23 Sunday C – Discipleship – Counting the Cost

The Word Hate 

"If anyone comes after me and does not hate ..." "Hate" is not primarily a feeling word in the Aramaic language, the language Jesus spoke. It is primarily a priority word. It means to abandon or to leave aside; the way a sailor needs to abandon a sinking ship or the way a general needs to leave aside distracting things to win his battle.

John G. Lynch
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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to the Celebration

 We have gathered here because we are disciples of the Lord Jesus: we have chosen his way as our way. Today he reminds us that this is no easy choice for his way led to the cross. He reminds us: ‘Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.’ Discipleship embraces every aspect of our lives. Discipleship means that we have to plan for the best way to live our lives in the light of his truth. Yet, we all fall short of that way, we follow other paths, we avoid the cross, we think of the immediate rather than the goal of life. So as we gather for this meal of discipleship, let us renew our commitment to the way of the Lord and ask pardon for our deviations from it. 
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Reflection 

Our following of Christ can easily become an unreflective adherence to a faith into which we were born. We may continue going to Mass merely out of habit or even fear. However, today it is as though Jesus turns around to us and says: ‘This is not for the fainthearted. Following me is not about having things easy with God on your side. It is all about forgetting yourself and that, my friend, is a hard road.’ From time to time we need to be shocked out of our complacency and today’s invitation to make our own the wisdom of Jesus aims to do just that. 
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Michel de Verteuil
General Textual comments  

The passage is in three movements:

- verse 25: the framework of the passage;
- verses 26, 27 and 33: the challenge to radical discipleship; and
- verses 28 to 32: the practical approach to discipleship.
Discipleship of Jesus takes many forms and we interpret this passage in the light of the particular form of discipleship to which we have committed ourselves – marriage, parenting, friendship, career, religious life or priesthood. We think of other commitments we and others make: to social change for example – bringing about reconciliation between ethnic groups or religions, or reforming economic, educational or political systems, locally or internationally. 

Jesus’ language is startling at a first reading, harsh even, for example its stress on “hating” and the need to give up “all one’s possessions”. Our meditation must feel the passion of Jesus as well as uplift us. The secret is to let the passage speak to our experiences of grace, of Jesus alive in the world today, and in each of us too, to the extent that we are his presence for others. It will also be a call to conversion of course, because we are often not like him. 

For example, the passage invites us to celebrate those people who when we were embarking on a career, joining a political movement, getting married, came straight with us. They told us: don’t enter into it unless you feel willing and able for the sacrifices involved. Their words seemed harsh at the time and in any case we were so committed that we didn’t pay them much heed. Now we are deeply grateful to them. They were Jesus at work in our lives. 

Note that Jesus “turned and spoke to them”. He speaks from personal experience. The choices he is asking from his followers he has made himself – and is glad he did.

Many leaders today (even in the Church) are afraid of losing their followers, the “great crowds who accompany them” so rather than challenge them, they feed them with empty slogans which pander to their worst instincts, for example their feelings of superiority to others. Or else they make demands on others that they do not live up to themselves. We celebrate leaders like Jesus. 

We can shift the focus of our meditation from the person of Jesus to the process of decision making or coming to maturity which he calls us to. We all experience turning points in our lives, when in response to an inner call, we make choices which bring us to a new level of maturity. These moments of grace always involve finding our true identity by renouncing attachments – to people, projects, ideas, institutions. We decide to “carry our own cross,” to discover our own destiny, the greatness to which we have been called. 

So long as we derive our identity from others, even those closest to us, we remain immature. 

Modern psychology has reinforced this teaching of Jesus: 

“Before individuality can come there must be psychological differentiation. The unconscious identification with others must be broken, and each one must recognize his or her uniqueness.” John A. Sanford, Jungian analyst and author

The journey to maturity is on-going. As children, we find our points of reference in parents and possessions. As we get older we naturally transfer our dependence to other intimate relationships, from mother and father, brothers and sisters, to teachers, spouse, children, maybe work place, community, church, institution – a “corporate self-image.” All the time we remain dependent on someone or something for our identity. The moment of maturity comes when we take the risk of stepping out into the unknown – we “hate our own life too.” Up to then we are not mature, “cannot be disciples”. Maturity brings freedom in our relationships, freedom from what others think of us, and freedom to let others discover who they are, apart from us.

Jesus-faithful to our commitments requires many renunciations.

