Text: Luke 14:25-33
Proper 18, C
Joseph and his wife Wendy walked into the room, holding hands. Even at first glance you could tell that this was the office of a lawyer. It was designed to impress. It was designed to intimidate. It did both very well.
"Good Morning Mr. and Mrs. Johnson" a petite lady said from behind a massive oak desk. "I'm Beatrice Slater, the executor of your father's estate." She rose and came forward to shake their hands. She gave them what was meant to be a comforting look, but you could tell that it had been practiced hundreds or even thousands of times. This was after all, her line of work. She dealt with people like them all the time.
"I'm sorry for your loss" the woman said somewhat distractedly. "If you will please take a seat over here then we can get down to business."
As Joseph settled into the firm leather chair, he still couldn't believe he was here. He looked quickly over at his wife. She seemed to be holding up pretty well, despite all that had happened. As she sat in her matching chair she absently put a hand to her belly. She was seven months pregnant and it showed. This was supposed to be a happy time for the couple. "Things change so quickly" Joseph thought to himself. "Dad didn't even know about our baby yet." "A stupid accident and then.. "Joseph had to lower his eyes, they were beginning to well up again.
"Mr. Johnson," the lawyer began from behind the desk. Joseph looked up at her. "I understand that it had been some time since you had last had contact with your father?"
"Yes, ever since the... Yes it has been almost two years."
"I see," the woman said, hardly blinking "Well I must tell you that in that time your father's situation changed and a month before he passed on he re-wrote his will."
This was no big surprise to Joseph, he had known that his father had fallen upon hard times. Several years ago Joseph's mother had died. His dad had not taken it well. He had developed some problems. In all honesty, both Joseph and his wife were surprised that there was anything left in dad's estate for them to be discussing at all.
"As part of your father's last wishes" the woman continued, "he recorded this tape to be played for you before the contents of his will were read." In her hand she held up a video cassette. For the first time since arriving, Joseph noticed the large TV in the corner. He looked over at Wendy. She too looked puzzled and more than a little apprehensive. Considering what his father had been through, there was no telling what could be on that tape.
Mrs. Slater seemed to sense their apprehension. "Is something wrong?" she asked. "Have you seen the tape?" Joseph asked her "What was my father's state of mind? Should my wife leave the room?" The woman behind the desk looked a little puzzled. "Yes I have seen it Mr. Johnson. It's fine." She paused and gave them another look. "I don't think either of you have to worry about this tape," the woman stated matter-of4actly. She got up and put the tape into the machine. The lights were dimmed and on came the picture. Joseph and Wendy both sat forward in their chairs. There on the screen, sat a well groomed, and well dressed older man. He seemed very calm. Joseph couldn't remember the last time he had ever seen his father look so good.
The figure on the TV screen fidgeted with some papers for a moment and then took a deep breath. He looked straight at the camera and said: "Hi Joseph, and Wendy too, I hope. Since you are watching this it means that I'm dead. I hope that before you see this I have had the opportunity to reconcile things with the both of you. If not, then please accept my apology, and know that there was nothing I wanted more, than to make things right with us. In part, that's why I am recording this today. There are a few things I wanted to tell you. I didn't want there to be any unfinished business between us."
"First of all, let me say to you Joseph, that a father couldn't be more proud of a son. Every time I looked at you I saw so much that reminded me of myself. The two of us are closer than you might think. And I don't just say that because you became an architect like me. Two peas in a pod, that's what we are." he seemed to falter for a moment. "Knowing how much you are like me, I just want to say that I'm sorry. I'm sorry that things haven't worked out better for us yet. I'm sorry that I made so many mistakes. I'm sorry that I see you starting to make them too. I want to take this opportunity to tell you about myself and about my life. Some of my story you already know. Some you don't. I want you to hear it all so that you can learn from it and not make the same mistakes I did."
Joseph and Wendy looked at each other. The tape continued. "It's hard to know where to begin. I guess I should tell you that my parents, your grandparents, were very religious. They raised me in the church since before I can remember. It was a big part of my childhood. You probably didn't know that. As a family, you, me, and your mother went to church, fairly regularly, at least once a month. Your mother wanted to go more. Too many things just seemed to get in the way though. The life of an architect is a busy one. Many Sundays I would be out of town. In the winter, we would always be taking you to hockey. In the summer, there were all the special camps. We made sure that you were confirmed at least. But we didn't try hard enough to keep you in the church. When you went off to school and became an architect yourself you didn't seem to have much time for church anymore. I blame myself for that. I know that you still believe. I know that Wendy believes too. She has probably been trying to get you to go more often. You should listen to her."
Joseph found Wendy's hand and gave it a squeeze. She gave him a squeeze back. His dad had hit that nail right on the head. Only a couple of days ago the two had been discussing this very thing. Neither of them had taken their eyes off of the screen. Joseph's father continued. "Your mother died four years ago. I didn't deal with it very well. She was everything to me. I was lost without her. I fell apart. I hated myself for not being able to do more. We knew that the cancer was terminal, but we tried everything, even things that were experimental. I put everything we had, everything we owned, into trying to save her. None of it worked. I hated God for taking her away from me. Shortly after she died I went off the deep end. I don't know how else to describe it. I started playing cards. I started gambling. It was a way for me to escape. A way to get back some control in my life. Or so I thought. I was terribly wrong.
