09-08-13 CONSIDERING DISCIPLESHIP


CONSIDERING DISCIPLESHIP

Luke 14: 25-33

 

Last week and this week 15 people
joined me and another 15 joined Cara in classes that are called DISCIPLE.
Dreamed up and written by United Methodist Bishop Richard Wilke and his wife
Julia, DISCIPLE is about more than just knowing the Bible; it is about growing
closer to God and closer to others in your group; it is about starting to see
the world through the eyes or Christ; it is about a commitment of 34 weeks of
daily homework and faithful attendance in the 2 ½ hour classes. It is about a
willingness to change one’s life and priorities to move from being just a
seeker, or just a church member, or even an elder, to becoming a disciple. It
means doing without some things to take this journey. At least two in my class
shared that they made significant changes in their year in order to attend
class. That’s part of the “discipline” or being a disciple. And today’s passage
intentionally takes Jesus’ listeners on a journey of “what ifs.” Salespeople,
when a price is being negotiated, sometimes ask: “What would it take for you to
decide to buy today?” And you might say “There is no way that I will buy today!
Even so, some have left the dealer with a new car! There are new cars in our
parking lot today bought with the plan to just look! People say everyone has
his or her price. Jesus too knew that every decision we decide costs us. People
who choose to be part of a group may have start up costs for materials, but
they may also have the cost of not being part of a different group or not
having as much free time. A week from Wednesday we start our 2013-2014
Confirmation Class with youth whose parents have agreed to have their child
here every week for a whole school year. Do you know how hard that is in the
midst of a middle schooler’s or high schooler’s activities? I respect and honor
that they are making that choice. And as I say to DISCPLE classes and to
Confirmation classes, “I am sure that your choice pleases God.” God loves to
watch the choices we make through the divine gift of free will. God hopes we
choose life, and heaven, and salvation. And some, by their discipleship, do so.
Let’s consider discipleship today.

 

Luke14: 26. “Whoever comes to me and
does not hate his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers
and sisters—yes, even his own life—cannot be my disciple.” “Wow! Did Jesus really
mean that?” Well, yes and no. The “yes” part is this: even if you love your
wife, husband, children, parents, or best friends, Jesus’ challenge is to love him more. Do remember the hymn we
sang recently with words by Cecil Frances Alexander? “Jesus calls us o’er the
tumult of our life’s wild restless sea; day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying ‘Christian, follow me.’ Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s
golden store, from each idol that would keep us, saying ‘Christian, love me
more.’” And  “In our joys and in our
sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease; still He calls, in cares and
pleasures, ‘Christian love me more than these.’” That’s what it means. There
are so many idols in this world; they can be possessions or obsessions and can
eat into our time or attention. Love Jesus more than those! There are some who
love their spouse, their best friend, their child, their grandchild, their
parent or their grandparent so much that being away from them is painful. In
spite of such great human love, love
Jesus more. “Jesus loves you, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”
Discipleship offers reciprocal love. God loved the world first and Jesus was
filled up with that love. Then Jesus loved us so much. “How much?” a child once
asked his Sunday School teacher. Her answer was “This much,” and she opened her
arms wide.

So what about the “no” to the answer?
Well Jesus’ use of the word “hate” is what’s called a “Semitic hyperbole,”
which means it is a cultural statement of exaggeration to emphasize a point. Children
and teenagers do it all the time. “Taylor Swift’s song “We’ll never, ever,
ever, get back together!” is one example. One “never” would do; the two “evers”
are for emphasis! It becomes  “never,
ever, ever.” In times of teen embarrassment a girl says “I was so embarrassed I
could have died.” That’s embarrassment to the point of humiliation, but it
isn’t death, nor, in most cases, does she act to take her own life. It is meant
for emphasis. Jesus’ saying “hate” from the preacher of love is a Middle
Eastern exaggeration. It means, like the hymn says: look at every thing and
every one you love, ones for whom you change your schedule, ones for whom you
make time, ones that monopolize your thoughts, and Jesus says: “Love me more than those.”

 

The apostle Paul says in 1
Corinthians 15: 50 that “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.”
In the Kingdom of
God, physical things that
seem so important now pass away. We do not take these bodies, or our favorite
furniture, or our sports car or our gold, or even our keepsake boxes when we go
to the spiritual realm we call Heaven. We leave them behind. Discipleship is
our preparation time for seeing, and claiming, the Kingdom of God
even in our midst. It is about proclaiming to God in the words of hymnwriter
Clara H. Scott: “Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for
me!” The discipleship path teaches us to see things differently.

