Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 6:22
"Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and say that you are evil, all because of the Son of Man!"

Luke 5:27
Jesus said, "Follow me." Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cost of discipleship

I have been rereading one of my favourite books - Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. This is an amazing and challenging book especially when you know something of Bonhoeffer’s life. Most of you would know that he was a Lutheran pastor and head of the seminary of the German ‘Confessing Church’ during the Second World War. Even before the war started he openly criticised the political system that had misled the nation and made the ‘Fuhrer’ its idol and god. He was arrested in 1943 and even while in prisons and concentration camps he inspired his fellow prisoners and even the guards (who smuggled out his writings) with his commitment, calmness and courage in the face of the most terrible situations. Even when threatened with torture, the arrest of his parents, his sister and fiancée he continued to defy the Gestapo admitting that, as a Christian, he was an enemy of Hitler’s totalitarian regime.

Bonhoeffer was not prepared to ‘fall in line’ and stand on the sidelines and watch but as a disciple of Christ he knew that it was his duty to oppose the tyranny of such an evil regime.

We may not be facing the extremes of Hitler’s Germany but nevertheless what Bonhoeffer says about discipleship is just as important today.

Bonhoeffer defines discipleship as complete adherence and commitment to Christ. Where discipleship is not this;
does not involve personal obedience and even sacrifice;
does not lead people to stand against what is evil;
does not make love for God and others central to everything the Christian does
then, to use Bonhoeffer’s words – "Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ". Discipleship does not tolerate anything that might come between Jesus and obedience to him.

When Jesus calls us to follow him he first of all demands that we take a step. So following Jesus isn’t just a matter of knowing stuff in our heads; it’s not a matter of having grown up with Christianity all our lives so we just do Christian things like worship, pray, read our Bibles and so on. We are called to make a step.
So for example, when Peter is in the boat and he sees Jesus walking on the water, he asks Jesus to call him out onto the waves. And when Jesus calls him he has only one way of getting to where Jesus is - he must leave the boat behind and step out on to the water.
When Jesus calls Matthew to follow him, there is an instant reaction. There is total obedience. Matthew takes the step and walks with Jesus.
When Jesus speaks to the Rich Man who wants to know how to be saved, Jesus tells him to leave behind what’s dearest to him - his riches - and step out and follow.

Discipleship involves letting go,
leaving behind,
following without conditions,
not knowing where Jesus will lead, or what consequences will be of following him,
not considering what others will think.
Discipleship requires determination and stickability – when the going gets tough obedience calls us to stay with Jesus, his church, the people who are fellow disciples with us. Jesus is calling us to encourage and help one another realise what he is calling us to do as his holy people in the church.
As I said before, discipleship means nothing less than total and complete obedience to Jesus. The only thing a disciple can do is literally to go with Jesus.

Before I go any further, and Bonhoeffer makes this point also – obedience is not a way that we get on God's good side and so become good pals with the One who can answer our prayers, give us forgiveness and the ultimate reward - eternal life. Maybe that’s how it is in the work place. You do a good job, do what you are asked to do and you are rewarded. But that’s not the way it works with God.

The starting point is always Jesus. He sees us, confronts us, gets involved with us and calls us. He takes the initiative. Any credit anyone can claim for being a follower lies solely with Jesus. He chooses, calls, leads the way and we follow. When he calls us and confronts us he calls for obedience. We recognise who he is, we hear his voice, and we obey.

Peter, James, John, Matthew and the others were confronted by Jesus. They left everything - their family, their income, their friends, the safety of being with people who know them,
and they step out, not really knowing where their stepping will lead, but they step out anyway. Trusting Jesus, they leave everything and follow Jesus.

The questions that we are led to ask ourselves are -
Have I consciously, deliberately left anything behind to follow Jesus?
Or am I trying to follow him and take everything with me?
Remember the 3 men who came wanting to follow Jesus.
Jesus reminds one that there’s no security, not earthly security, in following.
Another wants to bury his father first and Jesus asks him to let go of the past and come and follow.
Another wants to say goodbye to his family, and Jesus says, "You want to follow, that means only looking ahead, no looking back!"

Pretty tough stuff. Obedience is not an option for the follower of Christ. Without obedience there is no discipleship.

Has following Jesus been an easy road to travel -
no real demands;
nothing really to upset us;
we can follow and nothing much really changes?

We don’t have to think too hard and long to realise that the much preferred option that we make is to take the easy way out and not make life any harder than it is.
We don’t have the time, the skills, the drive to do anything other than survive each day. It’s much easier if those who are really keen do the obedience bit.

