There is a road, a pretty famous road at least regionally, going through the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina, called “the road to nowhere.” It was meant to replace NC Highway 288 that was flooded when the Fontana Lake Dam was built, but shortly after it got started it hit a few snags. First, WWII was going on. Then, the rock under a significant part of the route was found to be unstable and rerouting it would lead to all kinds of cost overruns. Then, to top it all off, funds were never appropriated to finish it.
So now there’s a road that goes a few miles before abruptly ending in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Someone probably should’ve looked at what Jesus said about counting the costs before they got to work on that road to nowhere.
Because counting costs is something we do pretty regularly. Not just in terms of the price tag of something, but the time it’ll take, and the effort it requires, and all those other little extra things that add up. We weigh options. We figure what is the best use of the resources we have. And we make decisions based on that.
Like whether a new job that gives us a longer commute is worth the added time and mileage. Or whether all the money and travel and investment of entering our kids into sports is worth the time and effort. Or whether the car needs to see the mechanic now or if it can wait another few weeks. The difference with what Jesus is saying is that the decision he’s offering is infinitely more important.
Jesus’ harsh words in today’s gospel were a reminder to the large crowds that were gathering around him that they needed to see if they were willing to live the life of a disciple. Were they able to bear the cost of living the life Jesus called them to live? Were they willing to value the work of the kingdom more than their own family? Were they willing to give up—literally—everything they owned for the sake of what Jesus called them to do?
And he was so harsh, I think, because he wanted to make it clear that discipleship wasn’t a fad they could hop on to be part of the “in” crowd. It wasn’t something they could take on as a part-time convenience. It wasn’t something they could take on one or two days a week or whenever it was convenient. Christian discipleship is meant to be a full-time position.
When we go to our projects today to live out the call to be God’s hands and feet in the world, we’re modeling that life that Jesus calls us to live. Whether that’s writing letters to shut-ins or sewing pillowcase dresses for Haitian girls; if it’s cleaning firetrucks or tending the cemetery; or if it’s tying quilts or offering random acts of kindness—these are signs of what kind of life Jesus calls us to live every single day. They’re models of what it looks like to be disciples. Because that’s the shape of the life of discipleship: service to others in the name of Jesus.
But there are 165 other hours this week. We should definitely celebrate how committed we are as a congregation to service projects every time we do this—and I really do celebrate it and thank God for how enthusiastic we are for it—but let’s not forget that Jesus calls us to be full-time disciples. How are the ways we act every day in the week shaped by Jesus’ call to serve others? Do we reflect the kind of servanthood Jesus calls us to embody in our daily lives? When we aren’t at church, are we still noticeably followers of Christ?
This section of Luke’s gospel is sometimes called “the cost of discipleship,” and in a way, it makes it sound like following Jesus has a cost that not following him doesn’t. But everything has a cost—the question is, which cost is worth it? We’re willing to take on the costs of other things we find important—whether that’s our kids’ sports, or the job we love, or the cause we’re committed to. Let’s choose to take up the cross that Jesus calls us to carry, and be full-time disciples. Let’s live out our servant calls today, and then wake up tomorrow and keep at it. Let’s do the things he calls us to do, because by following Jesus, we will find life that really is life.
Thanks be to God. Amen.