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A New Depth of Prioritizing Commitments
March 28, 1982

First United Methodist Church of Modesto

LUKE 14:26-33

Continuing our Lenten series on a new depth of being, we look at priorities and commitment. Our scripture lesson today includes strong words of Jesus, “You cannot be my disciple with half-hearted commitment and the priorities on the wrong things,” said Jesus. You might be a follower, a hanger on, an observer, but you cannot be my disciple. Someone once asked a great scholar, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The scholar said, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” There's a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. There's a world of difference between loving chocolate and loving God. There's a world of difference between a half-hearted Methodist and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus used very strong language. Being a disciple may lead to the cross following his example, but also being a disciple of Jesus Christ is one of the most rewarding, satisfying, fulfilling, joyful experiences of life—totally committed to Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, sanctified in old Methodist terminology. 

In the scripture passage, Jesus listed two obstacles that prevent many people from being disciples. Reaching new depths in your relationship with God involves facing these two obstacles head on and dealing with them—give up your possessions and hate your mother and your father. Very strong, dramatic, overstated language. Jesus used emphatic overstatement to teach, to prove his point. He had to get their attention. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to die upon the cross. The crowd thought he was on the way to an empire, to a kingdom of riches and power, and they wanted to share it. Jesus had to break through to get their attention. These two commitments, these two priorities of money and family are important to you and me, but if they're not in a proper priority, if they're not in their proper perspective in our relationship with Jesus Christ, they prevent us from being disciples. Let's look at them. 

First of all, Jesus said, “None of you can be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions.” Luke 14:33. Jesus recognized the temptation that riches, wealth and possessions have for you and me. A young man was proposing to his girl and said, “I'm not wealthy. I don't have a yacht or a convertible like Jerome, but my darling, I love you.” She replied quickly, “Well, I love you too, but tell me more about Jerome.” Possessions and wealth are a great temptation for us, but to put money and financial security as your first priority is to lose probably your marriage, your children, your salvation. Putting things first usurps God of his rightful place, the first priority in life. There are too many people as someone pointed out who invest their money in four G’s—gold, guns, groceries, and God. The trouble with the world is God is on the bottom. It's upside down for God should be our first priority, and everything else falls into place.

Must I give up all my possessions? Jesus is using very strong, emphatic, overstated language, but the meaning is clear. Yes, we must give up our possessions when and if we are called to do so. That’s the catch. Are you willing to give up your possessions if you are called to do so? This is becoming increasingly close to us in these times. There are several in our congregation who have lost their jobs. There are several who are experiencing cuts in salary. They are facing this matter of possessions head on. The Laotians in our midst are facing the loss of their aid very soon, and they are desperately looking for employment. This is the second time for them. They know what it is to give up their possessions, flee from a communist regime, leave behind their family, their home, their customs, their language, their country, their possessions. 

This reality forces us to face the question. What does happen to you iI you lose your possessions? Is it the end of your life? When you lose your possessions, have you lost love or friendship or salvation or the love of God? What is really important? Is loss of financial security the worst thing that can happen? “You must be willing to give up your possessions,” says Jesus. 

I believe this means that we must get priorities straight with our possessions, with our treasures. We must get our priorities straight so that Christ is in first place in our lives. To put Christ in first place, we have been given a guideline, a very biblical traditional guideline of how to handle our finances so that our treasure does not become number one. This biblical guideline states very simply—keep 90% of your income for you and the government and give 10% to God. This is the historic tithe. The purpose of the tithe, a practical measure, is to put God first. Thousands of persons, generations of persons testify to the great joy and satisfaction they find in their lives when they tithe and give 10% to God, keeping their possessions in the proper perspective. Are you a tither? Have you ever considered tithing? 

We will be given the challenge during the month of May. Our Stewardship Team and Council on  Ministries have declared the month of May to be an experiment in tithing. You are invited to try it for one month. Try it, you might like it. Tithing is a way of strengthening God's ministry through this church. It is a means by which we put Christ first and become a disciple. “No one can be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions.”

Secondly, Jesus said, and this is difficult to understand, “If anyone comes to me without hating your father, your mother, your wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and your own life too, you cannot be my disciple.” Pretty strong language, overstated language to prove a point. Not a literal hating, but it's almost like hate in contrast of the love we have for God. By hate we mean reorganizing our priorities so that we do not love our mothers and fathers any less, but that we love God more. By loving God more, we get our priorities straight. 

I believe Jesus is also referring with these words to the tension between attachment and detachment. To be a disciple, to live your life as God gave it to you, and as God calls you to live it, requires a certain amount of detachment from your attachments. We all must have attachments. We must be attached somewhere. We must love and be loved. We must have mutual commitment with parents, spouse and children—the family. But, there is a fine line. There is tension between becoming too attached and to sacrifice too much for the family and tension with discipleship. 

Mary was the first woman minister I worked with some 20 years ago. Back in rural Minnesota, we were in a larger parish. Ten churches were pastored by four people. We each had responsibility for our particular churches, and then we worked as a team on parish projects. Mary was delightful, middle aged, single. She always wore black dresses, always had her hair in a pug, and steel rimmed glasses. With the Bible under one arm and the Methodist Book of Discipline under the other, she attacked the world, beginning with her churches. Nobody stepped on Mary. She was highly dedicated and motivated. 

Her mother lived with her and when her mother's health failed, she wanted Mary to go back to the family home and take care of her. There was a period of anguish and Mary decided to give up her ministry and go back home to take care of her mother. Ten years later, Mary died. The autopsy showed that a virus had entered her body and had slowly destroyed her. They asked the doctor, “When do you think the virus entered her body?” He said, “Probably ten years ago”—when she gave up her ministry for her mother, when she sacrificed God's call for her mother. I believe her soul, her spirit left her and the virus took over. 

Sometimes God calls you to give up a great deal for your parents, to sacrifice a great deal for your parents. But sometimes God calls you to live your life and you have to make the choice to put your parent in a nursing home and you live your life as God calls you to live it. There is a tension between family responsibilities and discipleship. Jesus included spouses and children in the same hatred. Sometimes God calls you to sacrifice for your children. But sometimes God calls you to let them go on their own, make their own failures, and for you to live your life as God calls you to be a disciple. Sometimes you must stand in opposition to the family. Sometimes you must take stands that are distressing to the values of your family. But Jesus is teaching us here that the family is not your final authority. Only Jesus Christ is the Christian’s final authority. The family is not the final word, nor is our country or the government or the president. Your conscience before God is your final authority. Christ must be number one for you to be a disciple. 

There's another great truth in this passage. When you give up your family to Christ, when you detach yourself from total involvement with parents, children and spouse, when you detach yourself and get a perspective, the family is then returned to you in a new dimension. A man who is committed to Jesus Christ is a better husband and father. A woman who is committed to Jesus Christ is a better wife and mother. Everyone then is centered in God. 

The hymn we sang quoted Jesus’ summary of this teaching, “Take up your cross and follow me, you who would my disciple be.” Renouncing possessions and family, getting them in proper perspective, putting them in the proper priority with Christ first, and living obediently then by tithing and by detachment, you will discover a whole new depth in your relationship with God. You will be then his disciple.

© 1982 Douglas I. Norris