– familiar forms of prayer;
– childhood images of God;
– rules and regulations;
– identity that comes from belonging to a group, a movement, an   institution, a political party;
– comforting passages in the scriptures;
– inward-looking cozy communities;
 these can all be “possessions” and eventually we realize that we must “give them up”.

We celebrate heroes we have known who found the courage to “give up” some deep-seated “possessions,” taboos and silences they once clung to out of fear or a false sense of loyalty:

– battered women give up their sense of shame and share their stories with others;
– victims of rape, incest, or child abuse denounce their abusers;
– parents seek help for crippled, deformed or retarded children they had been hiding in their homes;
– citizens take the risk of going against their governments’ oppressive policies
– church members speak out against injustice in their communities
– an Israeli speaks up for Palestinians, a Northern Ireland Catholic for Protestants,
– a Sicilian against the mafia.

The two parables in verses 28-30 and 31-32 are very touching, but we must interpret them according to the spirituality of Jesus. They must not make us afraid to take risks for example, or weigh us down with guilt at our failures. Situate the parables in the context of Jesus “turning around” and sharing his experience with compassion, remembering his temptations in the wilderness.

We must feel the pathos of the “onlookers all starting to make fun of the man.” It is not condemning but saying, “I so want to spare you that”. But there is also the hint that we cannot escape such mocking. We remember the many references to “those who scoff” in the psalms, and the chief priests mocking Jesus on Calvary because he “started to build and was unable to finish”. 

The parable of the king reminds us of moments when we feel discouraged and unable to continue in our commitments. The odds seem too great, we become aware that we have twenty thousand men against us whereas we only have ten thousand, and so we are tempted to “send envoys to sue for peace” – like Jesus at Gethsemane. But God sends us some Jesus – or an angel – who reminds us that the commitment we made really requires that we “give up all our possessions” 

The journey to discipleship is truly a wonderful adventure. We ask God to continue sending Jesus to lead us and all humanity along the way. 

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Gospel Notes 

This section is found only in Luke (Mt 10:37-8 has a parallel only of vv 26-7) and brings the cost of discipleship before us in a stark way that seems at odds with the notion of ‘the gentle Luke’. However, this section repeats what Luke has already written at 9:23-27, 57-62. 

That one can embark on discipleship and yet fail is brought out by three images: the foolish builder, the unwise king, and the salt that has lost its taste (these last two verses have been omitted in the lectionary and this has given the text a well-focused and rhetorically more satisfying ending; these final verses of ch 14 are, in any case, almost certainly an interpolation at that point) all illustrate that it is easy to take up a life-demanding task but it requires wisdom / fortitude! dedication to complete it.
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Sean Goan
Gospel Notes

 This is one those gospel passages that makes us stop in our tracks. The idea of hating anybody is far removed from the message of Jesus, so how come today he tells us that we cannot be his followers if we do not first hate our parents and other family members? 

It might be helpful to remember that in the ancient world hyperbole or exaggerated speech was an accepted way of making a point and that clearly Jesus is using hyperbole when he says this. Still it seems like a counter productive way to present your case. The parables that follow this hard saying help to explain exactly what Jesus meant. He wants everyone to know that being his follower cannot be viewed as some kind of optional extra and so, before we decide for him, we should sit down and think about what it entails and then ask ourselves, ‘Am I prepared to commit myself to that extent?’ 
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Homily Notes 

1. We live in a world of ‘communication’: phones, faxes, emaiI text-messages, the internet, the radio, the television … Never” has there been so many ways to ‘communicate’ or so many messages travelling around. Everywhere there is someone who is trying to plant an idea in your eye or ear. “

2. However, how many of these messages are actually direct and unmediated human speech? Information comes through’ media, an actual human voice communicating is rare: face td face seems to be for chatting. Indeed, apart form  boardroom style meetings and classrooms, there is almost nothing that is communicated without first being either typed or committed to an electrically driven machine. Now consider the homily: it is the only time in common experience when people are spoken to directly as a group. Just ask peo­ple when was the last time they went somewhere and actually listened to a speech? Politicians may speak of going on the stump or the hustings, but what they actually do is go before a specially chosen audience and then deliver sound-bites for the TV news and photo opportunities. 

