The Cost of Discipleship
The Rev. Garfield Wu
September 8, 2019
Before the sermon today, I want you to take a few seconds, make a list of those you loved the most;
Then another question, do you know what happened as the end of life to the first 12 desciples of Jesus?
The Gospel for today begins with these words of Jesus:
Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, “If any one 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.”
Is that what it means to be a Christian? That we should hate the members of our own family? We must make allowances here not only for the circumstances, but also for the fact that Eastern language is sharp and vivid and dramatic. In Matthew’s Gospel it is stated this way:
Jesus said, “He that loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Still and all, it’s a pretty stringent requirement. Honestly now, let’s take a look our list, in preferential order, how many lists would Jesus’ name be first? If this is the requirement, do I qualify as a disciple, as over against a “follower”?
Why would Jesus use such harsh language in his warning to the crowd? Why was the crowd there at all? One reason, of course, was curiosity. The news about this person named Jesus – the things he did and the words he spoke – had spread along the area. What would he say, and what would he do next? So they gaped at him and trailed after him, something like the way we moderns do to a movie star or a sports luminary or a politician. Jesus used these words like a thresher’s flail to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The second reason for the crowd is this: When Jesus spoke these words he was on his way to Jerusalem and then to the Cross. Patriots in the crowd thought he was their champion on the way to a throne, so they “accompanied” him. They were “with him” physically and emotionally. As his “followers” they would expect to receive his favors. They were following him not only for the excitement, but for the possible perquisites. In this circumstance they needed a stern admonition, and he gave it: they should rather be counting the cost. It is essential but disconcerting to ask ourselves whether we might need the same admonition. With Jesus’ words in mind, can we qualify for discipleship? Our Lord’s concern was that those who were following him for the possible perquisites should rather be counting the cost. Is such an admonition relevant to his followers today?
It is this second reason that poses the greatest danger to us. Jesus is no longer much of a curiosity now, but he is still one from whom great blessings seem possible, and often are received. We need to hear his warnings that these blessings are not cheap, but rather carry the cost of commitment. To separate the followers from the disciples he uses his examples of the builder and the warrior – stressing the need to count the cost of the venture of discipleship.
Today, some people comment, Jesus still has many “followers” – millions of members of the Christian churches – but few disciples. Look at any church record of attendance or stewardship of time, talent and substance. What is the percentage of those who put Jesus first? There are still plenty of people who seek the blessings but are either not counting the cost or are not willing to contribute. Such people seek the “no commitment” blessings he does not offer. Such seeking ends in disappointment and disillusionment. That’s why lots of his “followers” get discouraged with him in our day, just as they did in his day.
One of the facts of political life is patronage. When a party member works and contributes and votes for a candidate, he expects to get something out of it – a contract for his company, a job for his son, help in getting a bill passed. We accept it as a matter of course in political life. However, unfortunately this attitude carries over into other areas of life. For example, I heard a complain when someone didn’t get invitation to join a politian’s gathering”
He said this “I have contributed to his campaign several times, and I received no invitation.” Then he added this significant statement: “Of course, they’ll never get another dime from me. You see? I voted for them. Where is my patronage?”
It is most unfortunate when this attitude carries over into our relationship with God. Some people look on the church membership and occasional contributions as a vote for Jesus. Sometimes they look on the church attendance as a favor to God or the minister, and on the prayers as a bargaining session with God. It becomes a give-and-take experience. Here is the words deeper: “I am voting for Jesus. Where is my patronage?”
We talk a lot about the Christian life being no guarantee of specific dispensation, but many of us can’t quite seem to accept the idea. The Christian life does not protect us from our own incompetence, our own sin and our own foolishness. It does not protect us from the malice and evil in other people, nor from ill health and death. There is much seeming injustice in the world. Sometimes we are its victims, and we want to know why. I vote for Jesus. Where is my patronage? Many of us can’t seem to shake the idea.
A man was in a serious accident. He said to his pastor, “When the doctors told me I would not be able to walk properly or drive my car I nearly lost my faith.” Translation: “I’ve always been good. Why does this happen to me?”
Even some of those who agree with it mentally do not seem to be able to accept it for themselves. For example, a devout and extremely active church woman heard about a small child who was dying. She organized a group of two hundred church members to pray for the child. “We are going to save that child.” The child died. She is now no longer a devout woman. She said, “If God won’t hear the prayers of two hundred of his people, if he will not save the life of a little child, he does not exist.”
I met a man in the building where I’ lving recently. When he learned that I was a minister he said, “My luck has been terrible lately. I tried everything to change it. I even joined the church, but it didn’t help any.” You see? I voted for Jesus. Where is my patronage? It’s the old cry from Calvary, where Jesus was put on the cross, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.”
Discouragement, disillusionment, but not discipleship. Tradition and church history tell us that all of Christ’s disciples save one died a violent death for their faith. Only John escaped martyrdom.* Not discouragement, not disillusionment, but discipleship.
The mark of a great leader is that he sets the terms of his discipleship. In his Idylls of the King, Tennyson tells us that King Arthur bound his knights “by so straight vows that they were dazed as if half blinded by the coming of a light.” Garibaldi offered his men only hunger and death to free Italy. Winston Churchill promised the English people only “blood, sweat and tears” to resist the Nazi invader.
*Andrew died on a cross
Bartholomew was flayed alive
James (son of Zebedee) was beheaded
Simon was crucified
James (son of Alphaeus) was beaten to death
Juda hanged himself
Thomas was run through with a lance
Matthias was stoned and beheaded
Matthew was slain by the sword
Peter was crucified head downward
Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows
Philip was hanged
Jesus makes no bones about the cost of discipleship to him. He makes no false and easy promises. In our witnessing and in our evangelism we should not do it either. A man in States, named Hugh NcNatt, sued the Baptist church and its minister to get his offerings back. He said the minister promised blessings, benefits and rewards would come if he tithed. They didn’t come so he wanted his money back. He obviously voted for Jesus and wanted his patronage.
The message of today’s Gospel seems clear. Christian discipleship is not a matter of social conformity, personal convenience, economic advantage or escape from the harsh realities of life. It is to love the Lord Jesus above all else. It is to find that his presence is our blessing, our strength against temptation, our joy in serving others and our victory over whatever life might bring.
When I read today’s Gospel I think I hear, in my own heart I hope as well as yours, the plaint of those early disciples, “Who then, can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25) I know no other answer than the one he gave to them: “With men this is impossible. With God all things are possible.” It’s the only hope we have.
Let’s us Pray
Help us to love and serve you for what you are, our Lord and Savior, not for what we might get from you. Lead us on the path of commitment and discipleship, that we might know the joy of your presence as we love and serve other people in your name. Amen