Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The cost of being Jesus' disciple...

Sermon for Pentecost 16, Proper 18C, preached on Sunday, September 4, 2016, by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich at Grace Lutheran Church, Clarksville, TN.

          Something that our modern Bibles have that isn’t in the original manuscripts of Scripture are headings.  When you open your Bible you see God’s Word divided into sections with headings or titles.  These headings can be very useful.  They can give us a quick summary of what that section is about and they can be helpful in finding certain verses we’re looking for.  But these headings can also influence us as we read God’s Word, they can color our understanding of it.

When you open your Bibles to Luke 14:25-35, our Gospel for today, you’re likely to see the heading “The Cost of Discipleship” or “The Cost of Being a Disciple.”  When we read this we automatically begin to think in terms of the market place.  When you go to the store, everything has a cost and you must pay that cost before you can take the merchandise home.  So we think similarly that there is a cost we must pay first in order to become Jesus’ disciple.  It’s with this imagery, with this thinking that we hear Jesus say, “If anyone 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 comes after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26-27). 

There’s no denying it, Jesus’ words are hard.  We have a hard time understanding them; they’re difficult for us.  We want to be disciples of our Savior, we want to follow after Him, but we can’t imagine hating our family, we can’t imagine giving up everything, including our lives.   So, we ask ourselves, “Can we pay the cost of discipleship?” 

            No, we can’t.  We can’t hate our families.  This goes against everything we’re taught and we believe in.  Family comes first, blood is thicker than water.  We love our families and we can’t imagine hating them.  Sure, at times we dislike one another.  Husbands and wives argue, parents get tired of their children and children get tired of their parents.  Siblings get on each others nerves, sometimes on purpose.  There are even times when in the heat of an argument we’ll say “I hate you,” but to think about actually hating our family, disdaining them so much that we don’t care if they live or die...well we can’t do that, and we can’t understand why Jesus would say we have to. 

            On our own, we can’t carry our cross.  Our cross is our struggle against anything and everything that would lead us away from Jesus, and I do mean anything.  Our cross could be physical ailment; cancer, heart issues, deafness or blindness.  The list could go on, and Satan is skilled at using these things to get us to question God, to question His goodness and mercy.  Our cross could be persecution for the faith.  Everyday there’s pressure from the world around us to hide our faith, to not live by it.  It’s a daily struggle to stay firm in our faith when we’re attacked for it. 

            And we certainly can’t leave our possessions behind either.  We can’t imagine a life without stuff, especially the stuff we actually need to survive; houses, clothing, food, money for bills.  Giving up that stuff would mean giving up our lives, and we can’t do that. 

            We can’t pay the cost...and that’s the point.  Jesus’ words here aren’t calling us to make some “commitment,” “surrender,” or a “decision” for Him.  He’s not talking about what we, in our own strength, can do, but what we can’t do.  We can’t pay the cost, that is, we can’t make ourselves Jesus’ disciples.  That’s the work of God.  Christ paid that price. 

            Jesus paid the cost.  God makes us disciples of our Savior.  He makes us part of His family.  As a disciple, you’re not just a follower, you’re part of God’s family, an adopted son or daughter through the waters of baptism.  As a child of God, your desire is to live according to your Father’s will, to trust in His only begotten Son; and Jesus said that those who do “the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”  (Mk 3:35).  We’re brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus, and we’re brothers and sisters in Christ, and in this family of God love and forgiveness prevail.  We show forth our Father’s love to one another, we forgive each other, and this extends outward, to our individual families, and to those not part of God’s family. 

            Jesus paid the cost.  He carried His cross to overcome ours.  With His cross, with Jesus innocent suffering and death, He overcame our sin and death.  Jesus’ blood was the sacrifice that paid the price, the cost of our sin.  He suffered what we owe, and because of that, your Heavenly Father forgives you.  He cancels your debt.  Now when He looks at you, He sees the righteousness of His only-begotten Son, and He credits this righteousness to you, promising you the full inheritance of everlasting life in heaven.  And with this promise, with the help of the Holy Spirit, God strengthens us to carry our cross as we look forward to the life to come, the life that isn’t tainted with physical ailments, persecution, disaster, and death, that life that isn’t filled struggles that try to pull us away from our Savior. 