3. So when you actually get up and preach you are engaging in what is now a very rare form of activity in the developed world. It is personal, direct, and bare of defences, images, and games. From this two things flow:

First, we should remind our congregations just how rare it is for something to be set out without the possibility for spin and razzmatazz that modern media allow. Yes, it may not be slick, but there are no hiding places when all you have is a voice and a message. 

Second, this direct human communication is a rare event today, so capitalise on it and do not block it. We block it when a homily becomes a written message delivered orally: it should be the well-thought out reflections given ‘in living voice’ (viva voce) with the anxiety and sharpness which only ex tempore speaking possesses. Equally, do not block it by standing behind a psychological security curtain made up of an ambo or lectern: there should be no physical object be­tween you and those you address. Of course, many argue that this is beyond their abilities – if that is the case then preaching is probably not your vocation and you should ask why you are attempting it: there is probably someone in your community who does have this calling and you should be empowering them rather than seeking to do it yourself. 

4. But few cannot preach without notes or lectern, it is simply a matter of practice. So here is a simple formula. 

5. Point out to your audience that you are speaking directly to them without the benefits of all the gimmicks and training of those who try to get their money by selling them things or their support by persuading them of ideas with all the skills of the ‘ communications industry’. 

Then ask them what they think about what has just been read: that loyalty to the Christ is supposed to be paramount in their lives and that they must work with deliberation at being disciples in the same way they set about other major tasks in life.

Give a moment – around 30 seconds – to let the question settle in.
 Then ask: how many of us believe this is the truth?
 Give another moment to let this question settle.
 Then conclude by pointing out that if you believe then you have to draw conclusions for how you live your life.

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Scriptural prayer reflection

 Lord, we remember with gratitude those people who,
 as we were walking behind them,
 turned and spoke words that seemed harsh at the time, telling us
– to break ties;
– to step out in faith;
– to harden our hearts;
– not to be afraid to cause pain to the people we love.

By their words and example, they gave us a new sense of freedom,
 opened within us new sources of creativity,
 helped us to be true to our deeper selves.

“We cannot discover new oceans unless we dare to lose sight of the shore.”
Lord, to discover new oceans, our young people must often
 let go of father, mother, brothers and sisters,
 yes and their own image of themselves too.
 We thank you for great parents and teachers
 who when their children want to continue accompanying them,
 turn and speak to them as Jesus did,
 telling them that they must not be afraid to hurt those who are dear to them,
 but must take up their own crosses so that they can be truly his disciples.

Lord, we pray for young people.
 So often those they accompany on their way lead them in wrong directions;
 they are subjected to pressure from peer groups, consumerism, materialism, fads and fashions.

Send them leaders like Jesus who, as they walk ahead of them,
 will turn and challenge them
– to become the great people you want them to be,
- to harden their hearts so that they can follow their own path,
– not to be afraid to give up their feelings of security and assume their responsibilities.

 Lord, as we look back on our lives we see projects that we started,
 for which we laid a foundation,
 and which, later, we found ourselves unable to finish:
– a marriage broke up;
– we dropped out of school or college;
– we left the religious life or the priesthood;
– gave up a political commitment that was too demanding;
– stopped meditating.

 We hear voices, some of them within our own hearts, making fun of us,
 saying, “Here are people who started to build and were unable to finish”;
and indeed we had not sat down and worked out the cost
 to see if we had the resources to complete what we had begun.

 But we know that you are there with us, and that the need to achieve is one
 of the possessions you want us to give up.

Lord, we think today of those who are discouraged:
– parents bringing up their children;
– employers trying to work for good industrial relations;
– leaders challenging a church community to become involved in the secular world.

 They feel like a king who is marching out with ten thousand followers and having
 to stand up to an opponent who is advancing against him with twenty thousand;
 they are inclined to sue for peace even though their opponents are still a long way off.

 Send them Jesus to remind them
 that unless they are willing to give up the desire for quick results,
 and carry the cross of failure, they cannot be his disciples.
 

HOMILIES -1: FROM CONNECTIONS: 

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of a treatise, unique to Luke’s Gospel, on the nature and demands of discipleship. 

Jesus’ sobering words in today’s Gospel are meant to make us fully aware of the cost of discipleship before we embrace something we are not prepared for.  The gift of grace comes at the price of the same cross awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem.

Some translations of today’s Gospel ascribe rather harsh words to Jesus: in some texts, Jesus speaks of “turning one’s back” on family; in other translations, the verb “hate” is used.  A more precise translation of the idiom here is whoever prefers the love of family or self to Christ cannot be his follower.

