Change for Good: “Give Up Your Stuff”
September 4, 2016
Luke 14:25-33 25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Throughout my journey into pastoral ministry, I received advice from a number of people–some solicited, some not so solicited. Whenever anyone found out that I wanted to be a pastor, they’d react in one of a few ways. Some with a pleasant, “well, that’s nice.” But, those were by far the minority. Many just kind of looked at me like, “You must be one of those religious fanatics.” They wouldn’t say that, usually, but you could see it in their eyes. That still happens when you become a pastor. Finally, others, often pastors, would offer advice. I realize now that the best advice came from those that would try to talk you out of it. It cannot be a halfhearted commitment. But, I still remember one piece of advice from a pastor in Alabama. He said, “Just remember, the church is a business and we’re selling the best product ever.”
That’s a pretty common line in the church world, but I took it to heart in that moment. It became a guiding principle for me for years as I journeyed towards the point of becoming a pastor. But, somewhere along the way, I realized that it really wasn’t great advice, mainly because Jesus is just an awful businessman. The motives of Jesus and the motives of a business are just vastly different. He tried not to accumulate money, he told people continually to give their money away, he went out of his way to make people uncomfortable. Anyone in business would tell you that you want to create a great customer experience. That’s how you build up your customer base; make sure that everyone has a great experience and wants to tell their friends.
Here is Jesus with large crowds following him; a huge potential customer base. But, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “If you don’t hate everything else in your life. Everything and everybody that’s important to you, then you just need to turn around and go home.”
That is not a positive customer experience. I mean, you don’t say, “If don’t love your iPhone more than your family, then you can’t have an iPhone.” That’s an awful business strategy. Jesus isn’t a businessman. The church is not a business. Salvation is not a product. Jesus makes customers uncomfortable, he focuses more on the people without money than the people with money, he’s a poor salesman.
And yet, here we are. Jesus says things that make us feel uncomfortable, that make us question the way we live our lives, but here we are, gathering to read his words, to worship him as God. This tells me that in the tension, the discomfort that we feel around this passage, we catch a glimpse of something compelling. Something beautiful and true that speaks to the deepest part of our being. It draws out into the light that spiritual angst that we work so hard to suppress; it draws out that tension between our lived reality and the reality that we know God desires for us to live.
We have this innate desire for simplicity, don’t we? When we slow down enough to take a step back and take a look at all of the clutter in our lives, there’s this part of us that yearns for us to strip it all down and to rediscover the heart of life. To discover what is good, what is important, what brings joy. We know that our attention, our time, and our energy gets wrapped up nonessentials, at the expense of the essentials.
I’m fascinated by the tiny house movement. I have an admiration for someone that downsizes his or her life to the point that they can live in a 200 sq ft home. It’s an admiration from afar. I love my wife, my son, and my dog, but I don’t think I could share 200 sq ft with them. But, I am fascinated by the simplicity of a tiny house.
You may not know this, but the tiny house movement found a lot of its inspiration in the work of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau, of course, was the 19th century intellectual who is best known for his book Walden, in which he describes his experience of living for two years in a cabin that he built in the woods, next to Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. Now, this wasn’t an Into the Wild or Bear Grylls type journey into the wilderness. He wasn’t living in the wilderness, so much as he was living on someone’s rustic vacation property. He stilled enjoyed some of the benefits of civilization. He still saw people on a regular basis. He just moved to a small cabin (or tiny house) outside of town. He lived simply and close to nature.
Anyways, his book Walden is a classic. I reread parts of it this past week while thinking about simple living, and wanted to share a couple of quotes with you.
“I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of.”
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
That’s Thoreau. Here’s Jesus. “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
I want to soften this passage. I want to make it so that all of us, myself included, can leave here this morning and feel like the tension in passage in resolved. I want to explain it away. But you just can’t explain this one away. Jesus didn’t say things intended to make us comfortable with where we are. He said things that provoke us to change. To be different. To be better.
I can say a couple of things, though. As for this business about hating “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself,” it’s important to understand the word translated here as hate as a comparative, rather than isolated. Jesus does this other places, but he’s saying that our love for God should grow to the point that it eclipses love for anything else. Still a huge statement, but I don’t believe that Jesus is advocating hate.
The second thing is this, and here’s the core of it. I believe there’s a connection between simplification and sanctification. As a part of our walk with Christ, the Holy Spirit seeks to sanctify us, to make us more holy, more like Christ. I believe that simplification plays a role in this. If we are to become like Christ, then our attachment to things that are not things that God cares about must decrease. Our mind, our desires must become like those of Christ. Love, humility, joy--as those things grow, there’s less space for the emotional and physical clutter in our lives. And, because sanctification is a process, simplification is a process.
I can’t soften this passage. The tension it creates in our lives is a good tension. We need to wrestle with and reduce the clutter in our lives. And, this month, as we talk all about change, we want to give you practical ways that you can make a change for good. One of those, as we talk about decluttering, is that we will have a Goodwill trailer in our parking lot for the rest of the month. Take some time over the coming weeks to declutter in your life, bring that nonessential stuff here, and donate it so that it can be used for the good of others.
That desire for simplicity that we have? I believe that it is linked to a deep, maybe even unacknowledged desire for sanctification. We want to be what we were created to be. The image of God. Whole. For the love, humility, and joy of Christ defining our lives. So, may we wrestle with these difficult words and move towards greater simplicity and greater sanctity.
Discussion Guide for September 4: Give Up Your Stuff
- Share your initial thoughts on the tensions that this passage creates.
- Show how accumulation of stuff can actually be unhealthy for us.
- Share your thoughts on the connection between implication and sanctification (being made holy or more like Christ).
- Share specific steps that you would like to take to simplify in your life.