I. A Costly Discipleship
In some ways, we have been prepared for this difficult piece of scripture as our last few weeks have progressively become more and more challenging. Last week, Jesus challenged us (in a parable about parties) to be truly humble as a guest at the Lord’s Table. This week the stakes are raised, and Jesus asks some very difficult questions of us through his parables. The underlying question, in essence, asks us, “What would you be willing to sacrifice for your faith?” Scores of Christians in the early church answered this question with an undying devotion that led them to martyrdom. They were willing to die for their faith.
Today, we might join with them and say we would give up our life or our possessions for our faith, but I’m going to question the truth of that … and maybe this, in fact, is the easier response and requires less of us. Many of us would rather die than be considered foolish or zealous or fanatical. There are a few things that might be harder to sacrifice than our life: would you be willing to sacrifice your pride? Give up your good reputation? Would you give up your good name for God?
II. Hating Your Family
Perhaps, those questions about giving up a good reputation and a good name are what Jesus meant when he told us to hate our family. When we “hate” our family as Jesus says to do in this passage, we do not love them any less or show them contempt, anger, or bitterness. Rather, we realize that we love God more than we love our family. And we would be willing to consider following Jesus more important that being known as a Wright or a Jones.
Now this is a challenge for us! After all, love for family is good, and it is a respected value in our culture – in almost every culture, in fact. This is also challenging for us in a culture when so many families are ripped apart, broken, and struggling that to hear Jesus tell us to hate our family feels almost like a betrayal. Families are the stable basis of most human society. God is challenging that and saying maybe (maybe!) there is something more important that all the good that can be found in family.
III. Giving Up All Possessions
The second thing Jesus says is required is that we give up all our possessions. John Lennon states it so poetically, it’s hard not to include. Can we imagine a world without possessions? Can we deny the power of our consumer-driven, materialistic, more-is-more society and really be happy with nothing?
“Clarence Jordan, author of the “Cotton Patch” New Testament translation and founder of the interracial Koinonia farm in Americus, Georgia, was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister’s church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decoration. As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple. ‘That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars,’ the minister said with a satisfied smile. ‘You got cheated,’ said Jordan. ‘Times were when Christians could get them for free.’”
|A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing. –Martin LutherJesus did not want a large number of little bit disciples who had a little bit of prayer, and a little bit of commitment, a little bit of dedication, a little bit of love.
–Pastor Edward F. Markquart
While we may prefer to make a single, dramatic sacrifice as an expression of our commitment, usually the way of faithfulness involves lying down our lives in little pieces through small decisions and unremarkable acts of kindness and generosity.
A safe, comfortable faith that refuses to take risks cannot suffer growing pains.
We must always tread carefully with our money and possessions so that we do not end up worshipping the false idols of new and nice or cherished and old. You can see clearly what an issue this is in our society, when there are suddenly shows on TV about individuals who cannot let go of things, to the point of hoarding an entire house full of junk. It is a wonderful thing to value the past, but it is important to remember that we do not worship a God of the past. Instead, we worship a God who debased himself and suffered in humiliation so that we might feel and know and experience the deep power of forgiveness that Jesus graced us with as God Immanuel. We worship a present-in-the world-with-us kind of God who is calling us into the future.
There is a cost to following Jesus, and it is one that we must be truly ready to accept and endure. I want to be very careful, here. I do not believe that “taking up your cross” involves suffering through illnesses or loss. The costly discipleship that Jesus is calling us to is a voluntary lifelong journey of learning from our Lord and bearing Jesus’ name into the world. We have the option, and we much choose to follow Christ in the way of the cross.
IV. What is at stake?
This returns us to the fact that this week, Jesus raises the stakes, and I have to wonder, what is at stake? Why is this point so important to Jesus? What happens is we don’t follow Jesus wholeheartedly?
Unfortunately, this is something we know the answer to all too well. There are huge numbers of individuals and churches that have lost the heart of their faith, that act like little more than a social club, that are unable to express why the gospel matters.
This is why we must be willing to passionately and obediently follow Jesus’ voice into the future: if we are not 100% fully committed to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, we are empty shells: Christians, in name only.
V. A Costly Discipleship
This is the part that I’ve struggled with the most this week. I understand why this passage is so important. It speaks to the challenges facing the church today: one of those biggest challenges is to clearly state why faith in God is relevant and important to this world and our culture. Yet understanding its importance doesn’t make it easier to say, and I have struggled with finding the “nice” part of this passage, the pastoral moment when I can be reassuring and hopeful. Perhaps, this struggle of mine means that we would rather tame Jesus than allow Jesus to radicalize us. And this inclination towards wanting a nice, gentle Jesus is something we need to struggle against, realizing that Jesus makes some very specific demands of us: one of those is be my disciple, follow me with singularity. Discipleship is about identity and focus. It gives us direction.
The monk and writer Thomas Merton put it another way – “If you want to know who I am, don’t ask me where I live and what I do, but rather ask me what I am living for and ask me in very small particulars why I am doing so little about it.”
If you identify yourself as Christian, what difference is that making in your life and how you live?
What are you living for? If you are living for Christ, what are you doing about it?
VI. What are you doing about it?
Before you start trying to answer that question all by yourself, let me make two suggestions:
- Challenge yourself to look for different perspectives and opinions about faith so that we may all grow together in our expressions of faith. “Being a disciple is not an individual path, but a journey in a company of disciples … a road less traveled.” (Lindy Black)
- Live each day like today is the day you will meet your Maker. This, of course, sounds like several cliché songs about facing down death and living with a renewed appreciation of life … but there is one small difference, one small realization that there is something beyond us. There is indeed something more important than our individual lives, and the truth of Jesus’ Christ love for us and our individual lives is far too good to not allow this truth to affect our lives in its most minute level.
Jennifer Silvers summed it up in her own sermon saying, “You and I have received a risky name, a new name (Christian!). We belong to God’s own family. We are born into the body of God and named as sons and daughters of God. We hear the name and we hear the responsibility of the name. That name tells us who we are … How will the world know who we are? How will the world know our identity? What are we living for, as a church, as families, as individuals. Let us stand with Jesus.”
We must answer the unspoken questions that Jesus asks us today: what are you willing to give up or sacrifice for your faith? What is at stake? Why is being a Christian and following Jesus so important?
Let us live so the world will find out what we’re living for, and then push us to live that more fully.
Let us pray, Lord, we have signed on as disciples scarcely realizing the cost. We think of what is owed to us, not of how much we owe to you, O God. Help us to listen to your voice and open ourselves to you plan. Thank you God for your willingness to reshape us as useful vessels of your love. Be to us like a potter, creating beauty, molding us by the spirit of Christ. Amen.
 Illustration shared by Michael Jinkins.