The images of the unfinished tower and the king poorly prepared for battle illustrate the frustration and ultimate failure of the disciple who does not give himself/herself totally to the Gospel.  When a follower of Jesus begins to hold anything back in imitating Christ, discipleship becomes a charade. 

HOMILY NOTES: 

Jesus calls us to seek reconciliation rather than dominance, to love and forgive without limit or condition, to give totally and completely regardless of the cost or sacrifice.  Such is the cross Jesus asks us to take up.

As the tower builder and the king preparing for war discover, our days are limited -- too limited to squander on obsessing about things at the expense of our relationships with family and friends.  Jesus challenges us to live every moment of our lives as a time for preparation and "planning" for much greater and lasting things than this world of ours offers.

Often we refuse to “let go” of things that are making our lives so much less than we want them to be.  The gifts of God can only be grasped with the open hands of humility and prayer; the grasping hands of materialism and self-centeredness condemn us to a life of emptiness.

We tend to think of the crosses we bear as disorders, complications, disappointments – even people! – we are forced to endure.  But, in reality, God lays upon our shoulders crosses – talents, abilities, skills, gifts – that can be sources of hope, of joy, of discovery, of life, of resurrection — for ourselves and others.  Christ calls those who would be his disciples to imitate his spirit of humble generosity and compassion by picking up those crosses for the sake of others who stumbling under heavier crosses than ours. 

Homily -2: Fr. Charles Irvin   

The word “hate” is a powerful word so in sharing my thoughts with you today I want to first note that in the language Jesus spoke back then the word “hate” was a Semitic expression that we should not take literally. We should think of it as telling us that loving God is more important than anything else. Jesus is asking for first place in our hearts, he’s not asking us to abandon our families. After all in the society in which Jesus lived people’s whole lives centered on their families. Our lives should be also. Jesus used extreme language so that people would not forget what He is asking, namely our wholehearted and uncompromising commitment to follow in His way, live in His truth, and share life with Him.

We all have obligations, responsibilities, and commitments, especially to our families, and only twenty-four hours in any one day to meet our responsibilities. Time is precious. Today’s first reading notes that in what we just heard: “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down on the mind that has many concerns.”

Nevertheless we need to ask ourselves where our hearts really are and how much of our inner selves we are giving to God. Just where IS God in our lives? Just how important is God in our lives? 

Today’s gospel account of St. Luke is noteworthy for its extremes. On the one hand, it sets forth the fundamental and uncompromising demands that Jesus makes on those who would be His followers and, at the same time, St. Luke emphasizes the gentleness and compassion of Jesus for the sinful and the weak. Let me suggest to you that those commitments are not contradictory. 

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus surrounded by a huge crowd of people. They are full of enthusiasm and expectation… but Jesus very quickly pulls them up short. If anyone comes after me, Jesus says, and is not prepared to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and indeed his very own self, he cannot be my disciple. He is not asking us to abandon our families. He is asking us to put love of God in first place. We should remember that if we love God we will love others, and love them with His love. To abandon our families or give them the best of our love and care would be highly irresponsible and at the same time a violation of God’s commandment of universal love. But it is also clear that, for those who want to be part of Jesus’ work, they have to give themselves to it wholeheartedly. And, where there is a choice between the ways of this world and the clear call of the Gospel, they have to reject the allurements of this world. But that takes discipline and planning. It doesn’t “just happen.” 

So Jesus gives us two examples: 

One is about a man who had plans to build a tower. Before he started, he made sure that he had all the necessary resources. Otherwise he might find that, after laying the foundations, he could not finish the work and he would become the laughing stock of others.

In the second example Jesus speaks of a king with 10,000 soldiers who finds he is going to war with another king who has 20,000. If he thinks there is no way he can win, he will send an embassy to negotiate the best peace terms he can get.

 Similarly, says Jesus, no one can be a disciple of His who is not ready to let go of everything he thinks to be of such importance that he sets God aside and gives God little time and attention. 

Love has its demands. And following in Jesus’ way has its demands. How many in the crowd who were listening to Jesus were ready for that? How many of us in our day are ready for that? Am I ready? And what are the things I am clinging to? What are the things I cannot let go of? And why? 

