Ultimate Guide To Good Clean Humor (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2000), pp. 51-52.

2 Cited from: Emphasis: A Preaching Journal for the Parish Pastor, Vol. 25, No. 3, September-October 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 24.

3 Cited from: Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937 & Atheneum House, Inc., 1962 & Toronto: Signet Classics, 1963), pp. 264-265.