That’s precisely the kind of temptation that Satan put in front of Jesus.
"Come on Jesus, you’re God, too good for this suffering servant kind of stuff. Take the easy path, jump off the temple roof and impress everyone with your power and you can be sure they will follow you. No need for all that obedience kind of foolishness. This is much easier".
Jesus was able to put Satan in his place but unfortunately too often we like the easy way, the cosy non-threatening way and turn our discipleship into something painless and cushy.

We know how hard Peter found it to be a committed disciple. He took the easy, no-risk path when he denied he ever knew Jesus. Jesus even called him "Satan" and told him to get out of the way. But look how forgiving and understanding Jesus was. Peter was truly repentant of his failing as a disciple and Jesus was ever so generous in dying for him and giving him forgiveness. Jesus reached out his hand and called again, "Peter, follow me! I’ve still got work for you to do!"

Every time we hear about God's grace or receive the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion we are reminded again that he loves us, and forgive us, and makes us new and clean again.
Every day he forgives us;
every day he calls us again to be his disciples and to follow him wherever that might lead us.
Every day he calls us by name and says, "Follow me! I’ve got work for you to do!"

So the first thing we need to do is to listen - hear Jesus calling. You know, I reckon you can sit in church all your life and not actually hear Jesus calling. We hear Jesus’ speaking to us through the words of the Bible, we hear sermon after sermon, we go to Bible studies, seminars and conferences, but if all of that doesn’t say anything about our lives and if we don’t hear Jesus calling us to be his obedient disciples, we end up with a good knowledge of things spiritual that has no relevance to the way we live our lives.

Jesus wants to touch your life, make a difference to you.
The call to follow Jesus is a call to a new life, a new way of seeing things, a new way of connecting with others, a new way of furthering the work Jesus has began here in Caboolture.
He wants you to know real forgiveness which comes after genuine repentance and then enable you to offer that to others.
He wants you to know how powerful he can be and to make a difference
when you can’t see the way forward,
when you are sick,
when you have messed up,
when you are crying out for something to make your life worthwhile.

Jesus calls us to follow him with faith and to be active, energetic, enthusiastic committed, loving and loyal disciples - members of his church.

The church is not a club, the kind of group that you dump if it doesn’t happen to suit you or meet your needs or has people in that you don’t like.
We do that with a football club or a hobbies group, but that’s not what we do in the church.
The church is God's church and he has called us into it for a specific reason – to be disciples who are obedient to his will – to make disciples, share his love and forgiveness and to use our lives in whatever we can to ensure that others are drawn close to Jesus to the point where they are able to hear his call to them to be disciples.

He is calling us all the time, over and over, offers us his outstretched hand in an act of sheer generosity, and he wants us to take it.
But to take his hand means letting go of something otherwise you can’t get a proper grip.

Bonhoeffer practised what he preached. He could have kept quiet. He could have blended in and not spoken out – lots of Christians did. He couldn’t see how he could be a disciple and not speak out against what was wrong. And his discipleship cost him his life!

I am the first to admit the being an obedient disciple is the hardest thing in my life. To stay loyal to Christ and his church is tough going. Jesus calls me to follow him but I readily admit that at times this is a heavy burden. I could easily give up and have been tempted to do so. There must be an easier way. It’s all too hard and too costly.  Jesus struggled with this in the Garden of Gethsemane and I'm sure Bonhoeffer would have had his moments too when he considered what the cost of discipleship meant for him.

I guess what keeps me going and keeps me faithful to God is the fact that Jesus never gives up on me. His obedience all the way to the cross is beyond question. He went to the cross because of my disobedience. I think of guys like St Paul whose call to obedience was anything but easy – he suffered in so many ways as a disciple of Jesus. If anyone had reason to throw up his hands in frustration and disappointment it would have been Paul.

What was it that enabled him to remain a faithful and obedient servant? There are lots of passages from Paul’s letters that I could refer to but perhaps this gives us an insight when he says, "All I want is to know Christ. … I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me" (Philippians 3:10, 4:13). It’s clear he didn’t concentrate his focus on the problems that the members of his congregations had. This kind of focus could have easily got him down; he always looked to Jesus. That’s often easier said than done. We need God's help. We need the help of our fellow Christians.

Paul saw his life totally wrapped up in Jesus, connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection through baptism and the Holy Spirit, loved by Jesus with a love that defied all understanding. Even when he was frustrated with his sinfulness and his own lack of obedience he always came back to the one thing that remained solid and sure – nothing could stop Jesus from loving him, forgiving him and supporting him in fulfilling his role as a disciple of Christ. In the end those frustrating and disappointing people were a great delight to him and he often said how dear they were to him.

As we think and pray about Jesus call to be disciples and what it means for us as individuals and as a church, listen again to Jesus calling. He is patient, forgiving, and amazingly generous. But then obey. Let go. Leave behind. And follow.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
11th February 2007

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