Sermon: The Cost of Discipleship

September 16, 2018
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 1:20-33; Mark 8:27-38

 The Cost of Discipleship

The Knowledge of the World and Its Power
Connecticut is a well-known state for education! A month ago, I visited the University of Connecticut during my day-off. When I walked around the campus, I really hoped to go back to school to study more. I love school because I have a strong passion for knowledge. However, I was also reminded of all the hardships that I took just to survive my expensive school life.

While spending many years in my school, I realized that pure passion for study alone is not good enough to be a good student. In the moment we put our step on the way of learning and want to have an academic achievement, we need to sacrifice many other fun things just to focus on our study. Because it requires a very tough and long discipline, we honor our teachers and scholars who have been through this hard journey of learning.

My school life also taught me that seeking knowledge is not all positive; it has negative things in it. Somehow it causes inequality in our society. I don’t want to say this, but it is true that money is one of the necessary requirements for our study. The school seems open wide to everyone, but the actual advantage of education is more given to the privileged.  The rich will get more chances of education; they can study well because they don’t need to worry about financial difficulties.  After getting their college degree, they can have good jobs and so keep their wealthy circle of life. Yet the poor have the lesser chance of education, therefore they can’t get a good job and have to remain in their poor circle of life. On the one hand, education can make us better off in our personal life, but on the other hand, it can cause social divisions in our communities.

The Knowledge of God
What does then the Bible talk about knowledge? The Proverbs teaches us to seek for knowledge because it helps us to find God’s will, guides us to the righteous way, and give us a comfortable life; “Those who listen to me (knowledge) will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster’ (v. 33). If I summarize the overall theme of the book of Proverbs, it is “seeking God’s knowledge” and “God’s knowledge” is much more precious than any other knowledge in the world. Then I wonder how much we have to pay and work hard to get this precious knowledge of God.

I know a professor in my school whose academic fame is well known all over the world. One of my academic goals was to become her doctoral student, so I could learn her great knowledge and eventually become a professor that I could also teach others in school. She also knew I was eager to be her student, and she encouraged me to apply for the doctoral program in her major. To my disappointment, she didn’t choose me but chose another candidate whose academic ability must be superior to mine. With all my heart, I wanted to follow her as her disciple or student, but I couldn’t because she didn’t accept me.

As Christians, we are eager to come to Jesus and learn from him just to be more like him. Actually, one of his main ministries was to teach people, and he was called a Master in his day. Then who deserves to be his disciples? How much rich, smart, and good we must be to be chosen to be his disciples?

Does our Lord Jesus give his candidates certain tests, and if we can’t give good answers, will he fail us although we are willing to learn from him? Thankfully, he is full of compassion and delighted to accept us the way we are. We don’t need to be rich; we don’t need to be smart; we don’t need to be perfect enough to be chosen as his disciples. Whoever comes to him, Jesus feeds them, heals them, and fills them with the Gospel of God’s salvation. He never let his followers go empty-handed.

 The Cost of Discipleship
However, is it really right that there are no requirements in Jesus’ call to discipleship? We are familiar with the term, “discipleship.” It is a special training for those who want to follow his life and ministry. In order to get a certain professional knowledge, students must be thoroughly trained with heavy assignments for such a long time. When they complete their tough training course, they can become new scholars who are able to teach other students. Likewise, we Christians must be well trained if we want to follow our Master and lead others to his way.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had a field education with his disciples, where he taught them what discipleship means. He just told them for the first time that he must suffer many things and that he must be killed and, after three days, rise again. As you know, Peter protested against his destiny as he took Jesus aside and tried to stop his way to the crucifixion. But Jesus turned all this around and told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (v. 33).

According to Jesus, Peter failed his discipleship because he didn’t have in mind “divine things,” but “human things.” What are divine things and human things? Following Jesus and observing his ministry, Peter came to see him as a super hero to overthrow the Roman Empire.  Beside this King Messiah, Peter thought he could enjoy the ruling power upon the world. Peter was so sure that he deserved those political benefits because he was one of his disciples.

But Jesus only rebuked him, saying if anyone wants to follow him, they should take up their crosses, deny themselves, and follow him (v. 34) all the way to Jerusalem where he died on a cross. Simply put, Jesus’ disciples must assume their places as a servant of others. If the worldly benefits are human things that Peter had in his mind, the servant-ship is divine things that Jesus our Master requires his disciples to have in their mind.

The Discipleship to Serve Others
Peter’s own testimony in this passage demonstrates our egoism and desire. Yes, we want to enjoy our benefits but ignore our duties; we want to be honored but refuse to kneel down to honor others. We want to study hard or work hard because we want to have our lives better and richer. That is the very thing of our human nature. But as far as we are concerned about God’s salvation, we should pay attention to Jesus’ warning in verse 35: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

What Jesus says is that salvation comes not from our own obsession with the worldly success but from Jesus and his gospel that points to service, which is “divine things.” How come? As we are engaged in serving others, 1) we may see ourselves free from all kinds of idol worships and look upon Jesus as the Lord of our lives. And then, 2) we can turn our attention from ourselves to the whole of our society and bring people to reconciliation and unity with one another. Seeking knowledge can make our lives better off but can oppress and even kill others, but 3) serving others will sustain our communities in peace, justice, and love, that is the material of God’s kingdom.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we should realize that the knowledge of God is not the matter of power but the matter of service for others. And it is our discipleship that empowers us to look after the lost in our communities, break down all kinds of social injustice, and fight for God’s kingdom where all people can recover their dignity as God’s children. Amen.