Jesus wants all of you and all of everyone who wishes to follow him. Doesn’t that seem like a high price to pay?
There it is, right at the end of the gospel text, the provocation of all provocations. It’s a flashing neon sign, too in-your-face to avoid: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Really, Jesus? All our possessions?
There are exclusive clubs in this world. Certain country clubs come to mind, demanding six-figure initiation fees. Their well-heeled members can presumably afford it. But what club demands everything of its members? The church of Jesus Christ.
All of Me
There’s an old song, now a jazz standard, that trades on this sort of all-or-nothing commitment. Numerous artists have recorded it, notably the legendary Billie Holiday.
It lent its title to a 1984 movie starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. In that comedy, through some strange Tibetan magic, the soul of a dying woman is transplanted into the body of a living man. Each one controls half of Steve Martin’s body, which makes for some marvelous physical comedy. Throughout the movie, the two personalities silently converse with each other, to great comic effect.
The movie’s theme is the toe-tapping jazz standard. Here are some of the words to “All of Me”:
All of me
Why not take all of me
Can’t you see
I’m no good without you
Take my lips
I want to lose them
Take my arms
I’ll never use them …
Hardly sounds like a healthy relationship, does it? These are the desperate words of a spurned and still-besotted lover, willing to sacrifice everything just to regain the object of her devotion. The character singing the song seems a pathetic case: the opposite of Jesus’ call for clear-eyed intentionality.
But what is our Lord asking of us, as his disciples? We’ve all heard of the ancient biblical standard of tithing — giving 10% of earnings to God’s work. Is Jesus really upping the demand by a whopping 90% so that 100% is now God’s portion?
Dare We Count the Cost?
But that’s only the half of it. The first part of this passage lays out stern demands that aren’t financial at all.
For example, there’s this line: “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.” That sounds pretty harsh. Is Jesus really saying we have to hate and reject members of our own family?
And what’s this about hating life itself? Do Christian disciples need to walk around with a death wish? Are we the spiritual equivalent of suicide bombers?
Who imagined that, in walking through the doors of this perfectly respectable-looking church, we could be putting at risk all we hold dear?
But that’s still not all. Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Think of every gruesome Good Friday sermon you’ve ever heard — the nails, the spear, the crown of thorns, the blood, the labored breathing. Is Jesus really saying such torture is mandatory?
It’s pretty clear, from what follows, that Jesus wants to make sure his disciples know exactly what they’re getting into. He wants them to count the cost.
Jesus tells of a person who sets out to build a tower, but without any planning. This dreamer gets ahold of some stones and starts setting them into place. Row upon row, the foundation of the tower takes shape, and the walls start to rise. But then the project comes to a crashing halt.
There’s a problem. The builder has run out of cash.
So, there the foundation sits — month after month, year after year. There’s no way to move forward, and moving backwards isn’t an option, either, because even demolition costs money.
What did the builder have in mind the day he started his work? Jesus doesn’t tell us. But he does point out that the half-built tower has become a monument only to the man’s foolishness.
On a hillside above the picturesque seaside town of Oban, Scotland, sits a brooding, gray granite structure known as McCaig’s Tower. It has an alternate name: McCaig’s Folly. Passengers waiting to board the ferry to the sacred Isle of Iona can look back over their shoulders and see this circular stone wall looming over them. It vaguely resembles the ancient Roman Colosseum, but through its gaping windows you can see nothing but sky. It’s nothing but a shell.
This massive stone monument was never finished. John Stuart McCaig, a wealthy banker, was the man who conceived the project.
You do have to say this, on old McCaig’s behalf: he did count the cost before the first stone was laid. The tower was supposed to cost 5,000 pounds sterling. Taking inflation and currency-exchange rates into account, that’s nearly $1 million in today’s money.
Work began in 1897 and continued until 1902, when Mr. McCaig dropped dead of a heart attack. Part of his purpose had been to give off-season work to local stonemasons. The project surely fulfilled that purpose for as long as it lasted. But — even though McCaig had made provision in his will for the tower to be completed — his heirs were not of the same mind. They saw it as a costly boondoggle. They went to court and successfully challenged the old man’s will. Work ground to a halt, and to this day, McCaig’s Folly stands as a monument to a dream never realized.
