September 8, 2019
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
The Cost of Discipleship
Today we celebrate our annual Rally Sunday to welcome our children back and start our Sunday School year. Through this Rally Sunday, our Grove Street Music, pick-up choir, and youth group will come back. I am so excited about the things we are going to do together this fall season. As we are now coming back from our long summer vacation, I believe we will have more attendees to our Sunday worship service.
“How many do you have on a Sunday morning?” We are kind of obsessed with counting numbers. We are envious of so-called mega-churches. Mega-churches look more dynamic than small churches. We feel good when we have lots of people joining our service because we tend to consider a large crowd at our church as a success.
The Cost of Discipleship
Since he was always surrounded by people, Jesus probably was good at mega-ministry. The Gospel lesson for this morning starts with the sentence, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus” (v. 25).
The crowds were free to come and go. Jesus had a chance to grow his ministry as he got huge crowds following him. If I were Jesus, I would try to meet every person in the crowds, shake hands with them, give my business card, and get everyone’s name, phone number, and home address. Of course, I would have a fun chat with them while drinking a cup of coffee together. I would do my best to make them happy with me, so they would feel good and come back again and again.
But I think that Jesus wasn’t a good recruiter; when he spoke directly to people, he told them how difficult it is to become his disciples and follow his way. Let us hear again what he said to the crowds: 1) “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” (v. 26); 2) “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (v. 27); 3) “Any of you who does not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple. (v. 33).
If I translate his words in our language, it would be like this: “Friends, thank you for joining in our service today, but I’ll tell you how hard it is to join our membership. First, you’ve got to hate your family. Then, you must carry a cross like condemned criminals. Along with that, you have to give up everything you have worked hard to have. Do these things otherwise you can’t be a member of our community.”
Jesus came to the world to save many people and bring them to God’s kingdom. But I wonder why he spoke those harsh words and made them feel scared of following him. It is because he was deeply concerned about people’s spiritual growth rather than the size of his community. In Jesus’ own word, he was concerned about making disciples in his ministry.
It is important to note why large crowds were always following Jesus. Some followed him because they were curious about who he was and what miracles he brought. Some were spies from the Jewish government; they wanted to see what Jesus might do that they could report back to their headquarters. Some came looking for healing, some looking for bread, and some looking for fellowship. Not everybody who followed him was there for the same reason, but they all followed him because they believed he could satisfy their needs.
Whatever reasons people gravitated to Jesus, our good Lord never turned his face away from anyone who came to him. However, he was also aware that the crowds would turn away from him if he didn’t satisfy their needs (John 6). Jesus cried out those harsh words not to drive people out but to look for disciples among them who could go with him until the end for the sake of his salvation ministry.
Yes, it is the disciples who can go to all the nations to baptize people in his name. Not the crowds but the disciples can even die for God’s kingdom. Not the mega-church but the church who has faithful disciples can carry on the good news of Christ.
So what can we do with those harsh words Jesus spoke to the crowds? Do we need to shout it to convert some people to discipleship? Although Jesus was demanding of people with his message, people still kept following him wherever he traveled. It means that Jesus provided something exciting and something effective to satisfy their needs. Following Jesus’ methods, I hope we can have lots of fun activities in our worship and ministry, so people would like to join us. On the other hand, we should strive hard to make disciples in all our gatherings.
In God’s Hands
I want to take the Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah as a reference to Jesus’ discipleship in Luke’s Gospel. God sends Jeremiah down to the potter’s house to make a point that God is the potter, and we are his clay: “‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel’” (v. 6).
Yes, God is the Creator, and we are his creatures. God is the Lord, and we are his servants. The bottom line of our relationship with God is that we are in God’s hands. As we are in God’s hands, we are not the crowds who are free to come and go, but we are disciples who will stay in his community and follow his way until the end. As we are his disciples, we will become his heart to love each other, his feet to reach out to those in need, his hands to touch the broken-hearted, and his mouth to speak the good news to the world.
And friends, believe that our discipleship is not all about hardship but it can be fun! How come? Two thousand years ago, the large crowds were happy to follow Jesus. There must be something exciting in Jesus’ ministry. When we are committed to God’s ministry, we will have the same fun and same authority as Jesus. Discipleship is a demanding thing. Discipleship is a delightful thing. If you would follow Jesus Christ, come with all you are and with all you have. Amen.