Message for Sunday 8 September 2019: “Dedicated Disciple”

How much does it cost you to be God’s disciple? This is more than a rhetorical question in Luke 14:25-33, where Jesus discussed becoming God’s dedicated disciple.

The original setting for today’s message involved Jesus commenting about a crowd that was following him. Among those tagging along, Jesus felt that there were superficial persons who didn’t understand what it meant to be a dedicated disciple. Addressing this situation, Jesus uttered powerful statements intended to separate the serious devotees from the idly curious, weak-willed, and easily offended. Jesus’ perspective highlights the fact that discipleship and an effective spiritual life are neither cheap nor easy.

Jesus wrested peoples’ attention when he said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Jesus’ words smack the sensibilities and stretch everything we thought we knew about reasonableness. At stake is the determination to be a disciple and to live a legitimate spiritual life. Jesus’ words again collide with peoples’ sensibilities when he spoke, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Jesus then compared the cost of devotion to God with a construction project and to a king preparing for war.

Consider Jesus’ example of discipleship based on the story of estimating how much it would cost to build a tower. The gist is that if you begin a project unprepared then you risk a nasty surprise for not having enough money or resources to finish it. Aside from the ridicule of observers, the problem could arise that you also become disheartened due to poor planning. Another example Jesus provided about discipleship is that of a king deciding to go to war when he is outnumbered by his enemy. Here again, the issue is facing a situation realistically and deciding what are the requirements of success. Sometimes it is better to avoid an almost certain catastrophe unless you have discerned a likely path to victory.

How far should you take Jesus’ words? Sometimes communication involves hyperbole, which is an intentional exaggeration designed to grab attention. But for goodness sake please don’t escape your duty to become God’s disciple by dismissing Jesus’ words as outlandish fantasy. It’s better to receive the message that your love and dedication to God should be so great that, in relative terms, all other of your desires pale. Jesus was all about love but that doesn’t mean that he was soft-spoken. The crowd accumulating around Jesus needed to clarify their priorities and Jesus’ response provoked definitive reactions. As people of faith, we are challenged to serve God decisively above other competing commitments.

A lesson in all the discipleship examples is that it’s costly to be God’s disciple. Therefore it can be helpful to ensure that you are serious when considering a faithful life. As with any worthwhile pursuit, clarity and commitment can help reveal what you’re getting into. Are you prepared for sacrifice and challenge? Are you able to withstand the rigors of dedication to God’s principles? Can you make the hard choices of rearranging priorities? It may seem overwhelming to face all the challenges but with God’s help, each of us can be successful. The stakes, like the cost, couldn’t be higher. But then again, the potential rewards are inestimably wonderful because God’s children are blessed in a myriad of ways.

Discipleship is first and foremost your personal journey of walking with God. But what does discipleship mean in the context of our church, which is a collective expression of faith? At a minimum, we can commit to what we call at St. John our “We can DO it” initiative. The “D” refers to partnering with God to make existing Christians stronger—the discipleship Jesus taught—while the “O” references outreach, which is partnering with God to help make new Christians. Slogans and cute phrases aside, the serious issue behind all this is worthy of your concern and commitment. Without dedicated disciples, the church becomes weakened and functions more like a social club than as a vital expression of God’s transforming Spirit.

It’s good to be reminded that life as a dedicated disciple is a full contact blood sport, not a whimsical parlor game where we sit in the pews satisfied in exchanging superficial niceties and soul-numbing liturgy. We are all on the battlefield of faith, hitting hard and getting hit as we move onward and upward against internal and external resistance.

Are you willing to help yourself and your church take a stand and do whatever it takes for discipleship and outreach? Let’s pray that God will prepare every friend and member of our church to be committed disciples, dedicated to spiritual growth in receiving and sharing God’s love and truth.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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