Mr. McCaig had grand visions for his tower. Conceived as a lasting monument to his family, it was to include a museum and art gallery: a real showplace for the little town of Oban. A central tower would display heroic statues of McCaig himself, his siblings and their parents.1
But that’s not how people remember it today. They don’t remember the dream — only the disappointing reality. When tourists ask what’s that up on the hillside, the locals gesture at the gaping windows and lack of a roof. They sigh, and reply, “That’s McCaig’s Folly.”
What do you suppose those we leave behind will say of our Christian lives, after we’ve gone on to our reward? Will they say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Or will they sigh and say, “What a folly!”?
Saving Us from Ourselves
Jesus wants to save us, to be sure. That’s what he’s all about, and why we call him “Savior.” It turns out, what he most wants to save us from is ourselves.
In studying this passage, it’s wise not to get hung up on the details. Jesus’ words about giving up all our possessions are likely a bit of hyperbole, an extreme statement to get our attention.
Elsewhere, in the famous “Lilies of the Field” portion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34), Jesus commends faithful disciples who live as carefree as birds, “who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns.” These winged creatures depend on God to feed them. Looking at it another way, we’re meant to live like wild lilies. Wildflowers spend their whole lives looking to their Creator for the rain and sunshine they need to flourish. Don’t live your lives consumed by worry, Jesus reminds us. Don’t worry about what you eat, or drink, or wear: for your Heavenly Provider knows you need all these things.
Jesus’ statement here in Luke 14 sounds a lot more abrupt — even harsh. It makes it sound like purging all our possessions is the first step towards discipleship. The Lord’s not speaking here as an overachieving tax collector, bound and determined to extract every last shekel. (In fact — as you may recall — Jesus doesn’t have a lot of kind things to say about tax collectors of his day, whom he views as practitioners of government-sanctioned thievery.)
Yet, what Jesus does want from us is that we free ourselves of worry — financial and otherwise. He knows how debilitating that slow drip, drip, drip of anxiety can be, over time.
The late preacher William Sloane Coffin famously taught: “There are two ways to be rich: one is to have lots of money and the other is to have few needs.”2 Those who are rich in the manner of lilies of the field keep their needs under control.
For too many of us, our perceived needs continue to grow exponentially throughout life. Our threshold of what constitutes “enough” is ever-expanding. It’s a sort of soul inflation, and for many consumers in our culture, it’s just as much a bane of daily existence. Those who are truly rich towards God know how to say no to advertising. They don’t reckon those upwardly mobile neighbors, the Joneses, to be people they need to keep up with. When the barn is full, they seldom feel the urge to go out and build a bigger one. To live any other way would truly be folly.
The Worst Stump Speech Ever Made
Commenting on this passage, Bible scholar N.T. Wright poses the hypothetical situation of a politician making a stump speech. This hopeful office-seeker calls to the crowd, “Vote for me, and you'll lose your homes and families. You’ll be voting for higher taxes and lower wages. You’ll give up everything for me.”
How does that sound to you, as a campaign pitch? How could such a clueless politician ever expect to win a single vote?
But try changing the scenario, Wright says. What if the speaker’s not a politician hustling votes, but the leader of a mountain-climbing expedition asking for volunteers? The task before this team of climbers is a risky trek to an isolated village, bringing food to the starving inhabitants.
“The dangers are real,” the leader warns. “We may not make it back alive. But people are starving, so somebody has to do it. So, who’s with me?”
Wright says it pays to read these harsh-sounding words of Jesus as more like the second scenario. Jesus isn’t looking for fans, here. He’s recruiting disciples to do important and necessary work. There’s a huge difference.3
The Tower and the Battle
Wright goes on to suggest that the two images Jesus uses as examples of counting the cost — the tower and the battle — have real-life relevance to things going on in his own time.
