Sermon: The Cost of Discipleship

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.

Sermon: VBS-Nurturing Children in Discipleship

June 30, 2019
Third Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 9:51-62
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

VBS – Nurturing Children in Discipleship

Vacation Bible School
What a wonderful week we had last week at our Vacation Bible School! It’s always fun to see little children come, sing and dance in our gatherings, isn’t it? I believe that our kids were excited about everything we provided for them and their parents were thankful for our programs as well. I was so thankful that our church was full of people coming from many communities. In my prayer for Family Night on Thursday, I said that as we have kids in our family, in our church, in our communities, we always have hope for the next generation.

But VBS is not only a fun time; it is also a lot of work. I can’t count the hours and efforts that our teachers and volunteers put into its preparation. If you stopped by our church last week, you must have been surprised to see how beautifully our sanctuary and fellowship hall were decorated. Some of our teachers took time off from their jobs to volunteer their time with the kids.

Why do we want to do VBS every year; what does VBS accomplish? If you ask me, I would say that it is “youth discipleship.” Our 2019 VBS reminds me of this old proverb: “The wise father doesn’t give his child a fish but teaches him/her how to fish. VBS director, Linda Shivers said, “We have taught our youth how to run the VBS programs so that they can serve Sunday School or youth group when they grow up.” Throughout our VBS program, we have nurtured both our kids and young adults to grow as disciples.

We Christians are called fishers of people in the world, for Jesus called his disciples fishers of people. Jesus doesn’t say “Follow me and I will give you fish,” but says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” During his three-year public ministry, Jesus nurtured and taught his disciples how to fish the souls of men. Our secular vocations can be varied, but our spiritual vocation is to catch people and bring them to God’s love.

The Field Education of Discipleship
In today’s Gospel lesson from Luke, we can see Jesus went on a mission trip with his disciples. He decided to go to Jerusalem because he knew that the time drew near for his return to heaven (v. 51). In other words, he was aware that it was almost time for him to die in Jerusalem for the forgiveness and redemption of all humanity.

In the face with his coming death, Jesus reflected on what to leave to his followers before he died, so they could continue his salvation ministry. As the Son of God, he had marvelous power: healing the sick, casting out demons, making storms calm with a few words; feeding thousands of people in the wilderness… Jesus could have given his supernatural power to his disciples so they could also show many miracles to attract people’s attention.

But Jesus never directly gave his disciples power. Instead, he taught them how to serve people as they traveled. Simply put, Jesus was trying to teach them how to fish people.

On this mission trip, Jesus meets several people eager to follow him, but he doesn’t look like a good recruiter. Someone says that he wants to follow him wherever he goes. Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 58). To another, Jesus invites to follow. This one, as any good child would do, says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus’ response is not positive: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60). Another person has a perfectly reasonable request: “Let me first say farewell to those at my home.” This time, Jesus says the one thing that allows me to make sense of all the crankiness: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).

Jesus is pretty harsh with these fellows. What does he expect? To my perspective, what he is doing is not recruiting but turning away willing volunteers!

Now let us be reasonable. Burying one’s father or going home to say goodbye to family and friends are perfectly normal things anyone wants to do. But why is Jesus so negative about those ordinary things? I believe that Jesus is not against burying the dead, nor is he anti-family values. He, too, left his parents. He, too, went away from his hometown Nazareth and all his friends. He too left everything behind when he decided to follow God’s calling. When he left everything behind, he made God’s Kingdom his top priority. He had counted the cost.

When Jesus is so harsh with those who want to follow him, I believe Jesus wants to make clear with them that the cost of following him is high. The point of his demand is total commitment – seeking God’s kingdom must be a top priority.

Signing on discipleship means that everything becomes secondary to serving God’s kingdom and sharing the Gospel of Christ. Jesus tells us that if we decide to follow him, we should keep in mind that we will be less secure than foxes and birds. Discipleship will cost us.

As modern-day followers of Jesus, unfortunately, are challenged by so many options in our daily routines. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to make a decision, and, before we make a decision, we should know our journey with him will not be easy at all. There are so many things that we need to give up against our desire. Nevertheless, if we feel more secure than foxes and birds, perhaps we are spending too much time burying our dead, chatting with friends, and looking back over the plow.

If we only focus on salvation in heaven, then we might expect God to just give us “fish.” But if we focus on discipleship, then we can strive hard to live a good life and fish the souls in the name of Jesus Christ. For that, we must decide to “put our hand to the plow and do not look back.”

Friends, we are called to follow Christ with a firm determination of no turning back. Following Jesus is 24/7/365. It is always forward and never easy. However, it doesn’t mean not doing anything else; it means doing everything else with our face set toward Jerusalem with all hearts, minds, and powers invested in God, through the power and witness of Jesus Christ. Amen.