I hear the words of Jesus now and I am struck by how close they hit to home.
At least for me.
Perhaps for you as well.
Of how we come to junctures in our lives on which all the rest turns.
As individuals, yes.
And as bodies of believers. As congregations.
And of how we are called to measure and to wonder, to try to read the future, which, of course, is entirely unreadable except perhaps in small ways as we seek to lay it alongside what we understand of what we have already lived.
And I find myself recalling this now. Something so close to my own heart, I do not write it without tears, for it is recent still and raw. Perhaps too tender still to preach, but maybe not so tender as to not be worth reflecting upon here with you now.
Some of you will know that I continue to grieve a beloved friend who died in May.
And of how her diagnosis and her last breath surrounded by loved ones were just five weeks apart.
Now the journeys we travel as we fully return to the arms of God are different, of course they are. So this story, even in the particularities of it, likely will not necessarily find their parallels with any one of us. Although they might. Even so, I saw this and I saw it up close. Her needing to weigh the cost as Jesus speaks of it today — to herself and to her children as decisions were quickly made.
And of how she did it:
- As she quickly cut ties to beloved ‘things’ of this world. In her case, it especially had to do with the sale of a property which she loved — a home in a beautiful place where she had imagined retiring one day. As her executor, her accountant told me that he advised her that the tax implications would be greater if it were sold before her death. And yet, she said she wanted it done so as not to burden others with the work of selling and all that would mean. It turned out her time was too short to make that happen, but even so, in this she was literally weighing the cost, wasn’t she?
- Or of how she simply spoke of her journey from the start: telling anyone who wanted to hear of her dire prognosis. I remember standing in awe of this then, having witnessed how careful we often are with details so personal. And it is so that not everyone handles such disclosures with the tenderness they deserve. And yet, she had weighed the cost, it seemed, and realized she had little left to lose.
- When it came to deciding whether to continue with treatment which had been barely begun. Indeed, her ears were acclimated to the implications of all of it, having worked as a nurse all of her life. She knew the cost, the pain, the quality of life which would be impacted by the painful choices before her then. And that they would impact not only her, but those closest to her. And of how, having measured what she knew alongside what she was living, she stopped things quickly then.
- Indeed, in her sorting out whether to enter hospice in the hospital or to go home for those last days, those last hours. And with such clarity deciding to stay in the hospital where she knew the care would be good and where she would not be a burden to others.
- Yes, even deciding to increase the medication to keep her physical suffering at bay, fully knowing it would impact her ability to be as ‘present’ as she had always been before.
Through each momentous decision, it was hers to weigh it out, deciding each step of the way what was best for her and those she loved.
And oh yes, these months later now this stays with me still. How the values which had governed her life before impacted how she weighed the costs then.
And this, she said from the start, from the first day when the diagnosis became clear. That in the big things she was not afraid, for she knew God held her and all that the future held. Indeed, I expect she knew then that no matter how she navigated what time was left, it was all enfolded in a greater Grace.
And oh, it is so that the first part of Jesus’ teaching here in this section of Luke played out as well. Not in her ‘hating’ those she had always loved, at least not in the way you and I often experience or understand such ‘hatred.’ Rather, more in the sense that it was likely first intended — ‘hating’ as a kind of detachment or letting go of the expectations of others. Especially in this case, those who wanted her to ‘keep fighting,’ if you will. Now her doctor told us in those last days that her decision was the right one. That there was no getting ahead of this disease. Indeed, that likely what had been set loose in her body would not have been slowed even if she had seen a doctor sooner. Even so, most everything in our culture and in the medical world tells us to keep exploring other options. She let go of all of that more quickly than I could ever have imagined possible. So no, I did not witness the ‘hot’ kind of hating we think of when we hear the word. Hers was rather a letting go of or stepping away from the dominant demands of this world as we often experience them. Even when expressed by those she loved and who loved her most.
And all of this seemed to be rooted in a deep recognition of what was going on in her own body coupled with a deep sense of what mattered most.
And yes, the courage to let go, to step beyond, to truly ‘estimate the cost,’ as Jesus puts it now and to simply move forward.
Again, I am not sure how or if any of this ‘preaches.’
And yet, it is so, that it is into a kind of parallel ‘crisis’ moment that Jesus teaches now.
For Jesus is on his own way to Jerusalem, as are we all in one way or another. Indeed, perhaps if we are even a little aware, it is to just such a place that for those who follow Jesus that we arrive every single day in ways large and small.
Such times of crisis bring it all into focus, don’t they? And oh, I expect they can be and often are gift to us as we lay them alongside the rest of our lives, helping us to clarify what matters most. As we consider what it means to live into what is most precious, not only in our own eyes, but in God’s eyes as well.
- I offer now a stark and so-very-true experience of one who followed the way Jesus calls us to in ways that turned out to be painful and true and in the end, it seemed to me, faithful. Like with all of us, she sought to ‘follow Jesus’ in the messiness of her own living and dying, in the particularities of where she was. Where have you also seen such as this to be true?
- I wonder what from your experience (perhaps less dramatic than what I offer above) helps you best to understand Jesus’ teaching now. Indeed, how does ‘estimating the cost’ in our everyday lives help us understand more deeply how we do so in following Jesus. What stories might you offer as you, yourself, first seek to hear and respond and then extend the invitation we hear today to follow Jesus?
- I wonder what this looks like not only in our own lives, but in our lives together in congregations where many of us are feeling as though we are reaching a crisis point perhaps similar to that which I have recently witnessed and which Jesus is leaning into now. How do past experiences and long held values shape our decisions now as we travel together toward ‘Jerusalem?’