The tower, he suggests, could refer to Herod the Great’s ambitious project of constructing a new temple in Jerusalem. That massive public-works project — carried on in Jesus’ own time by Herod the Great’s successor — had been going on for longer than Jesus or his disciples had been alive, and there was no end in sight.
Did Herod truly count the cost before undertaking that work? An untold amount of tax money had already been extorted from the people, and there was no end in sight for that, either. In Luke 21:6, Jesus predicts that one day this magnificent new temple will come tumbling down, with not one stone remaining upon another. That, indeed, did happen eventually, as the Romans sacked Jerusalem in the year 70.
Along with the tower, there is the battle. We haven’t spoken yet about Jesus’ example of a king who sets out to wage war against another king but fails to conduct a roll call of the number of soldiers at his disposal. How many swordsmen and spearmen and archers can he command, compared to the troops of his opponent? Those are rather important numbers to know.4
No doubt, there were some among Jesus’ band of followers who were politically inclined, eager for the people of Judea to take up arms against their Roman oppressors. What a folly it would be for that tiny nation to mount an armed insurrection against the mightiest and most numerous army in the world!
That, in fact, is what happened in the year 70 — long after Jesus’ death and resurrection — as the Jewish people rose up against their oppressors. The Romans would utterly crush the rebel force. More than that, they reduced Jerusalem to rubble, and Herod’s temple with it. Jesus’ words proved to be all too prescient. As the Jewish historian Josephus described it, the streets of Jerusalem literally ran red with blood, as thousands of men, woman and children were put to the sword.
Costing Not Less Than Everything
In his book, Four Quartets, the poet T.S. Eliot predicts that, at the end of our spiritual journey, there will come a day when:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
A little later Eliot goes on, in his apocalyptic vision:
“Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)”
Once we achieve that God-given simplicity, Eliot channels well-known words of Julian of Norwich. He assures us:
“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.5”
Truly, the gift of ourselves to Jesus — “All of me: why not take all of me?” — costs “not less than everything.” Jesus does want all of me — and you, and everyone else who aspires to follow him. It seems, at first glance, a fearfully high price to pay, doesn’t it?
Yet, consider what Christ offers in return. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well. Amen and amen.
—Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
Click here to download a ZIP file of the September-October 2022 issue as Word Docs.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
God as Potter. This sermon is best delivered as a conversation about the actual process of throwing a pot. Find a local potter who would be willing to work with you in this setting. Arrange for the potter’s wheel to be brought to your worship area or show a video of the potter at work. Work with the potter ahead of time and go through the process together. The clay must be kneaded and wedged before it is usable for throwing. Water is applied. The clay must be centered on the wheel. Sometimes if off-center, the vessel will wobble and fly off the table or collapse. Discuss how a potter might take a pot in the greenware stage and, noticing a flaw, turn the pot back into pliable clay and start the process over again, perhaps making an even more beautiful or useful pot. This could be a visual and conversational sermon in which the prophet’s message comes alive.
What Does the Text Say?
The prophetic word that came to Jeremiah in today’s reading is revelation, but it was neither vision nor audition. It was a mundane illustration derived from everyday life. It was the example of the potter.
The passage is introduced with an expression found only in the book of Jeremiah: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord” (v. 1; see also 7:1; 11:1; 21:1; etc.). The ordinary expression for prophetic revelation is “the word of the Lord came to …” (e.g., Genesis 15:1, 4; 1 Samuel 15:10; Isaiah 38:4; etc.). In the majority of cases in other prophetic writings, the phrase introduces poetic oracles; in Jeremiah, the expression introduces prose narrative.
Jeremiah is instructed to go down to the potter’s house to receive further “words” from the Lord (v. 2). This is the only reference in the OT to an actual ceramic shop; the image of the potter is ordinarily a poetic figure for the divine (as it is here, v. 11, with the addition of the actual potter).
Jeremiah observes that the potter reworks flawed vessels into other vessels, “as seemed good to him” (v. 4), which is the lesson about the divine that the prophet is to draw from the potter. Just as the chosen people of Israel and Judah (both kingdoms are mentioned in this oracle of judgment, vv. 6, 11) were originally fashioned into a nation by the Lord’s gracious shaping, so now, flawed by their own unrighteousness, they remain under the divine will to be fashioned, as seems good to the Lord, into another vessel.
