Consuming Christianity

Luke 14:25-33                                     September 5, 2010
We are excellent consumers.
Why shouldn’t we be?  After all, we are in the habit of making efficient, thrifty decisions every day as we pick and choose what we want.  Everything from toothpaste to health care is a matter of private, personal choice.
We’ve learned from an early age that the customer is always right–and in the free market, that means if businesses don’t cater to that reality, they fold up and go home.
That mindset isn’t just for business anymore.  It’s  just as true in the North American church.
If churches don’t satisfy their consumers, they will lose people, funding, and eventually they rot from the inside out.
The difference is, in church we substitute religious language.  In church, it’s easier to hide our consumer mentality with spiritual speech.
So instead of just saying “you’re not giving me good service, so I’m going somewhere else”, we might say something about the “spirit leading us elsewhere”.
See, in the consumer-driven world we inhabit, we choose where our dollars go, we choose where our feet take us, and we choose what cause we will or won’t commit to.
That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how we think it will always be.
We are consumers–and in our culture the consumer is king.
It’s becoming true in health care, it’s true in business, and it’s true in church.
Or is it?

We are excellent consumers.  I’m not arguing that.
It’s just that what we consume isn’t always what we think it is.
The next time you go to the grocery store, or even if you just go home and look at your pantry, look at the labels you find.  I’ll bet you’ll find corn syrup on the list a lot more often than you might think.
You thought you were buying catsup—you’re actually buying some corn syrup.
You thought you were buying cereal—but I bet there’s corn syrup in it.
I saw a honey jar the other day at Rodhe’s that was cheaper than the rest of the honey—it was cheaper because it wasn’t really honey, it was honey-flavored corn syrup!
You can find corn syrup in everything from bread to lunch meat—did you know that?
And yet we maintain the delusion that we’re choosing what we buy!

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.  I mean, corn syrup probably isn’t the healthiest thing to eat, but apparently it’s at least safe enough to eat!
Corn syrup has made mass production of food pretty convenient, and pretty cheap.
And since most of America’s consumers will trade health for convenience any day, it shows up just about everywhere!
It would take a lot of effort to abstain from corn syrup.
Christine and I have been trying to cut back on it a little bit…(okay, it’s more Christine than me)—so we’ve been paying more attention to the labels (or at least Christine has been).
That’s how I know there’s corn syrup in just about everything you buy!
But I’ll be honest and say I’m not that concerned about eating corn syrup.
After all, how could I keep my figure if I tried to avoid it?!  🙂
I’m actually much more concerned about it’s religious equivalent this morning.
See, at some point, food manufacturers learned that corn syrup is cheaper than sugar, it’s just as sweet, and extends shelf life.
So they started adding it to everything.
You could say they stopped making real food, and started selling sticky, sweet, corn syrup in a thousand different ways.  It’s one thing to do that with food, but doing it with Christianity is a whole lot harder for me to swallow!
We consume it every day, for the most part without even raising an eyebrow.
That’s the world we live in.
Everything from toothpaste to religion is just a matter of personal choice.  The cheaper and the sweeter you can make something, the better the chances are that it will sell!
That’s how marketing became such a driving force in today’s economy.
After all, when the consumer is king, convenience, marketing, and efficiency become the next in line.
So we pat ourselves on the back when we roll out of bed and come to church, for we have become excellent, discerning, and efficient consumers of corn-syrup Christianity.
But here’s the thing—Jesus doesn’t care about how much Christianity you consume.
When you pull Christianity off the shelf, the passage you heard this morning ought to be one of the first ingredients you see!
If it’s not, look for corn syrup–niceties and gimmicks to get you in the door.
Jesus says 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.
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
He goes on later with a third statement, saying None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
These aren’t corn syrup words.  I sometimes wonder if anyone really understands what Jesus is about–see, this passage makes it clear that He isn’t interested in brand recognition or marketing himself to a wide audience.
He’s not interested in attracting–or keeping–a whole bunch of followers who will hang on his every word.
What he’s interested in are disciples.
Not just followers–but disciples.
Jesus had plenty of followers.  There were large crowds following him.
Can you imagine the hot, sweaty crowds pressing in to hear him or just to catch a glimpse of him?
I wonder if it was something like the way many Christians today hang on the words of radio preachers like Chuck Swindoll or James Dobson—or for the younger generation it might be people like Rob Bell or Francis Chan, or Beth Moore.
These people have followers–lots of followers.  Maybe you’re a follower of one of these people.
For example, you might tune in when you know Jim Dobson is on the radio.
Or you might buy books or DVDs by Rob Bell or Beth Moore.
You can tell you’re a follower by what you have on your bookshelf, or in your vehicle, or around your TV where your videos or DVDs are.  You can tell you’re a follower, because followers consume what they follow.
I’m not knocking it–we need followers.
Big-name Christians make some good money every day from good, honest consumers of Christianity.
It’s not bad—Christine and I make a living from good, honest, consumers of Christianity too!
Christine and I need at least a few followers in order to have a job!
But Jesus doesn’t need any more followers!!
What Jesus needs are disciples! It was true then, and it’s just as true now.
So what’s the difference between followers and disciples?
Well, I’ll suggest there are some pretty important differences.
Followers are here today and can be gone tomorrow.
They consume what they follow, even if it’s a lot of corn syrup.
There are probably some Buckeye fans here this morning.
You’ve probably purchased tickets to a game, or you subscribe to ESPN, or you find other ways to consume Ohio State athletics.
I don’t follow sports that much, but now and then I find myself following authors.
I read a book that’s really good, so I see what else the author has written to see if I like their other stuff.  I consume their books.
Some of us might follow politics or news.  That means we consume newspapers or websites, or radio programs that fill us in on the details of what’s happening around the world.
Discipleship, on the other hand, is a world away from all that.
See, the difference between followers and disciples is that Followers consume what they follow…while disciples are consumed by what they follow!
The disciples literally left everything behind in order to be disciples.
They followed Jesus, it’s true—but they followed him to their death!
There is nothing more consuming than the thing that takes you to your death!
I think that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about hating your family and all that.
It means you’re being consumed by something entirely different now–something that just doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.
When you come to Jesus, you basically have three options.  1.  You can leave him where you found him, 2.  You can follow him like you do anything else, or  3.  You can re-prioritize everything else in your life–your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your possessions, your comfort, your convenience–you can turn your back on all of it for the joy of discipleship.

