Luke 14:25-33 • September 8, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Our gospel text today begins by informing us that large crowds are traveling with Jesus by this point in his ministry. I wonder how large the crowds were after Jesus offers this teaching to them about discipleship. About what it looks like to actually be a disciple.
In my own faith journey, if I read Jesus instruction in today’s gospel in a black and white literal way, I can’t help believe that I’d be one of those in the crowd who walks away at this point. Following this Jesus is just going to be WAY too hard.
Hate my family? Are you kidding me Jesus? Yes, they drive me nuts some times, but hate them? I couldn’t possibly do that.
Carry the cross? Oh that’s easy. I’m carrying all kinds of crosses all the time Jesus, which one do you want me to carry now?
Or maybe the one that seems to sting the most, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Many of you know that I own a few guitars. How many, you ask? Well…more than I probably should, but definitely one less than too many. My guitars are part of my very being. Simply put, I believe that I can no more be a good husband, father, pastor, son or anything else God calls me to be without the presence of my guitars. Music ebbs and flows through everything that I am or am called to do or be as a child of God, a disciple of Jesus. I don’t see my guitars as possessions but as extensions of who I am.
I’ve been shopping for a new addition to the family lately. This past Monday, I was able to make a deal on a guitar that I’d been looking at for a few weeks. It’s actually the one that’s on the screen today – and soon, with the help of FedEx, after making a deal on it this past Labor Day Monday, this guitar will become part of our family. And I’m very grateful for that.
Shortly after this exciting purchase and sharing the good news with my wife, I sat down to do a few minutes of sermon study before we had to leave for a brunch that we were invited to attend. As I came to the last verse of our gospel reading, my heart sank. I was still basking in the joy of a new guitar as I heard Jesus say to me “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Of the four gospels, Luke is the gospel that speaks about wealth the most. Luke points to the way wealth gets in the way of being able to follow Jesus. Being able to be a disciple.
All of the scripture and themes that are before us on this Rally Day – the kick-off to Good Shepherd’s fall ministry and mission – all center us again on discipleship. And what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This couldn’t be a more perfect theme for this day. Because all too often, the way we live our life each day actually pulls us away from being a disciple of Jesus.
So, let’s take a few minutes and dig a little deeper into this. What does it mean to be a disciple? What is a disciple? Are disciples only the 12 men that Jesus chose to follow him at the beginning of the gospel story? Or are you and I also disciples as the gospel story continues to be told and written in our day and time?
One description for a disciple that I’ve found helpful over the years is this. “A (disciple is a) person who follows Jesus, who is, of course, pursuing us. Being a disciple is always to know that Jesus is on a mission to us – to love us, to save us, and to bless us. And being a disciple is always to know that we follow Jesus on this mission and that Jesus is on a mission through us – to love through us, to save through us, and to bless through us.” [Crazy Talk, Rev. Dr. Rolf Jacobson, pg. 53-54]
Being a disciple of Jesus is not something we initiate, it’s something God initiates through Jesus for us. Being a disciple is not about worrying that we’ll get caught if we don’t obey a prescribed set of rules.
Being a disciple is a way of living that shows others who Jesus is through you. If you are a disciple of Jesus, people around you should know it and experience Jesus in all that you say and do.
How do people in your life right now experience Jesus through you as you participate in worship? Are you just sitting there? Or are you actively engaged and participating?
How will people in your life experience Jesus through you on Tuesday or another time when you are not in a formal church worship service?
At the end of our worship today we will participate in a blessing of our vocations. On this Rally Day, it’s a way that sends us out into the world knowing that everything we say and do in our life, is a reflection of Jesus working through us. The word we use to describe this is our vocation. Whatever vocation you are being called to live out this week, it is Jesus working through you that enables that vocation to exist in the first place.
Jesus is on a mission to you that is being lived out in the world through you, right now.
May the vocations God calls you and me into being a reflection of this truth for all the world to see.
The truth of what a disciple looks like today.