 

Jesus’ next line seems fine until we
think about it. “Those who do not carry their own cross and follow me cannot be
my disciple.” Luke 14:27. We are so used to connecting Jesus with a cross that
it might not occur to us that Jesus said those words weeks before he faced the
cross! The cross was a Roman tool of agonizing death meant to correct
disruptive or subversive behavior. And yet Jesus brings up the Roman cross well
before anyone witnesses his death. It is not likely that anyone at that time
had seen another person carry his own cross except in one place: the center of Jerusalem. There Roman
centurions would force men condemned to crucifixion to carry their own cross
bar through the narrow streets of Jerusalem on the way to the quarry-like
killing field known as Calvary in Latin, or Golgotha in Hebrew. Was Jesus
forcing people who had never equated a cross with Christianity to make that
giant leap? Or was he just planting a seed of what was to come, something
revealed to him from his Father about the role the cross would play in his
death? Jesus was not much of a salesman for discipleship here, was he? It was a
rather ominous statement. Are we sure that Peter James and John and the others
expected such deaths when they first followed Jesus? We have no record of
contract or conclave where Jesus said, “Follow me! But first men, remember, I’m
going to a Roman cross of death and some of you might too if you follow me!”
No. This was, and is, a high bar, for those in that day, and those in our day.
Professing Christianity in Egypt
right now can cost you your life. Being a disciple is not the path of least
resistance. But Christians that hear words about the cross also remember that
the cross stood empty after Jesus’ death as
did his grave! No matter how it comes, death is a path toward the spiritual
world as we depart the physical world. Ready or not, here it comes on the day
or hour that is a mystery. Will you be ready to discard your treasures; will
you be ready to stop human conversations with those you love again? In spite of
people on television who hoard mountains of possessions, we all are moving
toward one day having spiritual gifts only; we leave worldly possessions behind.

Being a disciple is not a stage of
perfection, but a time when we intentionally cast our eyes on the prize:
deciding to do more Christ-like thinking, more Christ-like seeing, and more
Christ-like actions.

 

Finally, Jesus gets pragmatic.
“Suppose a king is about to go to war with another king. Will he not first sit
down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one
coming to him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a
delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of
peace.” (NIV, Luke 14: 31-32.) That illustration seems especially timely as our
country considers what actions, if any, it will take against Syrian leaders.
This is Jesus’ lesson about anticipating
and then counting the cost.  Before
people agree to join DISCIPLE class or Confirmation Class, we always have an
overview session for them to consider if they can make the commitment. It is
often most wise to walk away from the cars salesperson, even for a few hours or
a day; to hang up the phone on the telemarketer, or to give your decision
careful thought before you enlist in military service. Those are all big
commitments and they cost you something. There is good news and bad news about
being a disciple. First the good news: the first Twelve that Jesus recruited
were not sterling prizes of polished discipleship! Even though they are
revered, the Twelve had a doubter, a betrayer, ones with second thoughts, ones
who almost never spoke, and ones who were reactive and ones who were hot-headed!
The bar for discipleship is not set that high.
But then the bad news: the bar of discipleship is set that high! How can we mean both? As with Jesus’
explanations, the plan takes high commitment, changes in priorities, and a
willingness to embrace the spiritual and eventually discard the physical. But
because of our humanness, some are at different places on the path. As human we
know we are weak and we fail. In a way it is good that we see both the
strengths and weaknesses of Jesus’ Twelve; it makes it seem less impossible to
be a disciple.

 

You can be a disciple. It starts with a choice between life and death;
blessing and curse. Choose life. It
continues with a decision to stay with the choice, and not try to jump ship or
backslide to your old life. It takes mentors and partners in the process. The
church is, in part, charged with disciple making and keeping. We try, and
sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail. We also work to see the world through
Jesus’ eyes, his mind, and with his actions. The church seeks to be the body of
Christ in the world. Discipleship is not perfection; it is a process of
sanctification; preparing us to the see “the kingdoms of this world becoming
the Kingdom of our Lord.” It is happening, even now. Disciples change the world.
Will you choose Christ, not only ask a seeker, or not only as a church member,
but as a disciple?

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          September 8, 2013