The bulk of the oracle is concerned with the mutability of the divine will. Although divine changelessness can be found in the OT (e.g., Psalm 110:4; Malachi 3:6), it isn’t the dominant image of God. The God of the OT is highly interactive with history, both taking the initiative in human affairs and responding, as here, to human actions.
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
How We’re Made. If you didn’t reference the TV show How It’s Made on Mother’s Day, here’s an opportunity to do so. How It’s Made has been broadcast in more than 30 countries over the years. Each episode teaches people around the globe a very simple lesson: Even the most overlooked of items is intricately and wonderfully made. And when you know how much effort goes into making something, you’re able to appreciate it that much more. In this case, God is worshiped as someone who makes things, worlds and humans — and that knowledge provokes wonder and awe. The preaching point, however, comes in the closing verses. Who is the best person to fix something? The person who created the object in the first place. Thus, God, as our Creator, is the one eminently “qualified” to search us, test us and lead us. God knows what makes us tick.
What Does the Text Say?
David’s God amazes and frightens him. David is astounded by how thoroughly and intimately the Lord knows him. God’s searching is an investigatory probing; he knows David’s everyday activities and innermost being. Even so, this same God who had fashioned David and now holds him accountable also cares deeply for David. In verse 23a, David invites God to do what God already has been doing all of David’s life: to search and know his heart, and to lead him. David erupts in poetic majesty in verses 13-18, marveling at the God who personally had fashioned /knitted/woven him in his mother’s womb. And David praises God, acknowledging that he was “fearfully [awesomely] and wonderfully made.” God knew David even before he was born; sometimes God even calls a person before birth (Jeremiah 1:5; Isaiah 49:1; Galatians 1:15). Similarly, God shapes us after the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Verse 16b: “Formed” is used for a potter who is shaping clay. This verse may puzzle the reader, but just because God has an advance “record” of yet-to-happen days doesn’t mean they’re arbitrarily fixed. In many Bible passages, God tells nations and people to make wise choices; God knows ahead what the choices (and their consequences) will be, but they are genuine choices. David ends this section of the psalm with exuberant praise. He marvels at the Lord’s weighty (unfathomable) thoughts (see Isaiah 55:8-9). In all of life, David is now as present with God as God is with David. The Bible’s central affirmation is “God is with us.” Its corollary is “We are with God.”
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
The “Do Even More” Church. The central issue in this text is the slave’s relationship to his master. Slavery no longer exists in this country, but does racism still exist? Do the effects of slavery persist? Certainly. So how do you preach Philemon? One approach is to describe the “Do Even More” church. Discuss the mission of the church as you understand it. Then cogitate on what the church could do “even more,” to use Paul’s words. Of course, this principle applies to us as people, too. Sure, we live nice, good, upright lives from Monday to Saturday, but how could we be “Do Even More” Christians? Paul urges Philemon to “do even more” than what he’s asking. Can we do more?
What Does the Text Say?
Paul wrote the book of Philemon to a slave-owner, Philemon, about the issue of a slave. The slave, Onesimus, apparently ran away from Philemon, met up with Paul and became a Christian. Paul has apparently written this letter for Onesimus to carry as he returns to his old master. Scholars disagree as to whether Onesimus was truly a runaway slave (intent on never going back) or merely ran to Paul (whom he previously knew) to petition for intervention regarding unfair treatment. Whichever the case, Paul strongly commends Onesimus and seeks to restore him to Philemon.
A slave in the ancient world was the property of his or her master. Although there were laws theoretically safeguarding gross mistreatment of a slave, masters had almost complete control over their actions toward their property. Paul had no legal right to intervene and, therefore, his letter needed to take the tone of friendly advice (e.g., “receive him as [you would] me,” v. 17), requesting a favor (vv. 13-14) or using his authority to cheerfully manipulate Philemon (vv. 19, 21). Where Philemon had the right to punish (in the case of runaways up to death), Paul says that Onesimus, once “useless” to Philemon, is now “useful” to both Paul and Philemon (v. 11). This is a clever play on words, as “Onesimus” means “profitable/useful.”