Another description of a disciple that I like is this – “To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a student, learner, or apprentice in a community of mutual growth in love.” [The Agile Church, Dwight Zscheile, pg. 10]
I’ve always seen myself as a student and learner. I’m constantly trying to understand more deeply what it means to be a disciple, what it means to live my life as a disciple. I’m constantly reading, studying scripture, taking classes, and having conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ about faith and life.
All of us who call Good Shepherd our faith home has countless opportunities outside of weekly worship to be students. To be life-long learners of the faith in a community of faith that loves us deeply.
I invite you to get involved over the next few months in at least one of the wide variety of ministry programs and events offered at Good Shepherd. I believe they will challenge you to grow deeper in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
And maybe the most pointed description of being a disciple I’ve ever come across is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic book The Cost of Discipleship. Shortly before Bonhoeffer was executed in a Nazi concentration camp in April 1945, he wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.”
When Jesus calls you to be his disciple, he calls you to come and die.
For us, as Lutheran Christians, this call to come and die is exactly what we are talking about when we begin the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism with the words “In baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
You see, baptism is not a five-minute liturgy during a worship service with a bunch of words and promises that have no bearing on the rest of our lives. Baptism joins us to the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus. In baptism, we are called to be disciples.
Jesus knows there are many things that will compete for our attention. Many things. Way too many things.
What Jesus asks of us as God’s children who are called to be his disciples, is that we put all of the things that compete for our attention aside and focus only on him and the cross which ultimately gives us life?
Discipleship calls us to come and die. Because it is only in a death like this that we will ever be joined to life with Jesus.
Several times a year, I’m invited to offer an opening prayer or invocation for local events or conventions in town. Often times, a presentation of the colors followed by the pledge of allegiance or singing of the national anthem happens at the same time. At one of these events, the color guard and the pledge of allegiance came before the prayer. This was the first, and only time as far as I can remember, that it has ever happened in this order. I honestly didn’t think much of it. Someone forgot to tell the MC what the agenda for the day was going to be.
After I finished the prayer and left the stage, I was met by the commander of the color guard. He waited for me because he wanted to offer an apology. He said, “I’m very sorry Reverend. Something got messed up in the schedule and I’m very sorry it happened. You have my word that it will not happen again.”
I asked him what was wrong. I thought everything went just fine.
He said, “It didn’t go fine pastor. We are not supposed to present the colors before the prayer. It is always God before country. Always. I’m very sorry.”
Now, I’m far from an expert on this. And I’m not sure there is a steadfast, black and white rule on this. I’ve actually researched it a little and what I’ve found is that it varies a little depending on the type of event or location of the event or who’s at the event. The order is even different between the chambers of the United States Congress – one way in the Senate, a different way in the House.
What struck me in that brief conversation and apology from the commander was not so much the order of things at this event, but the heart of things expressed by a disciple of Jesus. The heart of this decorated veteran now serving proudly and faithfully as a commander of a local color guard reminding me, the pastor, as he said “It’s God before country pastor. It’s always supposed to be God before country.”
“Why yes, sir. Yes. Yes it is,” was the only reply I could offer. And I thanked him for reminding me of that truth.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Rally Day, in the life of our congregation, I believe that’s all Jesus is trying to say to his disciples – to you and me – again today.
Above your relationship with your father or mother; wife or children; brothers or sisters, your relationship with God is most important and always comes first. Frankly, I do not believe you can have a healthy relationship with anyone else if you don’t have a healthy relationship with God.
And may our possessions never become things that possess us and take control of our lives if we truly want to be disciples of Jesus. Yes, I am looking forward to that new guitar arriving soon, I’m not going to lie about that. But that guitar, or any other guitar I own, will never get in the way of how I respond to Jesus calling me to serve as one of his disciples.
Finally, as our vocations are blessed today, I hope and pray that we enter this new day and a new week, and a new season of the church’s year, by confidently taking up our cross and following Jesus wherever he may lead. Thanks be to God. Amen.