Sunday, September 5, 2010

“Choosing Discipleship”

Deuteronomy 30:15–20
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 7But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Philemon 1:1–21
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

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

When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love — and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother — especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 2Whoever 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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

A Message from the Pastor
To use a metaphor, I wish I were a fly on the wall of people’s brains who hear or read the gospel text for today. I wonder what their thinking could be. Some could be saying, “Well, we believe in Jesus. We’re Christians. John 3:16 says, ’whoever believes in me will have eternal life.’ Or one could say, “Look, I worship, do good, and help others. I’m a Christian.” Yet, others might say, “Jesus said this before the resurrection. After all what he says could be interpreted as “works righteousness” and we believe we are justified by faith through grace.” Then, others might say that these words of Jesus are too difficult and walk away. However, some might say they wish to be disciples of Jesus, what Jesus asks is very difficult, but I am willing to follow him.”

As we think of these words from the gospel, let’s consider the context of what Jesus is saying. Many weeks ago, we heard the author of Luke say that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew where he was going, he knew what his ministry was all about, and he knew where God was leading him. Yet, he wouldn’t be deterred. As the author of Luke reported, he left Galilee, walked through Samaria and entered Judea as he travelled toward Jerusalem. He met a lot of folks along the way. Several people said they wanted to follow him; however, when he said what it required, they faded into the background. He healed, cured, and cleansed. He challenged the authorities. He had challenging words for all the people, and for us. He visited a group of righteous Pharisees and permitted a sinful woman to wash his feet with her tears. He told parables. One parable suggested that we are to love our enemies; they are our neighbors. He talked about living in an “even playing field.” He suggested we invite the poor, the cripple, the lame, and the blind to dinner.

In spite of everything he said, and all that he did, the crowds grew and followed him. We don’t know why. It could have been out of curiosity. It could have been because of his miracles. It could have been because he challenged the authority. It could have been that he had charisma. Whatever the reason, Jesus turned to them and told them what it meant to really follow him.

This is what he said, according to The Message, the Bible written in contemporary language by Eugene Peterson.

“One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, ‘Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters – yes, even one’s own self – can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

“‘Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: “He started something he couldn’t finish”

“’Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

“’Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.’”

When we read the Biblical texts for today, there seems to be an overriding theme. The theme is that we have a choice. In Deuteronomy, we find Moses bringing the people to the Promised Land. While Moses will not join them in the new land, he is preparing them, and he identifies the choice they have; life and prosperity or death and adversity, life or death, blessings or curses. He suggests that they choose life, that they love the Lord their God, obey him, and hold fast to him. This text focuses on the choices we have as we relate to God.

The second reading helps us to understand the choices we have as we relate to one another. Paul is writing to Philemon. His slave has run away and some scholars suggest that Onesimus even stole money. Running away, alone, could bring severe consequences. Both could bring an end to his life. If not, his remaining life would not be worth living, according to the culture of the time. Onesimus found his way to Paul. In their relationship with each other, as fellow believers, Paul and Onesimus developed a strong relationship. Paul was his mentor. However, Paul sent Onesimus back to his owner. While Paul did not suggest giving Onesimus freedom, he did ask Philemon to accept Onesimus as a beloved brother. It was Philemon’s choice as to how he related to another person.

Jesus is asking us to choose. And he says that if we want to be his disciple, we need to make Jesus our only priority. We are to detach, or let go, of all other people and things. That is the cost of discipleship. That’s not easy. To detach from other people, places, and things is to make life uncomfortable. In fact, it’s painful.

This is what is called shouldering our own cross. People, friends and relatives, don’t understand; they may be offended. And as you “wear the lens of Christ,” you will discover that your priorities change and don’t fit with the priorities of the world. Again, the world does not understand and life becomes painful.

The most painful is to detach from self. Life has been about you. Everything might be based upon self-centered fear. We are afraid that we will lose what we have and/or not get what we want. We see what we’re all about, our shortcomings and character defects, along with the gifts for ministry. Our use of our gifts and the desire to eliminate our shortcomings and character defects take precedent over feeling comfortable. It is very painful.

We do have choices. We can believe we are Christians because we believe in Jesus. We can be good and worship and consider that doing such is enough. We can recognize that we are justified by faith and grace and that’s enough. We can walk away from Jesus because we decide we can’t be Jesus’ disciple. Or, we can choose to be willing to be a disciple, powered by the Holy Spirit. We are willing to accept the reality that we will “kiss the world good-bye.” However, in doing so, we may begin to recognize that the reign of God, rather than the reign of the world, is drawing near. We find the peace and love that Jesus promised.

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