To be a disciple of Jesus means being absolutely free. To be free to love Jesus and walk in His ways requires that we say “no” to a whole lot of other things. I am reminded of St. Francis of Assisi leaving his family and taking off all his rich and fancy clothes only to clothe himself in a beggar’s rags. He was then filled with a tremendous sense of joy and freedom. Do I want to be a disciple of Jesus? To what extent? Am I ready to pay the price he asks?

Many voices in our surrounding world attempt to tell us what is important and what is not. Many of those voices tell us to set God aside or, even worse, abandon believing in God. Each one of those many voices, all of them competing between each other and trying to dominate, present what they claim to be of the greatest importance. We need to exercise critical judgment. Are they offering mere pleasure? Or are they offering us lasting happiness?

A good education gives us a lot of facts and information. It should also give us the skill to make critical judgments, to differentiate between what is merely superficial and what is of substance. That is what today’s Gospel account is all about. It is challenging us to see things in context and to place things in proper perspective.

I’m sure we all understand that God matters and that life with Him forever in heaven is our goal. It’s not whether we believe that, it’s how we believe that, how we make it a part of our lives. Just how are we following Jesus in our lives? And so the Book of Wisdom advises us: For the deliberations of mortals are timid and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down on the mind that has many concerns. If we put the way and the truth and the life of Jesus as first in our concerns, we will find a life infinitely beyond mere pleasure, we will find everlasting happiness. 

Being close to Jesus will give us the power to deal with whatever life sends our way. 

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Mgsr David Rubino: Discipleship is not free!

Purpose: As a contemporary disciple, how are we doing? Are we encumbered by things that hold us back from the Lord? Does our wish list of things get in the way of our worship of God? Detachment is key: today the Lord is making the point that discipleship has a cost. It is not free. Following the Lord as a disciple requires total commitment to the Lord.  Commitment sealed by detachment is the point of the passage. The cost of that commitment is detachment from people or possessions that may hold us distant from the Lord.  

St. Benedict once challenged his community of brothers with the testing thought that the “…way to God is often harsh and bitter.”  In our jargon, St. Benedict may have said, “No one promised you a rose garden.” 

I wonder if St Benedict had today’s Gospel passage in mind. Hate your Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, your own life, and then pick up your cross of life and carry it. No complaining or whining allowed. Borrowing, as well as paraphrasing, from Tom Hank’s character in the film, A League of Their Own: “there is no crying in being Catholic allowed.” 

Must discipleship be, as Benedict suggested, “harsh and bitter” and carry a very high cost?   Perhaps. The key to understanding this passage is understanding the word “hate.”  “It is a Semitic way of expressing detachment… It is not the emotion-filled word we experience when we scream, “I hate you”’ (Craddock, et. al., Preaching through Christian Year, pg.401). What is the point, then, and why does Jesus employ such harsh language? 

This command of the Lord is reinforced by the two short parables of the tower construction project, and the king going into battle. In both the parables, the point is the same. Total commitment of resources to both the construction of the tower, and the battle, is essential for successful completion of both the tower and the war.

Today’s challenging Gospel forces us to pause and take a look at our relationships and our possessions, asking ourselves if those people and possessions hold us back from the Lord.  The Lord’s call to commitment does not mean we need to rush out and sell or give away all we have, or remove ourselves completely from our loved ones.  Discipleship in the Lord does not mean we have to become impoverished and alone. Rather, discipleship in the Lord requires that we act, think and live life differently. “When Jesus speaks about family ties and possessions, he is primarily asking for a change in mindset. All of us can begin to think differently.  We can be less consumerists, more simple in our tastes”(Fahey, Footprints on the Mountain, pg. 594).

Not surprisingly, Pope Francis has visibly demonstrated the impact of such detachment from things, and the embrace of simplicity. The pope is known for wearing a plain pectoral cross, not one adorned with pontifical jewels. He does not reside in the traditional Apostolic Palace. He lives in a Vatican guesthouse, where he eats breakfast with the staff, and other guests, talks freely to them all and, against all custom, he travels in elevators with other passengers.”

His simplicity affords him the opportunity to concentrate on what is essential in his life, and to model those virtues to almost 1.2 billion Catholics with, as he preached in his Inaugural Mass, St. Joseph as his guide. “Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, St. Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak, but rather a sign of strength of spirit, and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. He must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!”

