THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
Matthew 16: 21-27
Before people buy a product or join an organization, they invariable ask one question: “What will it cost?” Why do you think so many people love dollar stores: because we know the cost of everything in the store! Jenny, our daughter, will often text me about how much she saved with coupons and BOGO offers! When they were young, our children rolled their eyes at my checking the cost of everything. My own father used to monitor the length of our showers we took when my brother and sisters ad I were teenagers! What a good idea! But now that my children are grown they are doing some of the same things to save money because it’s not Dad’s money or Mom’s money being spent; it’s their money. This weekend car dealers hope to sell many cars and so they couch the price in words like “low monthly payments,” or “no money down,” or other words. If you want to buy furniture this weekend you won’t have to pay interest on your financed purchase until January of 2020! What about college and tech schools? There is real cost in those. And the list goes on. On August 18th, USA Today ran a report on the cost of raising a child born in 2013. Researchers have said that a middle-income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend $245,340 for their food, shelter, and other expenses up to age 18! So college costs, if any, are not even included in that figure! As Charlie Brown would say, “Good Grief!” Even with our three children, as they grew up, I found that buying a steak when it was on sale, plus 5 baked potatoes, plus salad was not as expensive as their ideas of getting fast food or going out to eat every night! So my expression became: “Do you know how many steak dinners we could eat at that price?”
There are other costs with every decision we make: there are emotional costs: will we say “yes” to those relatives staying in our house while they vacation in Florida or “no?” Will we have Thanksgiving or Christmas at this person’s house or that person’s house? Who will cook, or will we eat out? Who will pay the bill for the food? Will every one chip in or will one person bear all the costs? Do we say “yes” to serve on a Property Owner Board because such boards need good guidance, or do we say no to avoid the fights and conflicts?
There are also relationship costs: If a husband spends a night out with the boys will there emotion costs to pay when he comes home? If a wife spends a weekend with the girls will she have a price to pay when she comes home? If a woman or man gives 100% to his or her work, what do they have left to offer their loved ones? Total devotion to work can cost people their marriage, or make them estranged from their children. I remember a time that I ignored the fact that I was a finite man with limited energy and began to live in exhaustion. I was available to everybody else, but not my family. I lost my ability to smile; I lost joy in life; I just trudged through the days that, in hindsight, I realized were times of both burnout and the dark night of my soul. To not guard one’s soul, or one’s time, from a world that hungrily and unceasingly demands more from a person, is a recipe for breakdown. The alternative is to guard one’s time and one’s days so the ones a person treasures most might get the best of you, instead of the ashes after your weeks or months of work.
Discipleship also costs. It costs dearly. Anybody who thinks that becoming a Christian is to begin a life of constant joy is either exceptionally unique or unrealistic. During the Third Reich in Germany, Christian Dietrich Bonheoffer could have kept silent about the dictatorship that his country had become. He could have pretended to put the Fuhrer ahead of even Christ himself. But he would have felt like a fraud if he did. So he stood on the name of Jesus, losing his life but turning the tide of people who also decided to cling to Christ instead of their maniacal leader. In our day young men on the Internet in our country and in other lands have fallen prey to zealously misguided Islamic or Christian cult figures who have wanted unequivocal obedience to their destructive agenda. Discipleship is not like that. Disciples make a choice for Christ; some call it a decision. And good Christians always exam their hearts and their heads in their life of faith. We do not “check our brains at the door when we come to church.” Douglas John Hall, in his book Thinking the Faith, writes: ‘A thoughtless-faith … has always been a contradiction in terms…. Only a thinking faith can survive.’ “That’s what we Presbyterians are known for—a thinking faith—and it must characterize our evangelism.” [Evangelism in the Reformed Tradition, CTS Press, 1990, p. 146.] Jesus asks for our wills, our bodies, minds, and souls, but they are not pillaged or demanded. They are requested. In his day, Jesus called not only the Twelve disciples, but also the crowd, and through the reports of those who recorded his words, he calls us too. Just after Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Simon answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus warned them what it would mean to be his disciple. A disciple is one who learns from Jesus, tries to live by his example, and is willing to accept the consequences of that life. One consequence for Jesus was distance from his mother, father, and brothers. They were not close as he began his ministry and his mother Mary only appears again in the last 72 hours of his life. Brother James started to lead the church in Jerusalem after Jesus died, but ancient reports said when Jesus was alive he did not believe his brother’s claims. Certainly the fishermen who followed Jesus gave up their work, their income, and and perhaps even some fresh fish as they started eating bread and whatever a host would put on a table. Remember: would you want Jesus and at least twelve other hungry people jammed around your dinner table? “Dear, I’ve invited thirteen rather dirty men and some others to come and dine with us. Fix something nice!” It has been shown conclusively that although the Twelve were men, women like Suzanna, Joanna, and others provided for Jesus and the Twelve with their money. Each of them knew there was a cost to discipleship. But it was Jesus who knew the brutal image of a cross, as yet not associated with him, and he said that the cost of discipleship could be such a death. In Jesus’ day there were regular displays of people hanging on crosses around Jerusalem; it was torture designed by the Romans to show people their fate if they misbehaved. Jesus makes such a cross loom in the minds of these followers. “Are you ready for that?” he asked. Would any of them say in their head, “Lord, we just love listening to you and being with you as you arrange our meals and lodging every day! We love this part of discipleship!” But Jesus would say to them, and to us: “There is more to it than that. You might lose your life.” When someone signs on to be a police officer, or a firefighter, or a Sailor, Soldier, Airman, or Marine, in the background of doing the job is the thought of possible death. That’s the cost of accepting that work. Jesus reminds those who might just want to have the title—disciple—but not share the load with these words: This is a paraphrase: “If you try to come along with me and just play it safe, you will begin to feel terrible about yourself and lose the respect of others. But if you dive in, and learn what I need to teach you, even though you may die for your faith, your name and my Fathers’ work will live on forever.” Diving in, as I said at the beginning, still demands boundaries: boundaries of personal space; boundaries of time in and time out; and having rest so that one can work. Jesus was constantly found in isolated places; it was surely his time away to pray, sleep and renew. He would dismiss the person who found him, complete his contemplation, and then return to the crowds. If he had not done that, he would have gotten depleted. He went into the desert both before and during his ministries so the requests of others would not overwhelm him. A disciple follows the discipline of giving incredibly to others, giving lovingly to family and friends, and giving recuperatively to self in order to follow Jesus. Otherwise you crash and burn.
So friends: consider both the blessings of salvation and the costs of discipleship. There is no doubt: it costs to follow Jesus in word and deed. But in return, the blessed peace that comes with salvation, and the blessed assurance that Jesus knows you and loves you are timeless gifts! It seems like a wonderful exchange to me: my life and will given over to Jesus now, and I have new life forever when I die. I’ve decided to follow Jesus. I will accept the possibilities of death, to get eternal life by taking up the cross of Christ today. How about you?
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 27, 2014