Don't you love it when you have to go to the hospital for surgery or some other procedure, and they give you a thick stack of papers to read and sign? One of them is usually a Living Will form.
They want to know, do you have one? Would you like to have one? Makes me nervous! It may be something as simple as hangnail repair, and they want to know what to do in case you DON'T QUITE die! But the main one is the paper that describes all the things that COULD happen during the procedure. For instance, it may not be successful. You may end up worse than you were before you started. And yes, you may even die! Now sign here!
That's called informed consent. And there's a passage in the gospel of Luke where Jesus sits us down and asks for our informed consent about the commitment we're making. Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children ... yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?
The passage begins by saying that "large crowds" were traveling with Jesus. Of course they were! He was doing and saying amazing, miraculous things - I'm sure some folks followed him around just to see what would happen next. And so, Jesus begins to talk about counting the costs of being one of his followers. It's not just for fun. Serious things are going on here. It's the gospel version of informed consent.
Think about this carefully, Jesus is saying: You may have to give up some things you consider very important. You may actually feel led to give away all you own. In fact ... carrying the cross can be dangerous. You may even die.
I wonder ... if I had really understood the risks involved, would I have signed on at the tender age I did? Would you have? In fact, do we really think of our faith in those terms? Have our priorities ever really been challenged in the way Jesus is talking about? Have we been asked to surrender something we think is crucially important?
Because, as followers of Jesus, that possibility is always there. It's what we signed on for. And yes, we read the informed consent! We knew all about carrying the cross ... or thought we did ... we knew all about Calvary. It just didn't seem like anything that could happen to US.
When we look at the truth of what the scripture says ... about our commitment to Jesus, the risk we take, about our lives ... it's pretty sobering. For most of us, following Jesus is the most exciting journey we've ever taken. But risky? Oh, yes.
For cross-carriers, it's absolutely all about trust. When we follow Jesus, we're promised life eternal and also life abundant, here on earth. But sometimes the cross feels heavier than at other times - illness, money problems, grief, unemployment, so many things that can weigh us down and make us wish that Jesus would just make it all go away.
We go back to being like the large crowds who followed Jesus, hoping for a sign or a miracle. Not surprising - we're human, after all! And just as the crowds saw amazing things, we've had those amazing moments in our lives, too - but the bottom-line message is always the same: Jesus asks us to trust him.
For earthbound folks like us, this is rarely easy. We're asked to trust Jesus no matter what. If he doesn't just make the hard times go away, we can trust him to get us through it. When the cross is almost too heavy to bear, we have to trust him that, impossible as it seems, he really can make all things work together for good for those who trust him.
No matter what we have to leave behind, we have to trust and believe that the riches of grace and peace through Jesus are worth the loss, and he'll get us through. We have to trust that no matter what ... we're safe with him.
Counting the cost is a good thing to do, an important thing to do. One of Jesus' most frequently-overlooked promises is in the gospel of John, where he promises, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world."
Medical informed consent comes down to trust. Yes, we see the dangers, but we have enough trust to go ahead and do what needs to be done. When we count the cost of following Jesus, our trust in him is what makes our commitment possible. In the world, we DO face persecution. But Jesus has conquered the world!
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.