Sermon
September 9, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Luke 14:25-33


Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,
"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.
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  For
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?  Otherwise,
when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will
begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able
to finish.' Or 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? If he cannot,
then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for
the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you
do not give up all your possessions.

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Sermon


In February of 1993, 286 Chinese nationals boarded the ship Golden Venture
to make a run for freedom.  Four months later their dreams were washed up on
the shoreline of New York harbor, when the boat ran aground off Rockaway
Beach, just a few miles east of the Statue of Liberty.  Six drowned that
night and a few escaped.  Most were arrested.  42 of that group would be
granted asylum in the United States.  134 were deported back to China.  53
were kept in American jails for almost four years before being released on
humanitarian pardons.  It's a story that made the headlines and reminded us
that every day of every month of every year people seek freedom and do not
count the cost.

The people on board the Golden Venture had fulfilled, in a way, that hard
saying that we heard in the Gospel of Luke this morning: they had given up
all their possessions, their savings, their families, their familiar
surroundings; they had counted the costs, they had assessed the risks, they
made their decision and were completely devoted to a single purpose.  Now
Jesus, it is true, speaks of this in relationship to becoming his disciple,
but perhaps we can come to a better understanding of what he means when we
see this same level of decision and devotion in the world around us today.

One thing that really jars us in the lesson this morning is the words:
"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."  It
's shocking to hear now and it must have been even more shocking to the
original audience, if indeed the translation is accurate.  Like us, the
original audience was taught that God commanded us to honor our mothers and
our fathers, to recognize our obligations to brothers and sisters, to be
loving and faithful to our spouses and children.  Jesus himself uses many
images of family loyalty and reconciliation as images of the Kingdom of
God - so why these hard words about hating?

Sometimes a teacher says things to wake us up out of complacency - to
unsettle our pre-conceived notions and pry open our brains a little to let a
new thought in.  Jesus might have been doing this here, or he might have
been giving a fair warning what these early followers would risk to become
disciples - rejection from their family and loss of their place in the
social order.  Indeed, they might have to let go of possessions and all
forms of security if they were to become part of the early movement to
establish the church.  They needed to be ready to make a decision and move
ahead and not count the cost if they were to persevere in their religious
faith.

Jesus once made the observation: "For where your treasure is, there your
heart will be also."  Another way of saying the same thing would be, you can
tell the truth about a person's religion when you see them make a decision
and not count the cost.

My daughter is now away at college, but the process of getting her there
tested my faith and devotion.  Of course I am devoted to her education, her
happiness, her comfort and safety.  And there comes a time when you simply
have to realize that with some things you can't count the cost.  That's why
I took her to Costco, gave her $40, and said - get whatever you need for
college, sweetheart.

I admit - the times are few and far between when I don't count the cost.
And modern technology has only made this worse, as I compulsively enter
every cup of coffee into Quicken so I can make myself miserable at the end
of the year when I realize the true cost of all those empty cups in the
backseat of my car.  I'm a counter, and believe me it's no fun.

But what I can't see in myself, I have the blessing of seeing in others.
Many of you know that my father was an excellent athlete and that I collect
programs and newspaper clippings and basically whatever I can find about his
football career.  But what really makes me proudest about my father is
something that will never be in a newspaper and never be known by most
people, and that is the care he gave my mother when she became quite frail
in the last years of her life.  My father was devoted to her and did not
count the cost, even though, in the end, the cost was his own health and
well-being.

Maybe that's why I find the saying we read this morning about hating mother,
father, wife, and children so shocking - even offensive - because there are
so many wonderful people who do not count the cost when it comes to caring
for someone they love.  And, it would seem to me, that if any religion
lacked this kind of love as a core value, it would be a disaster, not a
blessing, in the lives of its followers.

And really, if devotion were simply turning your back on what you hate and
embracing what you love - why, there would be no cost in that at all.  It's
when you have to choose between two things that you love that difficulty
arises.

Do you remember the story of Eric Liddell?  Liddell was a man who was forced
to choose between two things he loved, two paths that formed the devotional
center of his life.  One path was sports; the other was faith.  Liddell was
a college student at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1920's and a
superb athlete.  He excelled at both track and rugby, but decided to devote
himself to running.  He was a member of the British Olympic team that went
to Paris in 1924, but dropped out of his best event, the 100-yard dash, when
they scheduled a qualifying heat on a Sunday, because he understood the
Sabbath to be a day devoted to God.

The story of Liddell's choice to honor the Sabbath was one element of the
1981 movie "Chariots of Fire" What the movie did not document, however, was
how this devotion to faith continued to inspire Eric Liddell to live a life
as a disciple without counting the cost.  After college Liddell traveled to
China where he was ordained as a minister in 1932.  In 1933 he married
Florence Mackenzie and while living in China they had three daughters. As
political tensions in China increased, Liddell's family left the country,
but he remained to continue his missionary work. In 1943, Liddell was
interned in a Japanese camp in China. He suffered a brain tumor there, and
died in 1945.

Now I'm sure Eric Liddell loved his family, but at one point he suffered
separation from them for the sake of the Gospel, and he did this out of an
understanding of the cost of discipleship and a devotion to God.

Although less dramatic, there are times when each of us has to make
decisions about the level of devotion we will exhibit towards different
areas of our life and how our faith fits into that hierarchy.  It was
unusual, in 1924, to have a sports event on a Sunday morning.  Back then it
was a common social value for Sunday morning to be set aside for church.
Stores were closed, schools wouldn't think of scheduling events, athletic
teams and leagues at least waited until the afternoon for games and
practices.  A person didn't have to juggle priorities if they wanted to
establish worship of God as a value for their family.

Today that is different.  We are required to made decisions about where our
devotion lies.   We don't have the luxury of having this time of worship
protected for us - a luxury our Jewish friends never had, so I don't think
we can complain too much about it.  So we may not be asked to turn our backs
on family and possessions to follow Jesus, but a few other more subtle
sacrifices - if we can use that word here - a few less impressive but no
less important issues might face us and require us to decide what is truly
worthy of our devotion.

As Americans we might take our freedoms for granted - but we are reminded of
our blessings when we see people like those on the Golden Venture who in
their devotion to freedom risk all and do not count the cost to gain what we
have in abundance.  As Christians we might take our faith for granted - but
we are reminded of our blessings when we remember those who had to give up
family, position, possessions, security, and even their lives in devotion to
the Lord and became disciples and did not count the cost.

Where, in our lives, will we not count the cost?  What is, truly, the object
of our devotion?  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be
also."

Amen
.