Brian Hiortdahl, West Hills, CA

Warm-up Question

When has your heart wanted something your head decided you could not afford?  

Count the Cost

In her 2018 article “Fewer Ministers, Heavier Burden,” Jean Hopfensberger chronicles the changing landscape of church leadership:

Among the multiple reasons identified for the growing shortage of seminarians and clergy is the challenge of financial viability. One experienced Lutheran camp director has identified this as the primary reason that the young adults with whom he works are deciding not to enter the ministry. He observes that there has been no decrease in the number of those who consider or feel a call to ministry, but more and more conclude that there is no viable future in it.

Discussion Questions

  •  Have you or your community felt any impact of the trends identified in the article? If so, how?
  • What changes do you anticipate in the church in your lifetime if this trend continues?  Do you think these changes are positive or negative or both?
  • Would you consider ministry as a career?  Why or why not?

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Philemon 1-21

Luke 14:25-33

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Jesus has harsh, jarring words for the crowds traveling with him (notice that Luke does not write “following” him!):  Whoever does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself cannot become my disciple.  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…  None of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions. 

In the midst of these shocking statements, Jesus makes analogies to a builder and a king who must first sit down and estimate the cost of the projects they are considering. What if they can’t start what they finish?  If they conclude that there is no viable future in their plans, wouldn’t they be foolish to go through with them?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote in his classic book The Cost of Discipleship:  “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  (This is dated language; it applies to the ladies too.)  The Greek phrase for all your possessions can also be translated all that you have, which underlines Bonhoeffer’s point.  Following Jesus puts everything else at risk.  Jesus illustrates this by claiming priority over the most important things in our lives:  family, survival, all that we have.

Being a disciple is not the same as being a pastor, which is only one of many ways that disciples might be called to serve.  But the sacrifices many pastors make can offer a window into how costly following Jesus can sometimes be.  True discipleship demands total commitment.  For most of us, and I strongly suspect at some point for all of us, the price is too high.  

So what is the good news?  As usual, it is not found in our accomplishments, but in God’s.  In order to make peace with us, God pays the outrageous price of sending Jesus, who speaks these hard words on his journey to Jerusalem.  Even his closest, most faithful disciples, who left their homes to follow him (Luke 18:28), fall away.  Yet he still follows through—all the way to the cross.  There, abandoned by his family, Jesus gives away all that he has, just like the foolish looking father in the parable he will tell next (Luke 15:11-32).  There he loses everything, like the son in the same story, whose father welcomes him home in an impossible celebration that still continues, forever in heaven and around church altars every Sunday.

There is no “viable future” in following Jesus.  There is resurrection.

Discussion Questions

  • What is most important to you? If Jesus asked you to give it up, would you be able to do so?
  • Have you ever sacrificed something important for something more important?
  • Are pastors expected to make bigger sacrifices than others?  Should they be?
  • What is the difference between carrying a cross and bearing an unfair burden?
  • Name a disciple you admire.  What has their faithfulness cost them?  Was it worth it?

Activity Suggestions

  • Interview a seminarian or a pastor.  Why are they making a career in ministry?  How did God call them?  What unique joys and challenges do they experience?  Finish by praying for her or him.
  • Imagine an enormous project that would reshape your community.  What would it actually cost in dollars, in time, and in energy to make it happen?
  • Do a scavenger hunt for crosses in a sanctuary, in a history museum, or in the world.  Where do you find them?  What meaning is implied by where and how they appear?  What does the cross mean to you?

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, your words are hard for us to swallow.  Give us courage to keep following you when the path becomes difficult, the cross becomes heavy, and the cost feels too high.  Give us good leaders to help us on the way, and make us good leaders for others.  Forgive us when we falter, protect us from despair, and keep shepherding us to, and through, and beyond the cross to Easter joy. Amen