Paul’s exact goal is unclear. At times, it appears that Paul wants Philemon to give Onesimus to Paul (vv. 13-14). At other times it appears that Paul wants Philemon to free Onesimus (vv. 16-17). However, Paul never says either of these things outright, once again trusting Philemon to “do even more than” he asks (v. 21). But the letter, as usual, holds central the idea that in Christ, there is neither slave nor free, even if these categories exist in the world.
Help us, O God, for we have become sickened by the “ladder-climbing virus” that has infected our minds and spirits, our homes and our holy sanctuaries. By the touch of your Spirit, make us immune to this “success-excess” disease running rabid among us. Help us hold fast to you, O Lord, and serve you by attending to the needs of others in a world dying for your touch. Empower us, Holy Spirit, to discern the difference between self-serving motives hidden within good intentions and true sacrifice that entails daily dying to self. In the name of Jesus, with whom we seek to be as one. Amen.
Leader: Lord God, you are indeed my rock and my fortress;
People: For your name’s sake lead me and guide me.
Leader: Take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
People: Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
—Based on Psalm 31:3-5
We go out as disciples of Jesus Christ, marked by his love. When we share that love, we reveal God. May the Spirit continue to stir your heart, moving you to new acts of love every day, that all may know the good news of God’s love alive today!
Make Me a Captive, Lord
Take Up Thy Cross, the Savior Said
Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone
Worship and Praise*
Running to the Light (Lake)
I Surrender (Hillsong)
Have My Heart (Maverick City Music)
*For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on Luke 14:25-33
One of the most important “characters” in the gospel of Luke is the crowd that often throngs around Jesus when he preaches, teaches and heals. The responses of the crowds early in Jesus’ ministry are almost exclusively positive (e.g., 4:15; 5:26; 7:16; 8:40; 9:11), but as Jesus’ fateful trip to Jerusalem for Passover draws nearer, their affections begin to wane (e.g., 11:14-16; 11:53-54). The fickleness of the crowds becomes an important theme in what scholars call the “travel narrative” of Luke 9:51-19:27, so-called because it is a coherent series of episodes that occur as Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem.
As the passage opens, we are told that “large crowds” are traveling along with Jesus on the road (14:25). Rather abruptly, Jesus turns and addresses them. The content of his impromptu speech (14:26-33) pertains to the difficulties inherent in being one of his followers. His initial statement is provocative and harsh; Jesus claims that only the person who hates the members of his family as well as his/her own life is eligible to become a “disciple” of Jesus (14:26; cf. the similar statement in Matthew 10:37). This radical criterion of allegiance seems to echo the kind of hyperbole about loyalty found in some Old Testament traditions. For instance, in Exodus 32:25-29, Moses commands the Levites to kill their family and friends because of their idolatrous worship of the golden calf (the fierce loyalty of the Levites is recalled in Deuteronomy 33:9). Jesus makes similar demands of would-be disciples in Luke 9:59-60; he also relativizes the importance of family ties in 8:19-21.
Parallel to the statement about putting discipleship above family is the assertion that discipleship entails carrying one’s cross (14:27; cf. Matthew 10:38). This condition of discipleship is something like a shorthand version of the fuller expression of this idea by Jesus found in all three synoptic gospels (Luke 9:23-27; Matthew 16:24-28; and Mark 8:34–9:1). To equate discipleship with carrying a cross clearly communicates that there is a potential for persecution and even death involved in following Jesus.
Jesus moves on to provide two brief, pithy anecdotes that serve as analogies for the necessity of seriously considering the weighty implications of becoming one of his disciples. The first of these anecdotes employs a building metaphor. Not thinking through the costs of discipleship, says Jesus, is like not being able to complete the erection of a tower because one did not first figure out what sort of resources would be required to finish the job (14:28-29). The result of such a lack of foresight is public ridicule (14:30).