Simply, freely, and unencumbered was the intent of the harsh, “hateful” language of Jesus, and was the price of discipleship. How are we living our discipleship? How free are we to focus on the Lord rather than the people, property, or things around us?

Today, we are asked! 

How do we respond? 

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.    Cross walk

It may begin with a phone call in the middle of the night: a child has been in an accident, a parent has suddenly taken ill.

Or it may take the form of a lesson plan you struggle to lead your students through — kids who are for more interested in video games than subject/verb agreement, algebraic equations, or the Gospel of Luke.

It may be trying to keep peace in the family despite a disagreeable relative or struggling to keep the project going while dealing with a clueless boss or an incompetent team member. 

It can come as ridicule or addiction.  It is often formed by the intersecting beams of despair and abandonment, of exhaustion and anger. 

It may be the money you have — or the money you don’t have.  It may be the passion you have for a cause or the compassion you feel for the victims.

The cross — those struggles and challenges we can’t avoid, those people and situations we try to sidestep, the hard reality that forces us to delay our hopes and abandon our dreams.

But the cross is not necessarily a death sentence or an instrument of torture.  In the right hands, the cross can be a means of healing, an instrument for transformation, a vehicle for resurrection.  It begins with realizing that another set of hands carries that cross with us, that another shoulder bears the load with us.

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2.    Christ’s. 

To follow Jesus of Nazareth requires us to take up the cross.  We never know precisely when or how the cross falls to us: deep darkness of mind or heart, aching and persistent loneliness, foreclosure of a future, immeasurable loss, diminishment, breakdowns in society, the burden of speaking the truth.  But when the cross presents itself, we must pick it up and follow Jesus.  As we walk, the wide road leads to a narrow way; ruts and obstacles jolt us on the journey.  Jesus is just ahead of us, but we see him through a glass darkly.  Not much is clear.  Faith and love, hope and prayer are the meat and bread and drink that sustain us, along with the example of the saints who have walked this way before us — and who walk with us now.  

[From an essay by M. Shawn Copeland in America, January 26, 2007.]   

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3.    Bid for Heaven ( Fr. John Speekman) 

It happened when I was staying at the home of one of my many sisters and one of her daughters came home from school. She was about 15 at the time and she was not in a good mood. 

'Mum' she said 'you'll never guess what happened during Religious Education today. We had an auction and we were all given $1000 dollars to spend. The teacher was auctioning things like popularity, good looks, sporting ability, fame, wealth, and so on. Down the bottom of the list was heaven.'

'I wanted heaven and so when my turn to bid came I said '$500 for heaven'.

'Well, mum, you know Michelle, the girl who doesn't like me, she doesn't even believe in God, well, she knew I was after heaven and so when her turn came she said, '$1000 for heaven.' 

'And she got heaven, Mum, and I didn't!' 

My sister and I couldn't help laughing, which didn't help matters, and finally she said, 'Well, what does that show you?' 

My niece replied, 'I should have given everything and not tried to bargain.'
 
4.    The mark of a great leader  

is the demands he makes upon his followers. The Italian freedom fighter Garibaldi offered his men only hunger and death to free Italy. Winston Churchill told the English people that he had nothing to offer them but "blood, sweat, toil, and tears" in their fight against the enemies of England. Jesus demanded that his followers carry a cross. A sign of death. 

Andrew died on a cross
Simon was crucified
Bartholomew was flayed alive
James (son of Zebedee) was beheaded
The other James (son of Alphaeus) was beaten to death
Thomas was run through with a lance
Matthias was stoned and then beheaded
Matthew was slain by the sword
Peter was crucified upside down
Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows
Philip was hanged

The demands that Jesus makes upon those who would follow him are extreme. Christianity is not a Sunday morning religion. It is a hungering after God to the point of death if need be. It shakes our foundations, topples our priorities, pits us against friend and family, and makes us strangers in this world...
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5.    You know the feeling.

It is between 2 and 3 in the afternoon - the "pit in the pm" in the words of biorhythm experts. Energy ebbs. Eyelids sag. Your attention span becomes goldfish-short (3 seconds). You are wiped out, wozzy and snoozy. The urge to grab a cat-nap becomes overwhelming. God invented coffee, and energy drinks, for this time of day. Fighting fatigue we all look for ways to revive, reboot, refresh ourselves for the second half of our day.  

