This past Sunday I heard a searching sermon on the cost of discipleship, based on Luke 14: 25 – 33.
In that passage, Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem. Large crowds follow. Along the way he pauses, turns around and teaches the large number following him the rigorous demands of discipleship.
He explains first that a true disciple has to love him more than any other person in their lives, including spouse, children etc. His way of saying this is unusual to our western ears:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.
I remember puzzling over that strange-sounding claim when I was a boy in Sunday School. As I recall, the teacher drew out of the Sunday School quarterly that to hate in this case meant to “love less.”
According to that text, discipleship means Jesus must hold first place even over our family loyalties.
During the afternoon this past Sunday I sat down to ponder what the text of the sermon should mean to me, a 21st century western Christian, now a retired pastor. At 90-years-of-age is this kind of radical discipleship still a demand of the Lord? Or do I get to be a bit “retired” from it? And if radical discipleship is a continuing demand, how am I to respond to that demand?
I thought first of my daily use of the Bible. The Bible, and particularly the four Gospels, is the only place we can learn about Jesus with full authority. This Book is the guidebook, validated in us by the Holy Spirit, as followers of Jesus.
For many years, I’ve attempted to meet the Lord in the Scriptures early every morning. Perhaps I must intensify that discipline if discipleship is to remain fresh and current.
I thought then about the attendant practice of daily prayer. It’s hard to think loyalties and love for Christ can remain fresh if I do not take time each morning (along with the practice of flash prayers during the day) to talk to the one who speaks out of that book both instructions for life and precious promises for his followers.
As I pondered further Sunday morning’s sermon the Lord also brought to mind the issue of loyalty to Christ as manifested by loyalty to his church.
I remembered that for many Christians in contemporary society loyalty to the local church is a bit optional. I heard recently that “regular” church attendance now means turning up regularly once a month. For me that can’t be good enough.
The church – the gathered community of believers – is the body of Christ. It is more than an organization; it is a living organism — a body! As a disciple of Christ, I must continue to check in at least once a week to enter into the body’s corporate worship and prayerfully support, with my time, talent, and treasure, its many ministry efforts.
These are the basic disciplines of a disciple of Jesus Christ. They are foundational. With these, today’s discipleship must begin, not end.
But my pondering also made me consider my influence and readiness to speak up when I move about in society. I can’t see myself wearing a sandwich board on a street corner though something like that might be suitable for others.
In my case I will watch more carefully to speak the good word (and sometimes only a word) as the Lord makes opportunity and prompts me. Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks clearly on this matter:
“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:10).
Is discipleship also a lifestyle? I recall that early Christians began to be called “people of the Way.” The unconverted Saul went to Damascus with authority to take captive any who were followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2). And when Paul, the converted one, later presented the gospel in Ephesus his detractors “publicly maligned the Way.”
Apparently the early disciples became known for their manner of believing, living and serving. Discipleship apparently generates a recognizable character, demeanor, and lifestyle.
The sermon on discipleship will stay with me, I know. And I will pray earnestly that its message will fill itself out more fully. But for the moment, above are the checkpoints for my pondering and practice.
Please, dear reader, will you join me?
Photo credit: Emuishere Peliculas (via flickr.com)