The second anecdote draws on the imagery of warfare. If a certain king with 10,000 men decides he cannot win a war against a king with 20,000 men, Jesus advises that the smart thing to do is sue for peace (14:31-32). With the defeat of the Jewish rebels in Jerusalem by the larger Roman army fresh in the recent past (the year 70; Luke’s gospel was probably written between 75 and 90), the wisdom of such pragmatism was no doubt self-evident.
In each of these two cases, discipleship is compared to a difficult task that is better left undone than attempted and failed. Thus, Jesus makes it clear that following him is not a recommended option for the faint of heart (or the “sunshine patriot,” as Thomas Paine might have put it).
Jesus rounds out his lesson on discipleship with a summary statement about the giving up of possessions as a prerequisite for discipleship (14:33). Of all the gospel writers, Luke is the one who is most concerned about issues related to wealth and poverty. For example, in his “sermon on the plain,” Luke’s version of the Beatitudes has a material dimension that Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes lacks (e.g., Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor”; cf. Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”). Luke alone gives us the parable of the rich fool as well as the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, both of which highlight the ultimate worthlessness of wealth. More specifically, giving up and sharing possessions is a prominent theme in Luke. Jesus tells the disciples to sell their possessions and give alms (12:33; he gives the same charge to the rich young man who approaches him [18:22]). In Luke’s sequel to the gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, the fledgling Christian community in Jerusalem is portrayed as holding their possessions in common (e.g., Acts 2:44-45; for an excellent treatment of wealth and poverty in Luke and Acts, see Luke Timothy Johnson’s Sharing Possessions: Mandate and Symbol of Faith [Fortress Press, 1981]).
Appended to these sayings on the costs of following Jesus is a concluding metaphor about salt that goes bad (14:34-35). Such salt is unlikely to regain its taste, according to Jesus; the only thing one can do is throw it away. It isn’t immediately clear how these verses relate to the reflections on discipleship that precede it. The meaning is most likely linked to the themes of verses 28-32; just as salt that has gone bad is no longer good for anything, a person who starts out on the path of discipleship is useless if they do not persevere in the path. It is better not to commit to following Jesus if one is unprepared to stick it out.
This whole discussion of the difficulties of discipleship must be read in light of Jesus’ impending suffering and death. Separated from this fact, the statements of Jesus about the serious nature of becoming one of his followers appear draconian and could well seem arrogant. However, because Luke makes it clear that Jesus himself is aware of his fate and yet proceeds resolutely to Jerusalem, his warnings about discipleship take on a whole new meaning. Jesus is advising that those who set out on the potentially dangerous journey of discipleship commit themselves as fully as he has done in light of his own path to the cross.
When we decide to follow Jesus, he expects us to dedicate our whole selves to him. But he’s offering us plenty in return.
The late Christopher Reeve — once a true Hollywood heartthrob — was famous for playing the role of Superman. But then, during a 1995 equestrian competition, he was thrown from his horse, breaking his neck. He was paralyzed from the neck down. The hardest days for Reeve and his wife Dana were those just after his accident, as they were coming to terms with the full extent of his disability.
Of that period, he later wrote: “It was only after the doctors left that I began to absorb what they had told me: This is a paralyzing injury. Dana came into the room. We made eye contact. I mouthed my first lucid words to her: ‘Maybe we should let me go.’ She said, ‘I am only going to say this once: I will support whatever you want to do, because this is your life and your decision. But I want you to know that I’ll be with you for the long haul, no matter what.’ Then she added the words that saved my life: ‘You’re still you. And I love you.’ If she had looked away or paused or hesitated even slightly, or if I had felt there was a sense of her being noble, or fulfilling some obligation to me, I don’t know if I could have pulled through. Because it had dawned on me that I had ruined my life and everybody else’s. But what Dana said made living seem possible, because I felt the depth of her love and commitment.”
—Christopher Reeve, Still Me (Ballantine, 1999).
[Just four months before his murder, Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, in which he reflected upon the impact of his life …]
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention I have a Nobel Peace Prize — that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards — that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen)
—Martin Luther King Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” in A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran, Audio CD, 2007.