Throughout this time, people from the old church kept in touch. They tried their best to help me through it all. I guess at the time I wanted none of it. I was still angry with God. I had decided to go it alone. After all, He wasn't there when I really needed him, so I thought what was the point." Again, he paused "Shortly after you and I stopped talking I hit rock bottom. I personally don't see how things could have been any worse. I even thought about taking my own life. My family was gone. My possessions had all gone into finding a cure for your mother, or to the creditors. I had racked up some big debts gambling. I had lost everything, even my health. I couldn't eat or sleep. Everything I had put my trust in had let me down. There was nothing left for me. At least that is what I thought back then. Pastor Marshall showed me otherwise."
Joseph's eyebrows raised. Pastor Marshall had performed dad's funeral. Until that day Joseph had thought for sure that Rev. Marshall must have retired long ago. Apparently he was still at the old church. Had he and Wendy been gone that long?
"I don't know why exactly," his father's voice went on, "but one day out of the blue there was a knock on the door, and there was good old Pastor Marshall. He was the one who baptized you Joseph. Anyway he said that he hadn't seen me in a while and he wanted to know if everything was OK. I told him that everything was not OK. In fact I proceeded to tell him just how not OK everything was. I guess I laid into him pretty hard. I had a lot of stuff to work through. Pastor Marshall, just calmly sat there letting me vent. He took every thing I threw at him, no matter how vulgar or unfair it was. That first visit lasted nearly four hours. When he left, I realized that something had changed in me."
"Over the past nine months, I have had many meetings with dear Old Pastor Marshall. He has always been there for me. I'm sure that some times he must be pretty frustrated with me. With his help I have worked through a lot of stuff. It's the kind of stuff that I don't want you to have to ever have to go through. I guess the real breakthrough for me came when Pastor and I began to work through a section of Luke. I'd like to read it for you."
As he fumbled to open his bible and put on his reading glasses, Joseph's dad looked up with a sheepish grin. "I bet you never thought you would here a sermon from your dear old dad, eh?" Joseph couldn't help but chuckle. His father began to read.
Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' … So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
When he finished he took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes. He was beginning to lose his composure a little.
"Being an architect this passage struck me pretty hard. You see, all along I thought that I was being a pretty good Christian. I tried to live the best I could. I tried to do right by you and your mom. I even tried to get to church when I wasn't too busy. I thought that was all there was to it. Son, I was wrong. I was so very wrong. That whole time you were growing up. The whole time your mother was ill. During all that time afterwards. There were barriers between God and me the whole time. I never saw them till now. I would put my family first, to the exclusion of God, and our real heavenly family. I put my trust in technology and money, and my own abilities. In the end they all let me down one at a time till I had nothing left. I didn't have enough resources to live the life set before me. Everything I have done in my life until these last few months amounts to nothing more than a monument to my own stupidity. My life was like that unfinished tower. My life was full of unfinished business. And no matter how hard I tried, I was never gonna get it finished either. That's what the bible is talking about here in Luke. I tried to build my life into something to be proud of. It was only an empty shell. I tried my best to fight the good fight against all that was thrown against me. I lost."
"By ourselves we just don't have the resources it takes to get through life. Our life building supplies have to come from somewhere else than inside. Joseph, they come from Jesus. He is the supplier that will help you build your life into something to be proud of. He is our great captain who leads us to victory. He is what I was missing in my life for so long. All that time I spent doting on my family kept me from seeing that Jesus has made us part of His holy family. He is our brother and we all together are God's sons and daughters. We were both born into that family when we were baptized. As our brother Jesus gives us all the resources we need to get through the stuff that life throws at us. You can find everything you need in His Word and in His Holy Supper.
I can't tell you how much these have changed my life. I'm a different person. And all because I have come to see that Jesus is my Lord and Saviour, even after all the stupid things I have done to myself and to Him. That's what I want to share with you before I go, son. You don't have to do all the stupid things I did. You don't have to go it alone. Don't let your life be an unfinished tower. Don't leave any unfinished business between you and God. You have Jesus with you even now. He will make all the difference in the world."
Closing his Bible, Joseph's father paused for a moment. "I love you so much Joseph. I hope you know that. I will be watching and waiting for you in heaven. Take care of Wendy. And make sure your children know Jesus."
As the image Joseph's father turned to electronic snow Joseph came to realize that his wife had moved over and was standing with her hands on his shoulders. He couldn't remember her doing that. Mrs. Slater abruptly turned on the room's lights. "Now to get on with the reading," she said.
A short while later Joseph and Wendy emerged from the lawyer's office with a small box. After paying back his gambling debts Joseph's father had only enough left to pay for his funeral expenses and leave a small donation with the church. All that he had left to give his son was his old bible. As Joseph stopped to look at it he discovered that inside the dog-eared cover was a hand written bookmark. His father had obviously done it himself. On the front it said in big bold letters: "Consider the cost... then look to Christ who paid the price." On the back was a phone number and brief note. This is pastor Marshall's number. He is waiting for your call. Love always dad.