            Jesus isn’t telling us what we must do first before we can be His disciple.  He’s not telling us what we must pay in order to be considered worthy to follow after Him.  There’s absolutely no cost we can pay in order to earn discipleship, but there is a cost that comes with being a disciple of our Savior, and we need to be aware of this.

This cost is clinging to Jesus alone, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  The cost of being a disciple of our Savior is to hold fast to Him, putting Him first, above everything else, and that’s what Jesus is telling us here.  That’s the purpose of Jesus’ hard words.  He’s telling us that we must be prepared to give up ourselves, to renounce all that we have (Lk 14:33).  Being a disciple of Jesus has it’s cost, and Jesus is calling us to consider this cost, just as the builder considers the cost of the tower and the king considers the cost of the war (Lk 14:28-32).  Being a disciple of our Savior means that we cling to Him above all else.  With the help of the Holy Spirit we do this.  But this means, that we must let go of other things, things that would get in the way of our faith, things that would shift our attention and worship away from Christ. 

These things include our families.  We can turn our families into gods, putting them above God our Father, above Jesus our Savior, and this is what Jesus is talking about when He says we must hate our families.  He’s not saying that we must have disdain for them, for this goes against His command to love.  But what He is saying is that we must abandon them as far as our spiritual resources are concerned.  We must give them up when they get in the way of our faith in Christ.  This is a difficult thing to do.  This is a hard cross to bear, and that’s why God sends His Spirit to us, to help us with this, to help us carry this cross. 

Jesus’ words in Luke 14:25-35 aren’t telling us what we can and must first do to become His disciples.  Instead He’s telling us what we can’t do.  He’s telling us that we need to consider this and all realize that we fall short on our own.  Therefore we hear Jesus’ words and we come to Him.  We come to Him and cling to Him alone in faith, because He’s the one who paid the cost of discipleship for us.  He made us part of God’s family, He carried His cross and died on it for our forgiveness and life, and He’s won for us the inheritance of salvation.  In Jesus name...Amen.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I believe Jesus meant we should be firm in our convictions and our faith in spite of pressures to act otherwise by our own families, friends, and the world at large. We must reflect this in humility and not with legalism or pride. The cost of following Jesus will naturally bring opposition into our lives. Strangely, people close to us may be our most fierce enemies, yet we are called to remain steadfast, and in the final analysis their dislike for us is tempered by our grace and measured self control, and our unwillingness to become hateful or condemning.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@ Pr P: false dichotomies are unhelpful; ie Christ''s kingship means we are his subjects and not living in a democracy. While I can't earn my salvation by good works, nonetheless I must live as a proper subject of the King, which means there are things I am to do and things I am not to do. One can be lawful without being legalistic, and nowhere is Christ teaching antinomianism.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Ulrich: I read a number of sermons over this past weekend on this text. I was edified, gratified, and filled with joy after reading yours. Others took the opportunity to use this text to add a burden to the spiritual struggle of believers. Your spiritual discernment told you that the same Lord Who commanded us to love our enemies could not have meant for us to hate our parents. So, rather than adding to our burden, you lifted it, as is the intent of the Gospel. As He said, Matthew 11:30, “…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Thank you, and thanks be to God.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

This is anonymous who posted a comment on this feed, but it was deleted. It was in support of the author's views, but it seems we are playing favorites here. It is a bit discouraging.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: I have been posting on this blog for many years; sometimes highly critical and sometimes in praise, but none of my comments have ever been deleted. I suspect that the system of posting your comment simply did not work.
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

I did check the page afterwards to confirm it loaded properly. That was yesterday at roughly this time. No big deal.

I subscribe to a philosophy handed to me from my father that the wisest are those with more questions than they have answers. Therefore, I'm a hypocrite to have complained.

Thanks for sharing your experience George.

Pastor Peters said...

I have been away and do not moderate the comments except to remove what is clearly vulgar or spam. I had to post this comment twice so there may be a glitch involved with the host. I will check this out.
Pastor Peters