This past week my family and I made the journey to Terrace for some back to school shopping. As we make the turn to head inland from Port Edward and make our way along the Skeena River, we pass a sign that asks drivers, “Check your gas, next gas 134 km away”. It is a beautiful drive and one that I have made many times over. But each time one makes it, there is a little sign that asks you to consider whether or not you have enough fuel on board to make it to your destination. Will you make it up the hill and make it home?
The people who followed Jesus out of that house and onto the road in the Gospel (Luke 14.25-35) must have been akin to the throngs that welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. And as he had challenged the Pharisees and the lawyers of the Law inside now he challenges those who go with him towards the city, calling on them to seriously and carefully consider whether or not they can make this journey. It is as if Jesus asks the people who are following him, “Why do you choose to follow me? You need to go home, sit down and figure out if you can do this, then come follow me.” This reminds me of the song, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give...”
And this is important I think: Jesus is not advocating hating family, friends, possessions and even your own life. Jesus is asking for people to be utterly committed to him and to the kingdom. It is a divine demand to choose to make Jesus the centre of your life and thus the reason for which we do things. Our choices and our actions must be guided by Christ and his actions, so much so that it is part of our own person and our own nature. All the things that we have in our lives must be come subservient to what Christ wants and what Christ would have us do. Remember that serving God is perfect freedom.
So we, each of us and all of us have a choice to make: Will we bear our cross today? And please understand that this is not just accepting an idea that we need to bear with Christ, come what may. It is not an ideal that we must strive to in daily life. We must pick up the pain, the suffering, our individual crosses and walk with Christ or of necessary, chase him up the hill, dragging our crosses along. We do this not just as individuals but as a community. The implication of not doing this is simple: if we cannot let go, then we will not follow. We cannot be followers of Christ and do so on our own terms. There will be too many entanglements that will keep us from being faithful followers and will at some point cause us to reject the invitation.
Into all of this, is the issue of the follower and of the community of Christ keeping their saltiness. Keeping salt in one’s life makes a person wise. Becoming insipid make one foolish and impure. Therefore we are encouraged to guard our salty nature and stay salty. Salt in the ancient world had impurities which made it susceptible to becoming insipid. The picture that Jesus draws is that those who don’t protect their salt become insipid. Thus like the salt that has been allowed to be taken over by its impurities, it becomes worthless – not able to fertilize the field, not able to help the manure pile and so it is simply cast out as useless and irrelevant.
How does this apply to us? Consider well, the words of Jesus to the Church at Laodicea in Revelation:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3.13-22 NIV)
So we are to count the costs so that we can finish the work that we have started and we are to guard our saltiness so that we remain wise in the ways in which we walk and serve. And at the same time we need to take care that we do not confuse position or choices with mission, for when we do, we loose both.
We are we ready to have friends in low places? Are we ready to deny ourselves and take up our crosses with Christ and follow him up the hill? Are we at least ready to heat up or cool off? God calls his people to the hardest places and spaces on the battlefield. We are all on temporary assignment. Where we were a year ago is not where we are now and where we are now is not where we will be a year from now. We will be called away from high positions at tables from parties and celebrations. We will be called from the hospitals, the battlefields and other places of pain, suffering and death. Count the cost, check your fuel because home, it is still a hike from here.