How many of us this morning long to revive, reboot, refresh ourselves for the second half of our lives? The second half of high school? The second half of college? The second half of our career path? The second half of our family's life? The second half our retirement plan? The most basic law of life is that "things change" and "nothing stays the same." But the most challenging aspect of life is how we deal with this "law of life." Things change. In the words of our kids, "Deal with it. Get over it. Or get help."

From prison Paul wrote a letter to his friend, his co-worker, his trusted church and Christian community leader. In this letter Paul challenges Philemon to "refresh" himself and reboot his attitudes and expectations. But instead of being confrontational or combative, Paul's highly personal letter is a model of how much easier it is to attract flies with honey than with vinegar. Paul's focus is not on confronting Philemon, but on congratulating and celebrating this Christian colleague.  

From the initial greeting Paul asserts that Philemon is a "dear friend and co-worker." In the "thanksgiving" section (vss. 4-7) of this letter, Paul praises Philemon for his "love" ("agape") and his faith ("pistos") towards "all the saints" and towards "the Lord Jesus." Paul also thanks Philemon for "sharing" his faith and for making his faith "effective" - that is, active - in the world. Faith alive is not static. Faith alive is an active, growing, dynamic thing...
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6.    A Picture of Discipleship Drawn from the Military

Jesus draws a picture of discipleship from the military. To be a soldier means getting into battle, risking your life. In other words, Christianity isn't lived in a vacuum. There are struggles and conflicts. Our hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers," reflects the fact that we must fight when demonic forces attack us in life. A Christian must be willing to do spiritual battle for Christ. That's a high cost. 

Soren Kierkegaard said that there are a lot of parade-ground Christians who wear the uniforms of Christianity, but few who are willing to do battle for Christ and his kingdom. When it comes to doing battle for the Lord, too many church members are just sitting on the premises instead of leaning on the promises of God.

Ron Lavin, Sermons for Sundays After Pentecost (Middle Third): Only the Lonely, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.

Martin Luther
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7.    How Will the Church Be Lighted? 

Several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished. At its grand opening, the people gathered and marvelled at the beauty of the new church. Everything had been thought of and included. It was a masterpiece. 

But then someone said, "Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It is really quite dark in here. How will the church be lighted?" The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship. 

"Each time you are here'" the nobleman said, "the place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here, that place will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God's house will be dark"

That's a poignant story, isn't it? And it makes a very significant point about the importance of our commitment and loyalty to the church. The poet Edward Everett Hale put it like this: 

I am only one,
but still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something I can do. 

What if every member of your church supported the church just as you do? What kind of church would you have? What if every single member served the church, attended the church, loved the church, shared the church, and gave to the church exactly as you do? What kind of church would you be? 

James W. Moore, Some Things Are Too Good Not To Be True, Dimensions: Nashville, 1994. pp. 117-118.
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8.    The Right Stuff 

"The right stuff" describes the qualities of character, competence, and temperament possessed by the early astronauts. They had "the right stuff" for the job and all of us admired them for this. In terms of American history, they are kin to those sturdy folk who first settled this nation, as well as those who later broke out of the confines of the eastern seaboard and courageously headed into the western wilderness. Some years ago there was a book about these latter heroes titled Men to Match My Mountains, telling the story of those who had the tough, "right stuff" to stretch this country from coast to coast. 

Jesus is certainly talking about having "the right stuff" in this passage. He is telling us what it would take then, and what it takes now, to be his follower. There is no soft sentimentalism in these words of his. He says that the disciple must be prepared to part with family, to endure suffering, to face enormity of the task, and to give up everything for the sake of the Kingdom. Here, compressed in these brief verses, is the delineation of the "right stuff" required of anyone who accepts Jesus' offer to follow him.

Wallace H. Kirby, If Only..., CSS Publishing Company
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9.    Are You God's Wife? 

A little boy about 10 years old was standing before a shoe store on the roadway, barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering with cold. A lady approached the boy and said, "My little fellow, why are you looking so earnestly in that window?" "I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes," was the boys reply. The lady took him by the hand and went into the store and asked the clerk to get half a dozen pairs of socks for the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He quickly brought them to her. She took the little guy to the back part of the store and removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with a towel. By this time the clerk returned with the socks. Placing a pair upon the boy's feet, she purchased him a pair of shoes. She tied up the remaining pairs of socks and gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, "No doubt, my little fellow, you feel more comfortable now?" As she turned to go, the astonished lad caught her by the hand, and looking up in her face, said, "Are you God's wife?"

