Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, September 21, 2018

Full Time Disciples Wanted

Luke 14:25-33

 At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all made some kind of commitment that we found out later we could not or would not follow through on.  Maybe we joined a club or organization, and then we discovered that they had membership requirements we were unable or unwilling to fulfill.  Maybe we signed up for one of those movie clubs or music clubs that promised you a great deal on a dozen CDs or DVDs, only to discover that then you had to buy 10 more at inflated prices.  They still have those, right?  Or maybe we just made a promise that, for one reason or another, we just couldn’t keep.  

 Some people do that with Jesus.  They say yes to following him, and then they find out later that they are unwilling or unable to stay with him.  And, unfortunately, some churches don’t help.  They preach a gospel message that makes it sound too easy to follow Jesus.  “Just believe in Jesus, and you will be saved.”  As if there is nothing else to the life of discipleship.  Or they offer a model of discipleship that doesn’t create any tension with the “American dream,” as if you can follow Jesus and still march in lockstep with a culture that is focused on instant gratification, materialism, self-pleasure, and rabid individualism.  It just doesn’t work that way.  

 We shouldn’t do that because Jesus didn’t do that.  

At times, Jesus actively discouraged people from following him.  In Luke chapter 9, just as Jesus is beginning his journey to Jerusalem and the cross, we see a few brief encounters in which Jesus sends people away.  I think he did that because he knew their hearts were not fully invested in the Kingdom of God or because they really didn’t know what they were getting into.  One man said, “I’ll follow you no matter what.”  Jesus responded, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Perhaps Jesus knew this man wasn’t willing to live an unsettled life.  Jesus asked another man to follow, and he said, “I will, but only after I bury my father,” meaning that he wanted to wait till after his father died and he was free of the need for his father’s approval.  Jesus said back, “Leave the dead to bury the dead.”  Another said, “I’ll follow you, but first let me say farewell to my family.”  Jesus responded, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom.”  I think Jesus knew this man would not be able to serve wholeheartedly; his attention was always going to be on pleasing his family.  

Jesus wasn’t interested in superficial commitment.  After he fed the 5000 in the wilderness, many people followed him.  But Jesus basically said to them, “You’re only following

me because I fed you.”  He wasn’t interested in part-time disciples.  He was only seeking full-time commitment.  

Here in Luke 14, again, we find large crowds following him as he is on his way to Jerusalem and the cross.  But the crowds seem to think that he is on his way to take his throne and enter his glory.  

Jesus says to them, literally, “To follow me, you must hate your own father and mother, your wife and children, your brothers and sisters, even your own life.”  That’s what Jesus said literally.  Obviously we should take his words literally.  The language of “hate” was sometimes used hyperbolically by the Hebrew people to mean “loving one thing less than another” or “choosing one thing over another.”  Jesus’ culture valued family, and especially showing honor to one’s parents.  But Jesus demands that we give him priority even over family.  That wasn’t easy in his culture, or for that matter, in ours.  

Jesus even says we must love him more than our own life.  “Carry your own cross.”  That means “accept the death penalty.”  Romans made condemned criminals carry their own cross to the place of execution, as a final act of submission to Roman might and an example to warn others.  Jesus tells us to carry the cross voluntarily; to die to self, to choose his will even over our own.  

He tells us to “count the cost.”  We should consider carefully if we are willing to follow him, no matter what.  The traditional words of the marriage ceremony begin by saying that marriage should not be entered into “lightly or unadvisedly.”  It’s the same idea here.  

Jesus gives two examples of counting the cost.  The first is a man who sets out to build a tower, but finds out too late that he doesn’t have the money to finish it.  In a society obsessed with honor, a person would be ashamed to start such a project without being able to finish it.  The second is a king going out to war.  Can he win?  If he doesn’t think he can, then he had better send delegates to secure a peace treaty while his enemy is still far off, as in before his enemy finds out just how few troops he has!  

Both examples were probably inspired by actual events.  In 27 AD, a hastily built amphitheater near Rome collapsed, resulting in more than 20,000 deaths, still the largest number of people ever killed in a building collapse.  More recently, Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, had gotten into a war with a neighboring king over a personal dispute.  He was soundly beaten and humiliated.  

All through this chapter, Jesus has been telling us that discipleship has many costs.  It may mean the loss of social respectability or honor.  It may mean the loss of family or other relationships.  It may mean persecution or even the loss of one’s life.  

There are other currencies in which the cost of discipleship can be paid.  It can mean the loss of a job.  My father-in-law knew a politician in Harrisburg who had to quit his job in the state legislature.  He found politics to be so corrupt that he knew he couldn’t be a Christian and a politician.  A sad reflection on politics.  Or discipleship could mean a change of career.  God might call us out of one profession and into another.  Or it could mean the loss of one’s personal goals or ambitions because of changed priorities or new financial commitments.  

Discipleship is not easy.  And it doesn’t seem to get any easier.  The longer I have been following Christ, the more difficult I find it to be.  Maybe you’ve found the same thing.  So we must count the cost.  

Especially, because Jesus ends this teaching with a threat.  Jesus didn’t use threats often, so we should pay attention when he did.  He says that salt which loses its saltiness is good for nothing and thrown out.  

Most of the salt used in Judea and Galilee came from the Dead Sea, and it was of poor quality.  It was full of impurities.  If it drew moisture, the salt would leach out, and the impurities would be left.  And they were good for nothing.  

What was salt used for?  First, it was used mostly as a preservative, to make food last longer and prevent decay.  Christians should also be a preservative, preventing the moral decay of society around us.  Second, salt was used as a flavoring, to make food taste better.  Christians should be like salt, making life more palatable by offering joy, hope, peace, and meaning to life.  Third, salt was also added to fertilizer.  This may not have been a good use for it, but that’s beside the point.  They believed it made things grow.  Christians should make good things grow, bringing positive change to society around them.  

If we stop doing those things, then we stop doing our essential task.  And a thing that loses its essential quality becomes worthless.  So we should stop and count the cost of discipleship.  Are you willing to follow Christ no matter what?  

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