Oh my goodness … AMAZING Rally Day! I’ll talk more later … here’s my sermon!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 8, 2013
Thinking Through Our Discipleship
When I was a freshman in college I was introduced to the world of fraternities and sororities. I will never forget the first weekend of pledging that year. I was not pledging, so I was sitting in the dining hall with some of my friends when all of a sudden groups of pledges came piling into the room. They got their food and then sat down at a table together. They looked exhausted – physically, mentally and emotionally. They were wearing ridiculous get ups and had most likely been awake all night completing bizarre and humiliating challenges. All of a sudden – one after another, almost like dominos – each girl burst into tears.
Greek life had never fascinated me more.
Greek life not only asks college students pledging fraternities or sororities to do a lot and to make a lot of sacrifices, but it demands it. And – regardless of how difficult it may seem at the time – year after year, thousands of students rise to the challenge.
How many of us would rise to the challenge if church membership demanded a similar initiation? Time and time again, people tell me that one of the reasons they love this church is because they do not feel like they need to jump through hoops or conform to a strict set of beliefs in order to come, join and belong.
And while that is true (don’t worry, we have not made that many changes this summer!), this particular Gospel passage has given us quite the conundrum to ponder.
Here are three things that I heard in today’s reading from the Gospel:
- If you do not hate your family, spouse and life, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple.
- If you do not plan on carrying the cross and following Jesus, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple.
- If you do not give up all of your possessions, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple.
Here – more than anywhere else in the Gospel – Jesus paints a vivid picture of what he thinks true discipleship should looks like.
This passage comes from the end of the 14th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus is dining at the home of one of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. At the beginning of the evening, Jesus healed a man who suffered from dropsy. He then spoke in parables, talking first about humility and hospitality and then about serving a great dinner and inviting all in from the streets to come in and eat.
Healing … humility … hospitality … outreach … service … this is the Jesus that so often we like to focus on. This is the Jesus of love and comfort that we learned about in Sunday School. This is the faith that we feel we can live out in our own lives. This is the Good News that we want to embrace and follow.
But there’s more. The chapter goes on as Jesus talks about the “cost of discipleship.” Jesus calls us to do more than extend simple and subtle gestures. Jesus calls us into a radical faith that costs us something; a faith that not only changes the lives of the people we serve, but that changes our lives as well.
“For which of you,” Jesus asked the crowd who had gathered, “intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” In other words – do not come along on this journey if you are not prepared for what it is going to ask of you, for what it is going to cost you.
Cost is not a word that we often see in the New Testament. In fact, it only appears once in the four gospels – right here in this passage.
Could any of us survive that initiation into Christianity? Do any of us live up to those expectations in our lives and in our faith?
Truthfully, passages like these always sort of catch me off guard. Jesus – a man who always seemed to preach peace and acceptance – suddenly throws a curveball by talking about the cost of discipleship. That is scary! Who wants to be held to such high expectations? How will we even begin live up to those expectations? Life – and faith – should not have to be so difficult, right?
Well here is the hard truth: Being a Christian is not easy. Doing the right thing is not easy. Emulating Christ in your words and in your actions is not easy. Christianity demands a level of commitment to humility, service, outreach, hospitality, grace and peace that most of us will never live up to.
But that does not mean that we should not try.
It is time for us to think through our discipleship. We need to look honestly at who we are and how we act. We need to think about both the type of person that we want to be and the type of Christian that we want to be. We have to put our faith first – always. We have to be willing to make sacrifices. We have to – like the Gospel tells us – take up the cross of Jesus and carry it in our own lives. We have to not only lay down the foundation for our faith, but build on that foundation as well.
This is probably the point in the charge to us as Christians where – just like those sorority pledges, one after another, almost like dominos – we all start crying. Because it is not easy. We do not often talk about this, but sometimes Christianity demands more than we think we are able to give.
So – are we all cut out to be disciples? Can we all afford the cost of discipleship?
While it does appear that Jesus charged us to – quite literally – hate our family, spouse and life, carry his cross and give up all of our possessions, I am not entirely convinced that that was not what he was asking us to do. I think that perhaps he was asking us to just look seriously at our faith. He was asking us to stop taking for granted the grace that has been given to us and to think about the ways that we can be active participants in the Body of Christ, not simply passive observers.
We can read this passage and get overwhelmed by the enormity of what Jesus is asking us to do. Or we read this passage and look at it as an opportunity to think through our discipleship.
Thinking through our discipleship means – quite simply – thinking about the disciples that we are and the disciples that we can be. None of us are perfect – and we are not expected to be. But we can try to make small changes that will strengthen who we are as Disciples of Christ. We can be patient and humble individuals. When we are frustrated, we can choose to seek out gratitude instead of acting on our frustrations. We can opt for peace over violence and love over hatred. We can open our hearts and our minds to change and new opportunities. We can try to integrate our faith into more aspects of our lives.
And we should always remember that – in those moments of weakness – we are united in Christ around a font and at a table. There was not one disciple; there were many.
Today is Rally Sunday, a day when we not only begin a new year, but we think about that new year as well. What will the year bring for us? How will this church be changed this year? How will this community be changed this year? And – as you think through your discipleship – how will you be changed this year?
Blessings to you, Disciples of Christ, in your discernment. And welcome home!
Thanks be to God!