Traditional
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10. Unexpected Cost 

When I was in college I was one of several young men who decided to go to work on the section gang of the railroad during the summer vacation. At that time, there was very little automation on the railroad, and most of the work was done by manual labour. Many people warned us about the job. It was a hot job ... very, very hot. It was difficult. Everything out there was heavy. It was a dirty job, and to some extent, it was dangerous. But the pay was most attractive. None of us could make as much money doing anything else in the summer. So we went to work on the railroad, and only one of the five of us lasted the first week. It was too tough or we were too weak. We thought we were ready for this tough job, but we were not. We had not accurately counted the cost. 

Thomas C. Short, Good News for the Multitudes, CSS Publishing
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The demand for absolute liberty brings men to the depths of slavery.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship
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There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, the mind and the purse. Of these three, it may well be that we moderns find the conversion of the purse the most difficult. 

Martin Luther
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11. The Word Hate 

"If anyone comes after me and does not hate ..." "Hate" is not primarily a feeling word in the Aramaic language, the language Jesus spoke. It is primarily a priority word. It means to abandon or to leave aside; the way a sailor needs to abandon a sinking ship or the way a general needs to leave aside distracting things to win his battle.

John G. Lynch, Troubled Journey, CSS Publishing Company.
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From Father Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1. We will drill you, and drill you, then drill you again:

Each Fall, a lot of young boys aspire to become football players. But only a few will find their way onto the high school or university teams. Every year a coach challenges the hopefuls, explaining the cost involved:  “Your muscles will ache from calisthenics. We'll run you till you think you can run no more. We will drill  you and drill you, then drill you again, every day, after school. There'll be no drugs, no alcohol. Only if you work hard will you make the team. If you don't, you won't.” The personal, economic, and emotional cost of becoming an Olympic or professional athlete is still higher. Young children spend hours a day practicing their skills and submitting themselves to rigorous programs of diet and exercise to become great gymnasts or dancers. Others accept the cost of dedicating years to study and hard work to become outstanding doctors or lawyers or scientists or writers. In today’s gospel, Jesus challenges his would-be followers to calculate the cost in following him, because they will have to leave their families and possessions and accept the pain and suffering involved in following him as true disciples. 
2. Hating father and mother:
 
St. Thomas More was the Lord Chancellor, when Henry VIII was the King of England. More was a successful lawyer, a great linguist and a renowned spiritual and political writer. His book, Utopia, has become a classic. When he refused to take an oath supporting the Act of Succession, which recognized the offspring of Henry and his second wife Anne Boleyn, as the heir to the throne, declaring Henry’s first marriage with Catherine as null and void, and repudiating the Pope, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the year 1534. He honestly could not approve Henry’s second marriage to Anne, and he could not acknowledge the King as the supreme head of the Church of England. His family implored him – for his sake and theirs – to take the oath. More's beloved daughter, Margaret, took an oath to persuade him to do so, in order that the family might visit him in prison.  With More's wife and son-in-law, Margaret tried hard, but Thomas refused. He spent fifteen lonely months imprisoned in the Tower of London – in poor health, isolated from the other prisoners, deprived of his beloved books; not even paper and pen were given to him. Thomas More was convicted of treason, sentenced to death and, on July 6th 1535, he was beheaded. On mounting the scaffold, More proclaimed that he was ‘the king’s good servant but God’s first’. St. Thomas More paid the price for his discipleship by loving God more than his wife, children, nay, even his life. (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies).
3.  “The beauty remains; the pain passes.”
 
During the last several years of his life, the famous French artist, Auguste Renoir, was virtually crippled by arthritis. But he continued to paint every day. His wife Alice had to insert the paintbrush between his fingers in order for him to continue his work. One day his close friend, the famous artist Henri Matisse, watching Auguste paint while he suffered excruciating pain at each colorful stroke, asked him, “Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?” Auguste Renoir’s response was immediate, “The beauty remains; the pain passes.” Passion for his art empowered Renoir to paint until the day he died.  Those who continue to admire the enduring beauty of his smiling portraits, his landscapes, his still-life studies of flowers and fruit will find no trace therein of the pain required to create them. Most will agree that the cost was worth it. In today’s gospel Jesus tells us that following him as a true disciple is costly, but the reward is worth the suffering involved.