Home > Uncategorized > The Cost of Discipleship, Sept 4

The Cost of Discipleship, Sept 4

Luke 14:25-35

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Almost a century ago now, the German pastor and theologian best known for his leadership in the face of the Nazis wrote the book he is probably best known for, The Cost of Discipleship.  I remember I was in college and I’d heard passing reference to Bonhoeffer in a lecture or even a chapel sermon, and I’d stumbled across this book and I tried to read it and found it incredibly challenging.  And challenging not just because I was a Gen Xer trying to read and understand the work of someone from another generation, and another country, and in a very different context from the one I knew.  But challenging because the robust faith Bonhoeffer described was a far more serious thing, with far-reaching implications than I had experienced up that point.

In his book he was critical of the version of Christianity he called “cultural Christianity.”  Germany in the 1930s was at their zenith culturally.  These were the people who had inherited Bach, Goethe, and Kant and built on that inheritance with Schubert and Brahms and Mendelssohn.  And the German people thought of themselves that way.  It’s hard to find a people in human history who thought of themselves as living in the greatest nation the world had ever seen.  Oh, wait.  I guess it’s not.  We could draw more than a few similarities between early twentieth century Germany and our own country a century later, all except for the high culture part.  Ours is very distinctly a popular culture that we are soaked in and export around the world.  It is not the highest humanity has achieved in terms of the good, the true, and the beautiful but rather we delight in the ironic, the clever, and the pretty, the hipsters, the Chuck Lorre sitcoms and the Kardashians.  All of that so suggest that maybe the America most people see within and from outside, is not Christian America established by God through the Founders, as the narrative goes.  And the predominate religion of the land isn’t Christianity as much as it is something more akin to a cultural Christianity.  In our case though it’s a cultural Christianity expressed not through the art and music of high culture but of pop culture.

The name of Bonhoeffer’s book was The Cost of Discipleship, and as I recall, it was his opinion that his culture failed to understand that cost in terms of life energy and attention to holy things.  In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus outlines the true cost of following after him.  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:26–27)  This is a rather pointed statement from Jesus.  The last few weeks, if you’ve been listening, Jesus has been saying some thought-provoking things, if not just downright uncomfortable things.  It is election season, and it’s been the strangest one I can remember.  Can you imagine a politician standing up for a stump speech and saying, “I’m going to level with you.  The truth is I was bought a long time ago by special interests and so if you vote for me, I’m going to actually be working for them not you.  But the truth is, you won’t care because you’ll be so worried about the affairs of your own life, as you should really, that you won’t be able to do anything more than listen to media outlets, who let’s face it, are also not operating in your best interest either.  But vote for me!”  Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the people in the crowd?  This is not the way the game is played.  We craft and spin and stay on message.  No one speaks the hard word today.  And if someone were to speak it we wouldn’t know how to hear it.

What Jesus is saying this morning is not too far away from that absurd example.  It’s as if Jesus is saying, “So, you want to be my disciple?  Great!  So start hating your family, even yourself, and take up the cross of discipleship.”

Maybe a different example would help.  Instead of a politician, imagine an Olympic coach for an athlete.  The athlete has worked hard up to a point, maybe won a few high school and early college swim meets and shows real talent, real potential.  But upon meeting the coach, the coach who has been to the Olympics several times, as an athlete and as a coach and knows what it takes, says.  “It’s great to meet you.  So, you want to be an Olympic swimmer.  Well, from here on out, it gets real.  You’re going to have to live, breathe, eat, and sleep as though you were training.  That’s the only way.”  We can understand that, can’t we?  If it’s us, we might not like the sound of it but we can understand the restrictive nature of these words.

In the Christian tradition we have a very high place for family, so it might sound strange to hear we have to “hate” our family to follow Jesus.  First, we should not a distinction of usage here.  It’s not absolute but relative.  Jesus isn’t saying all Christians must absolutely hate their families to follow Him but rather saying discipleship means following Jesus is more important than family.  And when this hard saying is heard in the context of the rest of Jesus’ words here, renounce the self and be prepared even to die in shame, we heard these first words become clearer to our ear.  Jesus isn’t denying the good order of family that His own Father created as much as He is showing the radical nature of the call to follow Him.  Everything about living in the kingdom of God has this urgency to it, this level of seriousness.  Following Jesus is a matter of life and death.  At least, it’s supposed to be.  As serious as building a castle or waging war.

Did you notice that in both examples, the guy who’s trying to build a tower and the king who is rattling his saber both fail.  Having failed to properly asses the real cost, the endeavors they began with their own resources did not come to fruition.  This has an immediate application to being a disciple of Jesus.  It’s not that we can look ahead and see what it will cost us to be followers of Jesus but rather Jesus is calling us to look carefully how our own abilities in following him fall short of the goal.

Jesus’ summary statement, “So, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”  This probably doesn’t mean sell everything like Jesus made plain with the rich young ruler.  Rather Jesus is probably trying to get us to see that ownership of things is not a chief concern of people following Him in the kingdom of God.  And if you think about it, that’s what we mean when we talk about stewardship.  A Christian truly owns nothing it is the Lord’s given to him or her for a little while either until someone more needy could use it, or we are called home.  But it’s probably fair to say that Jesus is calling His disciples to give up what they think of as theirs—their time, their talents, their wealth and possessions.  And that is certainly a word for us all, is it not?  Let the one who has ears hear.

As disciples of Jesus in the kingdom of God we have been given guardianship over the wherewithal we need for this body and life.  (There, I know nobody likes the word stewardship so I used a different word).  Does guardianship work for you?  I said that there was a cost of discipleship.  I lead into this whole idea talking about Bonhoeffer’s book in which he took his fellow Christians to task for their focus on cultural Christianity, rather than the call to following Jesus.  I said that following after Jesus in the kingdom of God is a matter of life and death and yet, like me, you’ve probably been focused on your life and your potential death.  But the kingdom of God is about following in Jesus’ life and death, and resurrection to new life.  It’s not something we have to for ourselves; He has already counted the cost and paid it with His own death on the cross, for you.  He has called us to dwell with Him in the mighty fortress of God’s free grace and waged war against our greatest enemy, death itself.  It seems like such a small thing now after we have realized the great cost paid that we might be disciples and followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It seems like it might even make us thankful, fill our mouths with praise, even have some effect on the little corner of the world we live in.  And that’s what it’s supposed to do.  Count yourself blessed.  Jesus payed the cost of your discipleship.  Amen.

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