September 4 message is based on Luke 14:25-33

"Doing Good offers its Own Reward"

You are looking at a picture of Annalena Tonelli.
She was born in Italy in 1943 and, as a young woman, studied to be a lawyer.
After six years of service in her home town to poor people, orphaned children, and mentally or physically disabled and abused children,….
at just 25 years old she decided to go to East Africa to work in Kenya.
There, she did more good things for humanity.
After a waring clan rounded up 5000 men and young boys and tortured them, killing maybe a thousand,…
Annalena went and nursed the wounded and helped bury the dead.
The Kenya government eventually refused to renew her work visa, so she moved to Somalia and founded a hospital for tuberculosis patients and for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
She also led efforts there for eradication of female genital mutilation and helped start special schools for blind, and disabled children.

In 2003 she was given a United Nations award for her outstanding service to the cause of refugees.
Annalena Tonelli has been someone whom I’ve admired ever since I read an article about her in the NY Times over ten years ago.
I even cut out that article, laminated it, and kept it on my desk. (I now have it in my wallet).
I kept the article, in part, because of all the great work that she did and dedicated her life to.
Much like a Mother Theresa, Annalena Tonelli took the model of Jesus to the extreme, by selflessly giving of herself to others.

But I also kept the article for what it says about how cruel and unjust the world can be, even to someone who does so much good.
The article tells how, one evening, after seeing patients at her hospital, two gunman walked up to Annalena Tonelli and shot and killed her.
They never found the murderers but suspect either angry locals who were mad because she brought aids patients to their community,…
or that they were from a radical Islamic sect that promotes violence.
I kept the article because I wanted to be reminded that being a follower of Jesus Christ does not always bring tangible rewards.
In fact,…..it can sometimes have severe costs.
The cost she ended up paying was not just severe,….it was the ultimate price to pay for the way she lived.
Because it was either her activity in following Christ, or her Christian faith itself, (or both) that led to her assignation.
I know that,…..the way she lived for others as well as the cost she paid is an extreme example of the point,.…
but her story helps to graphically show what Jesus tells us today.
That there’s often a cost to us when we heed what we hear him say, and when we try our best to walk in his way.
When he says that one must take up their cross to follow him,….. what he’s talking about is that being on his side can be tough.
He’s talking about how it can involve costs; sacrifices; even suffering.
He suggests that when we follow in his footsteps, there can even be consequential conflict within families.

Jesus advises us to be prepared for such things and plan on the inevitable costs.
That’s why he says you estimate expenditures before building a tower, or a king needs to prepare for the strength of an opposing army.
In both those stories the key is that you need to “anticipate” costs.
Thus, we should anticipate possible consequences when doing good.
When Annalena went to Kenya, and then Somalia,…she knew they were dangerous places for anyone to be.
And, in choosing the work that she did, she could anticipate that she would make waves and ruffle feathers.

Life is full of choices that we make and we generally weigh the benefits and costs before following a certain direction.
So Jesus wants us to know that there not only could be,….but very often could likely be,….costs in choosing to go his way.

The cost may be to lose minor things that we value and possess,….like our pride when we are mocked for doing good.
Or we may lose our trust in somebody who turns against us when we choose to do the right thing in some situation.
But the costs can sometimes be even greater,….like financial costs, and even right up to,… as with Annalena Tonelli….her life.
The great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a book titled ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ a few years before he made a major decision.
He chose to help try to stop Adolf Hitler’s killing machine in Nazi Germany,…..and for that,….he was hanged.
Paul suffered many times, but anticipated the costs of being an apostle for Jesus.
And Jesus himself suffered on the cross, although he did nothing but good things for all.

Jesus says to anticipate that there very well could be costs when we choose to act in ways he would endorse.
And that  important for us to do because we’d like to think that in following in the ways of Jesus,….that there will be no cost.
If anything, we think there ought to be a benefit somewhere for us.
We tend to want to believe that God will pay us back with good for doing good and for living in a way modeled after Jesus.
If not by tangible rewards, then at least with ‘thank you’s’ and appreciation from those we help or praise from others.
We’ve all heard stories of someone who’s kind to a stranger, only to discover that the person being helped was rich,….
and then that the rich person left a fortune in their will to the helper.
Those sort of things do happen and its nice when they do
However,…Jesus makes it clear that such stories are more the exception rather than the rule.
The hard and God’s honest truth is,….that our reward does not always come in the visible things that we would want.

Now, our Old Testament lesson seems to say the opposite.
It’s the familiar passage where God puts forth a choice to his people -
Turn away from him, and you will reap adversity and death. 
But follow his ways and you’ll find prosperity and life and many years.
Annalena Tonelli chose the way of the Lord, and look what happened to her.
But I would say that, although it ended tragically, her life was one that was full of great prosperity and reward.
In some ways,… she truly had a wonderfully rich and meaningful life!
She did not end up with a financial fortune, nor did she live as long as she would have probably hoped for.
But her life was richer than most people’s ever could be, if you count riches as experience serving God rather than dollars.
She was blessed immensely through her connection with humanity and her being a blessing to so many people in bad shape.
I’d say she probably had more enrichment and reward in her shortened life than most people have in their entire lives.

You know,…if life were fair and just and the good were always rewarded for the kindness and compassion - it’d be a wonderful world.
But, despite the song which says as much,…truth is the world is often an unfair, and unjust, and even corrupt sinful place.
And trying to live in ways that would honor Jesus Christ does not always bring us a winning lottery ticket.
But doing good,….doing things inspired by Jesus,….being a follower (or disciple) of Christ offers its own reward.
The spiritual uplift that one gets by helping others. 
Knowing that what we are doing pleases God.
And, of course,…there is still the promise that Jesus gives to all of his disciples,…..that your reward will be great in heaven.

So anticipate the costs in following Jesus, but also embrace the good,
….and look forward to even better things to come.
And when recognize Annalena in heaven, you can tell her,…. 
‘I know you!   We heard a sermon about you once!’
Amen