That’s why he tells people to count the cost before starting the adventure.
It’s not just a quick decision.
Look, Jesus doesn’t care how much Christianity you consume.  Frankly, neither do I.
What I care about is how much Christ is consuming you.
Becoming Christian is a life-consuming process.
Jesus tells a couple of stories in this passage.  He talks about counting the cost before you commit yourself to a building project, and then he talks about a king weighing the decision to go to war against a bigger and stronger opponent.
In both cases, the lesson is that unless you are confident that you can complete the job, you shouldn’t get started.  It’s good advice, and we would do well to take it to heart.
That’s why I think baptism classes should be a minimum of three years long!
If you want to be a disciple, you have to understand what it’s going to cost.
To do it, you have to give up everything you have!
Those aren’t my words—they’re Jesus’ words!
Any of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple!
But before we go out selling our houses and our cars, let’s look at the word ‘cost’.  It’s in the story Jesus tells here about the guy who’s building the tower, the guy who will hopefully sit down and measure the cost of the building before he starts.
See, that word that’s translated as ‘cost’ in this passage, this is the only time it’s used in the New Testament.  So it’s worth asking, what’s it mean?
Cost is whatever we give up in order to acquire, accomplish, maintain, or produce something.
It involves sacrifice.  It requires effort and resources.
You might think I’m splitting hairs this morning, but cost is different than price, because price focuses more on the end result (what you’re getting and what it’s worth), whereas cost focuses more on the actor.
Do you see the difference?
Counting the cost is a different thing than Considering the price.
Counting the cost means you might not have such a clear picture of the future, but that you’re willing to do what it takes right now, that you’re willing to do what it takes right now–for as long as you’re able.
Cost is tricky to calculate, because often you can’t see the ultimate outcome.
For example, the cost of replacing my roof changed a little bit from one day to another, because the roofers didn’t know exactly how long it would take, what surprises they might find, etc.
I didn’t know what the exact price would be, but I committed to the cost because I knew it was worth it, even though I wasn’t completely sure how it would all turn out.
Discipleship is like that, except it costs more, there are no guarantees, and when you’re doing it right, it will eventually kill you.
It could mean selling your house–or it could mean opening it up.
It could mean giving away all your money–or it could mean actually saving some.
Discipleship is a long obedience–a lifetime of not only counting the cost–but committing to it as well.
Anything less than that is religious corn syrup.
So as you go from here today, I can think of a couple of questions to take with you.
When you meet Jesus this week (and I’m convinced all of us meet him somewhere), what will be your response?  Will you leave him where you find him?  Will you follow him, consuming all the Christianity you can?  Or will you count the cost, pick up your cross, turn your back on your life and follow?

 

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