The Church of Apathy
Join our Church of Apathy when you get good and ready, or around to it. This is the official church for those who don’t wish to identify with a specific religion and for those who feel that atheism and agnosticism are just too much work. Others who believe that their religion solves all their problems need not apply.
We are a relatively new religion with new attitudes. We are Apathists. We seek no converts. We distribute no pamphlets. We ring no doorbells.
The Church of Apathy was thought about by its Founders for several years before they got around to organizing. They decided not to become tax exempt, nor claim any guidance from any divine source.
Eventually they decided to look around for a suitable church site, but that effort proved to be too much trouble. And besides, they really didn’t care where they met anyway. The Founders thought they should probably have a clergy person, but so far, all who have applied have been rejected.
We Apathists encourage those who share our deeply rooted apathy to think about joining our church as non-active members. We seek no donations nor offerings. You keep your money; we’ll keep ours. As we have no mother church, postal address, telephone number nor website, we are sometimes difficult to locate. However, if you have faith, and are not in any big rush to join our Church of Apathy, you are the type of person who could benefit by being an Apathist.
We are happy to say that in all the years of our existence, not one of our members has been called “a dirty Apathist” to their face. As far as we know, none of our faithful have been healed, saved or converted. Someday we would like to sponsor our own TV ministry, but we haven’t figured out yet what to preach about. We strongly believe that one should not take YES for an answer. But if they do, they do.
We do have a motto: “Don’t bother us, and we won’t bother you.”
—Adapted from an anonymous item circulating on the Internet.
There is a type of religious questioner, as we see from the case of Nicodemus, who is undoubtedly not serious, who desires only to initiate great discussions of philosophical and religious themes. … Yet in no circumstances will the disputant commit himself. He will not decide. He is not willing to be jolted by Jesus from his course. What he says will all be on the non-binding level of the intellect. It must never take on the character of ultimate decision.
We can only note that Jesus never answers this kind of person. He instructs only those who are ready to have ultimate dealings with God. He withholds Himself from mere onlookers or spectators.
Are you prepared ultimately, that is, if you see that I am the Son of God, to change and renew your whole life? Are you prepared seriously and publicly to make your confession before me even though it is unpopular? … If so, you will know who I am — but only so! Mere curiosity about Jesus of Nazareth, or pretence of seeking God, is not enough. Only those who have a right attitude, namely, the attitude of obedience to Christ, can see Him in true perspective.
—Helmut Thielicke, The Silence of God (Eerdmans, 1963), 46-48.
A rabbi and a Roman Catholic priest found themselves sitting next to each other at a community dinner. The plates the server brought them both included a slab of ham.
Rather than protesting, the rabbi proceeded to eat around his slice of ham. Noticing this, the priest leaned over and said to his friend, “Rabbi Cohen, you and I both know the dietary laws of the Hebrew scriptures were developed in a simpler time. Lack of refrigeration and poor sanitary practices meant that you could get trichinosis from eating pork. Our ancestors were wise in banning pork, but in the modern world, eating it is no longer dangerous. So, tell me: when will you sample your first mouthful of ham?”
The rabbi paused briefly and then responded: “At your wedding, Father Maguire, at your wedding.”
Gather the children around a pile of building blocks. Tell them that you are planning to build a tower and get their help in starting the construction project. Begin to build the tower, but then discover that you have run out of blocks before finishing. Ask the children if the tower is any good when it is only a few blocks high. Find out what you could have done to make sure the tower was completed — maybe planning better or making sure you had enough blocks to complete the job. Let them know that the same is true in the Christian life. We need to make sure we have what we need to get the job done as followers of Jesus. Suggest that we have to “carry the cross” to be disciples, which means that we have to be willing to sacrifice; we have to “estimate the cost,” which means that we have to plan our lives so that we give Jesus what he wants from us; and we have to be willing to “give up all [our] possessions,” which means that we have to dedicate everything to Christian living (Luke 14:27-33). Ask the children to tell you what they are willing to sacrifice to be disciples of Jesus. Find out if this is an easy sacrifice to make. Stress that this kind of living isn’t easy, but it leads to a life that is strong, satisfying and even more impressive than a fully completed tower.
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