Sunday, September 4, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Can every Christian call themselves a disciple? Is there a difference between being a follower of Jesus and a disciple? These are questions that require a lot of thought. There’s certainly a lot of books and articles written about this topic. I don’t know how often the average member of a congregation thinks about these questions, but in our gospel lesson today, Jesus certainly felt it was critical for a person who wanted to be a disciple knew what they were getting into. He made sure he explained that the cost of being a disciple was high. And when he addressed the crowds he laid it all out. If you want to be a disciple you have to put Jesus above anything or anyone else – no exceptions. Jesus said we have be willing to deny our family if that’s what it takes. We have to be willing to carry the cross of Christ. We have to be willing to go wherever he leads. And we have to give up all our possessions. If these three things are requirements of discipleship, then they seem all but impossible to keep.
Does Jesus – the embodiment of God’s love – really want us to hate our family? Hate may be a strong word used to illustrate the importance of what he was getting at. It certainly gets people’s attention. Yet Jesus wanted to get the attention of the crowds he was speaking to then and to us today. If you decided to follow Jesus and be his disciple at that time it meant you were giving up your family. You would be shunned because you believed Jesus was the Messiah – the Son of God. Most people may not be kicked out of their families today for following Jesus, but some still are. And the point Jesus was trying to make was that we have to be willing to leave our family behind if that is what it takes to follow Jesus. If they choose not to follow Jesus, we have to be willing to let them go. Those are not easy words to hear.
Second, Jesus says we have to be willing to carry the cross of Christ. We know where that cross leads to. It leads to death before it leads to resurrection. Disciples of Jesus have to be willing to go where the cross leads us even if it means hardship and struggles. We can’t always choose the easy way. Sometimes we may have to make choices that go against what other people think we should do in order to follow Jesus. If someone is being mistreated or ridiculed or spoken ill about by someone, a disciple of Jesus has to be willing to do whatever is necessary to stand up and help that person. It may mean we lose friends and family over that decision, but that is what carrying the cross of Christ means. It means that our life is no longer just about us; the decisions we make every day are based on what Jesus is calling us to do and to be. It’s not about our way, but God’s way. We can’t call ourselves disciples and continue to try and get our own way all the time and treat people – even those in our congregations with anything less than the love of Jesus.
And third Jesus says if we want to be his disciple we have to give up all our possessions. Does this mean that Jesus wants us to get rid of everything and live on the streets so others have to take care of us? For some, like Mother Theresa who is being canonized as a saint today, that was the case. But most of us are not called to that kind of poverty. Yet, Jesus stresses to us the danger of letting our possessions own us. In a culture that is taught more and more possessions are a sign of success, Jesus says that more and more possessions can take hold of us to the point that we will do whatever is necessary to keep them even at the expense of giving up Jesus. Many people actually make that choice without even realizing it. They choose things over Jesus. Sports over time with Jesus. Other opportunities over time with Jesus. Money over the ministry of Jesus. It’s easy for people and things to pull us away from Jesus who ends us getting the leftovers of our time, possessions, and money. And that is what Jesus is saying today plainly and clearly – to be a disciple, Jesus has to come first – no exceptions. To do this requires sacrifice.
We’ve all made sacrifices of one kind or another. We sacrifice time of enjoyment to go to school and learn. We work long hours at jobs and sacrifice to make sure those we care about have what they need, but we have to be careful not to sacrifice all our time to work and neglect our families and our spiritual life. Parents sacrifice a lot for their children to make sure they have everything they need for a happy and comfortable life. And while that’s an important part of caring for children we all need to remember that teaching children to have a close relationship with Jesus is the most important gift we can give them. It’s what each of us promised when they were baptized and we have a responsibility to follow through with those promises. We need God even if we don’t realize it and even if following God through Jesus causes us to feel uncomfortable.
Jesus says that there is a danger is wanting life to be too comfortable. Discipleship takes priority over our safety and security. Discipleship involves taking risks. Discipleship requires courage and persistence. There’s a saying usually attributed to William Shedd that says, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.” The temptation for Christians is to keep ourselves safe in the harbor, to not venture out in the deep water where the seas are rocky and we may encounter dangers. The temptation is to not try new things and just keep things the way they’ve always been. But that’s not what disciples were meant to do. That’s not what we were made for. We were made to go out and tell people about Jesus. We were made to reflect God’s love to all people. We were meant to show kindness and compassion and to care for others especially those who society says are not worthy of attention. We were meant to fight for justice and equality and the well-being of all people even if others get angry at us for that. And we were meant to sail spreading God’s love wherever that may be, not weighed down by the many possessions – physical and emotional – that may try and keep us anchored at shore.
Venturing out into unchartered waters need not be a frightening quest, because we are guided by the light of Jesus Christ. Just as a lighthouse guides a ship safely to its destination shining the light in the darkness, so Jesus will be our light in the darkness. That is what it means to be a disciple. It means to put the mission of Jesus, the cross of Christ, as our guiding principal in life. No matter who or what tries to steer us off course, we must stay the course. We must continue the quest. On our own we can’t be a disciple. It is a daunting task. That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us at our baptism, we have everything we need to sustain us when we want to choose safety over discipleship.
Jesus calls us to be his disciples. Are you ready? That’s the question Jesus asks us today. We have a decision to make. We’re either going to be committed disciples or not. We can’t be part-time disciples. It’s all or nothing. Are you ready to carry the cross of Christ out of this congregation today and with you wherever you go? Are you ready to put God first? Are you ready to give your whole life over to God? Being a disciple of Jesus is a costly quest, but isn’t the kingdom of God worth the cost? Jesus certainly felt we were worth the cost. Amen.