Tuesday, July 2, 2019
His way or your way. . .
Our lives are ruled by preferences, by our likes and dislikes. Choices surround us from the food we eat to the clothing we wear to the entertainment we consume, to just about everything else. We customize every detail of our life and we can’t imagine not being able to set our own default preferences.
This personalization has made its way into the Church. In the landscape of American Christianity you can find just about anything. You can choose a church home based on style of worship, on the programs they offer, or the building where they meet. You can find a churches that teaches orthodox truth and churches that teach made up ideas and thoughts from the pastor. All over there are people who claim to follow Christ, and yet they don’t hold to Scripture. They pick and choose what they want to believe. They set their own terms and conditions on following the Lord. They say, “Yes, Lord, I’ll follow You. But I won’t do this and I can’t believe that.” But is this really following our Lord? How do you follow Christ? Is it according to your own terms and conditions, or His?
Throughout the Gospels, Christ called people to follow Him. After teaching and providing them with a miraculous catch of fish, Jesus called Peter, James, and John to discipleship, telling them they’d become fishers of men, and immediately they left everything and followed Him (Lk 5:1-11). In a similar way, Matthew followed Christ. He was sitting at his tax-collection booth and Jesus said “Follow me,” and like the others, he left everything and followed Him (Lk 5:27-28). These disciples completely followed Christ, no stipulations, no conditions. But that’s not the case with the people in the Gospel reading today.
Jesus again called a man to follow Him, and the man agreed, but there was a condition: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Lk 9:59). Another one likewise said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (Lk 9:61). A third said he’d follow Christ, but Jesus warned him that the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, and thus His disciples wouldn’t either (Lk 9:58). These men were okay with following Jesus, but it had to be on their own terms. Now to be sure, their requests to bury their father and say good-bye to family isn’t a bad thing. But these conditions showed that they weren’t ready to reorder their lives. They didn’t what to follow Christ at the expense of losing their family, at the expense of losing earthly comfort. The cost to follow Jesus was too high, so they tried to bargain.
It would be easy to be a Christian if we got to set our own terms. If we could decide what teachings of Jesus to follow and ignore the ones we don’t like, well everyone would be on board for that. If we could continue in comfortable lives deciding what’s right and wrong for us, deciding what’s important to us, deciding what’s true for us, having all the pleasures and enjoyment this world has to offer, then following Jesus would be a cake walk. It wouldn’t be any different than choosing a background for our phones. But that’s not how it is. We don’t get to pick and choose. There’s no options we get to bundle together to make our own version of Christianity.
There’s a cost to discipleship and that cost is a denial of ourselves. We must subject ourselves completely to our Lord. This means we re-order our values. He’s number One in our lives, and we live by His Word alone. We don’t get to decide what’s right for us, what will fit our likes and dislikes. Being a disciple of Christ means we follow Him and His Word.
This is a high cost and not many of us are willing to pay it. If our world talked about sin, denying ourselves is sin number one. There’s no greater sin in our world than to deny yourself and submit to another. And yet, that’s what we’re called to do. Our Lord calls us out of a life of slavery to our preferences, to our selfish wishes, a life of slavery to our sin. He calls us to follow Him and His righteousness.
The men in our Gospel reading thought they could meet the cost of following our Lord, but they couldn’t. They tried to adjust the terms. It’s not an easy thing to follow our Lord. He says this. And there will be times when we’re tempted to try and make our own version of Christianity, but then this isn’t following Christ all. This is following our sinful nature.
The truth is, we can’t by our own strength follow Christ. We can’t make ourselves His disciples. We can only follow by being led by the Spirit. Peter, James, John, and Matthew, they didn’t drop everything and follow Jesus out of their own motivation. The Spirit worked faith in them as Jesus taught, as He performed miracles, showing that He is the Son of God, the promised Savior. Likewise, the Spirit works faith in you. This is the confession that we make every week as we speak the creeds. The Spirit calls you by the Good News of your Savior and He gives you faith to follow.
Being led by the Spirit, you follow your Lord and you receive His life. In this life you’re free from the condemnation of sin. In this life you’re free from selfish desires that only think about your personal preferences. Instead, you get to follow your Lord as you live out His righteousness, as you serve others, just as He has served you.
Christ gave up His life on the cross to pay for your sin. When all we do is think about ourselves, He thinks of you. His only concern is you. And it’s this example of love that we’re called to follow. Instead of being beholden to our desires, we look to others’ needs, and how we might meet those needs, whether they be physical needs, like clothing and food, or spiritual needs, like hearing God’s word of forgiveness and encouragement in the faith.
We say want to follow Jesus, but more often than not, it’s according to our own conditions. We want our own personal version of Christianity. But that’s not what Christ calls us to. We don’t get to pick and choose. Discipleship isn’t an easy thing. It’s not something we can do on our own. But you’re not alone. The Spirit leads you and you follow the Lord in faith. And with this faith you receive all that is His, His forgiveness, His life, and also His love that thinks nothing of self but service to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.