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.

Sermon: Counting the Cost

Counting the Cost
Luke 14:25-33
4 Sep 2016

The Bridger-Teton Natural Wilderness Area in Wyoming has over 600 miles of hiking trails and many campsites. In a survey, campers were asked to list ways in which the park could improve the quality of services.  Here are some of the actual responses:

  1. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
  2. There are too many bugs, leeches, spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests.
  3. Please pave some of the trails.
  4. Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to the wonderful views without having to hike to them.
  5. The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
  6. A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed?
  7. A McDonald’s would be nice at the trailhead.
  8. Too many rocks in the mountains.

I don’t think the campers who took this survey, really understood what it meant to camp out in a national wilderness area. I see similarities when it comes to the Kingdom of God; I am sure there are those who do not understand what it means to be a genuine disciple of the Lord.  My text is Luke 14:25-33.

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For 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? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or 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? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.  This is the Word of God.

Let me begin with verse 26. 26“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.”

Those are indeed strong words. When Jesus used the word “Hate”, he used it as a hyperbole or an exaggeration, just as we would say:

  • He or she eats like a horse
  • Grandpa is older than dirt
  • That car goes faster than the speed of light
  • It’s so hot you can fry an egg on the sidewalk
  • His stomach is a bottomless pit

When our Lord spoke of “hate” he didn’t mean for us to have bad feelings towards others, but he meant it as a word of priority.  In other words, we must love God more than the members of our own family or even our own lives.  When you think about it, that type of teaching is certainly radical.

In 2001, Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, both Christian aid workers in Afghanistan, were arrested by the Taliban and held prisoners for 128 days. When both women were rescued and flown back to the United States, they wrote about their ordeal in a book called Prisoners of Hope. The Story of Our Freedom and Captivity in Afghanistan.  Both women stated in the beginning that their families were strongly opposed to this type of missionary trip.  And with good reason, they felt it was too dangerous and undoubtedly they would be putting their lives at risk.  But you have to give these two young women credit, for their love for the Lord far transcended the love they had for themselves and even for their families.

The call of discipleship urges us to make God our first priority. When we respond to the call, there could be some misunderstanding among loved ones.

For teenagers who have a strong faith in God, peer pressure at school could tempt them to compromise their beliefs and standards. Sure, everyone wants to be accepted and liked, but there may come a time when our young people will have to count the cost of discipleship and decide, “Do I follow God’s will for my life or would I rather be popular with my friends?”

In certain parts of the world, if people were to give their hearts to the Lord and convert to the Christian faith, there is a very strong possibility they could be disowned by their family; in some instances, they can lose their jobs. Those new disciples may be called upon to pay a greater cost than most, but they will do it joyfully, because of the Lord’s great salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of eternal life.

Verse 27 “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Back in biblical times, the reference to the cross was unmistakable: a convicted criminal carried his cross to the place of execution; it was an unforgettable sight.

Occasionally we will see in today’s modern day society, people who wear crosses around their necks. As a witness and an opportunity to share my faith, I will make the comment, “That is a nice cross” to see what kind of response I get.  But regardless of whether people wear a physical cross or not, when our Lord tells us to take up our cross, spiritually he wants us to give him our very lives and follow him.

Verse 28 & 29 “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, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

In Biblical days, watchtowers were built within city walls for the protection of its citizens. And perhaps when our Lord spoke those words, there might have been a half completed watchtower nearby.  If that was the case, I am sure it brought smiles to the faces of the disciples.

When I was in seminary in the city of Springfield, Missouri, there was a nearby Bible College that had begun construction on a circular building. It was located on a very busy street.  Cement had been poured into the foundation, metal beams were put in place to hold the roof, and then everything had stopped; this shell of a building stood dormant.  The financier of this building project had gotten into some financial difficulties, and construction came to a halt.  It soon became a source of ridicule among the people of the city.  After four long years, money was raised and the building was finally completed.  It is an attractive building and houses the missions department for this Bible College.

In our scripture text for today, our Lord tells us when we fail to count the cost, it has parallels to discipleship. Before we make a commitment, we need to ask ourselves.  “Am I in this for the long haul? Will I follow the Lord no matter what?”

Often visitors and new comers will walk through our church doors and become intrigued with the gospel, the newness of faith, and the freshness and vitality of a spiritual walk with the Lord. Some of these people eventually become a member.  In some cases, the newness wears off and, in time, they begin to drift and eventually stop coming.  Some of these people had failed to count the cost of discipleship.

When ministers get together, we talk shop. One pastor told me that when a person in her congregation wanted to become a member, she asked them to wait 6 months and attend the worship services, sit in on the Bible studies, attend some committee meetings and volunteer.  And at the end of that period, if they still wanted to become a member, the church would receive them with open arms.  She told me the results were mixed:  There were those who waited six months and became dedicated disciples, and then there were others who sort of drifted off.  When I heard this, I decided to do the same.

You see each congregation is like a family. Six months in the life of a church will contain highs and lows.  There will be times of great inspiration like All Saints Day, Advent, Christmas Eve, Lent, Palm Sunday, Easter and Memorial Day.  Then there will be other Sundays where there will be quiet introspection.  In a church, there is the need to work together and inevitably there might be some conflict.  Also in church membership or Christian discipleship, there is a cost: our prayers, our presence, our giving, and our service.

I remember one former parishioner and his wife came up to me and said “Our six months are up. How did we do?  Did we make it?”  I think I surprised them when I asked, “How did we (the church) do?”

When we follow Christ, it is the wisest choice we could ever make, but it does not come cheap. As the hymn writer wrote, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy, but to Trust and Obey.”

Let me conclude with this story. A long time ago in a mountain village in the old country, a wealthy nobleman wanted to do something special for the town, so he built them a church.  During the construction phase, no one was permitted inside until it was finished.  At the dedication, many marveled at its beauty until someone noticed there were no lamps inside.  Of course, this church was built long before electricity.  The nobleman was asked how the church was to be lit.  He pointed to some empty brackets in the walls and gave each family a diagram of where they were to sit on Sunday morning and place their lamp.  Then he said, “Every time you are here: the place where you are seated will be lit.  When you are not here, that place will be dark.  This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark.”

I love that story. It is true.  I would like you to go home and think about that.  So may God help all of us to be those types of disciples who can be counted on for his kingdom.