Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, November 15, 2019
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Going Overboard

Luke 14:25-33 and Jeremiah 18:1-17

I wonder sometimes: When we read the Bible, do we assume that people were different then than they are now? Specifically, do we assume people were more committed to God in biblical times than they are now?

Were they? I doubt it. I doubt human nature has really changed much in the last two thousand years. I think people in the Bible were just as susceptible to being half-hearted and wishy-washy then as they are now. Read what the prophets of the Old Testament had to say. Read what Jesus had to say. Doesn’t it sound like people then were the same as now?

I think the common attitude toward religion is best summed up by the phrase, “Believe whatever you want; just don’t go overboard with it.” You’re quitting your job and selling your house to go into ministry? Overboard. You’re talking to people you work with about your faith in Jesus? Overboard. You speak up when the conversation turns to something “off-color” or offensive or risqué? Overboard. Believe what you want, but keep it to yourself. Don’t do anything weird. Don’t go overboard.

That definitely doesn’t jive with what Jesus had to say. Jesus says, “You can’t be my disciple unless you hate your family, hate yourself.” That’s what it says literally, here. In this case, the word hate is being used hyperbolically. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times; don’t use hyperbole!” Well, that’s how it’s being used here. Hate means “to love less,” or “to choose against.” What Jesus is saying is that we can’t be his disciples unless we love him more than family, even more than self. We must choose obedience to Jesus over our own will, over the will of our family. And that was a pretty big deal in Jesus’ culture, where loyalty to family was more valued than it is in our society today. It’s overboard, clearly.

“You can’t be my disciple unless you carry your own cross.” The Romans forced condemned criminals to carry their own cross, usually just the cross beam, to the place of execution. So to carry the cross is to accept the death penalty; the death of self so that Christ can live in and through you. Again, overboard.

A disciple must be willing to put Christ first in all things, not just in some things, which quite frankly, is what we would rather do. We’d rather set up nice, neat little fences and then say to Jesus, “You can have this and that and that other thing. But you can’t have these things. These are still mine.” What those things are will vary from

person to person, but I think we all have them. I know I have areas of my life where I’m willing to give them over to Jesus and areas where I want to hold onto them for myself. I think we all do. But Jesus’ demand is simple: Give him everything, or we can’t really be a disciple.

Our text from Jeremiah reminds us that a disciple must be willing to be molded by God, to be remade according to God’s will.

God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s shop. A potter’s shop, which was usually in his home, would be near a source of natural clay. His tool was the potter’s wheel, which was actually two wheels. The smaller, upper wheel was the surface where he worked. The larger lower wheel was what he spun. The larger size gave it momentum, so that once it was moving, he would have time to work with his hands before he went back to spinning. Most lower wheels were spun by hand, but some of the more elaborate set ups had a lower wheel that was spun with the feet, giving the potter more freedom to work.

If the potter decided the clay was not coming into the shape he wanted, he would start over. As long as the clay was still soft, it could still be useful. But once it hardened, if it was not in the shape desired, then it was worthless and discarded.

A disciple must be willing to be molded by God, to be formed according to the image of Christ. God’s warning here is that it’s possible to start off well and then turn aside from the right way. God gave this warning through Jeremiah to the nation of Judah: Turn aside from your evil ways and do good. But the people were hard in their hearts. They were not clay that could be molded. They responded: “We will continue to live as we choose.”

We’d better be careful here. We live in a nation and a culture that highly values independence. And I think we also value, at least to a degree, defiance against authority. I know there’s some of that in me. Someone tells me what I can’t do, and you can be sure there’s a part of me that says, “Oh, yeah! Well then I’ll do it anway!” Those are not really great virtues for a disciple.

God’s lament was, basically, “You can count on nature to be predictable, but not on people.” And there was a sense of foolishness in their actions. They were turning away from the true and living God and turning to idols: Dead, worthless pieces of stone. They were wandering off the highway and slogging through the mud. A highway was

originally just that, a high way, a built up road. The best of them would be built up and then paved with bricks or stones and asphalt. Typically, roads in the countryside would not be paved, but they were at least built up so the water would run off. Who would turn off a good road to slog through the mud? But that’s what God’s people were doing by turning away from him and looking to idols. We Pennsylvanians, of all people, should be able to appreciate the value of good roads! We don’t have them, but we would appreciate them if we did!

I think this ties in well with Jesus’ warning. Jesus basically says, “Count the cost and be sure that you can follow through before you begin the life of discipleship.”

He uses two examples. The first is a person who starts a construction project but is unable to finish it. A few years earlier, in a neighboring province of the Roman Empire, someone had built an amphitheater. But he ran short of money, so he finished it as cheaply as possible. The amphitheater collapsed, killing many people. That may have been the incident Jesus wanted people to think of. In any case, to start a project and be unable to finish would be a dishonor in a society obsessed with honor.

The other example is a king who goes to war and is unable to defeat his enemy. Again, there was a recent example Jesus may have had in mind. Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, had recently gone to war against the king of neighboring Abilene. He lost, badly.

The point of both examples is the same: Better not to start than to start and fail. In Jesus’ day, there was often a heavy cost to becoming his disciple. Joining some strange new religion was the kind of thing that could cost you your job, your family, your relationships, your social standing. How terrible to lose those things for your faith and then to turn aside from your faith and lose your eternal life, as well. If you’re going to follow Jesus, be sure you are willing to follow through!

 

The last word is verse 33, “No one can be my disciple without giving up everything for me.” That is a call for fanaticism, the kind of faith that goes overboard. Jesus never made discipleship sound easy. He never described the life of following him as anything other than difficult. He’s not in the business of deceiving. So we must be sure we are willing to give him everything. We must be willing to go overboard to be his disciples.

 

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