I Ponder Jesus’ Call to Discipleship

BibleThis 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?

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Photo credit: Emuishere Peliculas (via flickr.com)


2 thoughts on “I Ponder Jesus’ Call to Discipleship

  1. Bishop Don: When I was fifteen, you challenged me to discipleship of a nature, different than that to which I was familiar, Sixty seven years later, you are still at it!! The Lord put you on my back to keep me in His hand! I thank him often for those like you, that he has blessed me with. And again I thank you for your prompting. Blessings!! to both you and Kay.
    An L.P.C. Buddy

  2. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters —yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’’ Luke 14 : 25 -27 NIV

    Jesus’ words are demanding. Unless we hate father , mother ,wife, children, our very life, we cannot become Christ’s disciple ? On top of this we must carry our cross.For me , this is one of the most problematic passages in the Bible

    We must carry our cross : think what the cross meant to Jews in occupied Israel, where brutal crucifixion by the Roman occupiers was a familiar sight..This demand must have terrified the disciples. It frightens us.Nowadays,the idea of hating our kin may frighten us even more than carrying our cross. Christianity is not an easy path.

    I knew there was more to these words than meets the eye .This because I trust Jesus and know He doesn’t want us to hate our parents,our children , our siblings or those He has joined some of us with , into one flesh . Not hate in the obvious sense.

    Just as I trusted the Father and knew He would not let Abraham’s son die on Mount Moriah ,as I read Genesis.lLikewise I trusted the Son in Luke 14. I sensed a very powerful point was being made , and our emotions stirred in order to make it.

    I know Jesus has commanded us to love God will all our strength and love our fellow humans as we love ourself. I know Jesus is the second person of God and is constant so I know He doesn’t want us to love one minute then hate another.We have been taught ,in the Bible, to honour our parents,suffer and cherish our children ,cleave to our spouses , respect our siblings.

    So I think what Jesus means by hate in this context is to hate restricting attachment to the things of this world .Hating the act of being bound to the temporary and material ,the worldly. Hating the bonds that tie us down and prevent our rising to the Spirit , to achieve the new birth which frees us.

    Just as we have been taught we must leave our mother and father one day , if we are to be fully a wife or husband,so one day we must leave all our worldly ties if our souls are to be the bride of Christ.

    This is a metaphysical idea ,which I could not have grasped as a child. But Childhood was not the right time to grasp this .
    Hard as it may seem, we must put our loyalty and love for our God above all or .our love for our kin ,our spouses,our friends are diminished ,even worthless. Without God , there is nothing , in real terms.

    The text upon which this week’s blog is based is certainly demanding , requiring radical discipleship even for an experienced pastor in his tenth decade.Let alone for those of us with much less experience.

    As you say Pastor, to learn about Jesus with full authority we must consult the Bible. To learn directly ,from His own words, we must consult mainly the four Gospels. As well as the few important words Jesus speaks in The Book Of Acts and the words Jesus speaks in the Book of Revelation, ,heard by John in his vision.

    How blessed we are to have Jesus’ words to guide us ,right there in print , translated into our own tongue .The indwelling Holy Spirit , here in each of us who have accepted Christ as our Savior, brings the scriptures to life in our hearts. We have the opportunity to be disciples of Christ.All that is required from us is obedience , loyalty and commitment.

    I must admit, while there are times reading the Bible when I fully find our Lord the Holy Spirit present ,at other times my reading feels flat.I have noticed the best times are early in the morning, shortly after waking. I feel exhilirated at those times when I most clearly feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I feel fully charged, ready to meet the day .

    Those occasions my reading falls flat, often in the late afternoon, when I don’t feel that familiar inner quiet, I struggle against disappointment and pray and fight for the patience to regain the still small voice of inspiration.

    Prayer is essential . It seems easier to go without food than prayer. Like Bible reading , I notice some prayer times feel more alive and full than others. Around dawn is a fruitful time. Then there are spontaneous sudden times throughout the day which present themselves.The time seems suddenly right. These opportunities are not to be missed or wasted. I think these times may be like the flash prayers you talk of Pastor.

    As Jesus says, if we want to build a tower, we must first sit down and estimate the cost. To see if we have enough to complete it. For if we begin to build, we must finish. The cost to build ourself into a disciple of Christ is high, very high indeed. The cost is everything. If we do not give everything we cannot be Christ’s disciple. And then we lose everything. Yet if we give up everything ,Christ promises us everything.

    This blog certainly seems to me at the cutting edge of living the Christian life. It reminds me discipleship to Christ is a radical path , demanding constant alertness and self – questioning . It’s good to have Just Call Me Pastor as a weekly encouragement , providing practical experience from one who has lived by the Spirit , and committed to scripture and prayer.

    As for loyalty to Christ , I take the point that it must include loyalty to the body of Christ, to mother church.

    We celebrate loyalty to mother church in England , every year, on a Sunday in mid – Lent,We call this Mothering Sunday ( 6th March this year).Going a mothering means to go back to the church of our childhood or infant baptism, sometimes to our diocesan cathedral church , the mother church of our diocese to worship together as a family of parishes.. Children away from home , such as those in service as maids or grooms ,would return to their family churches that weekend , going to worship with their parents.

    Travelling back home they may have picked Spring flowers along the way,to present to their mothers. I think this is how Mothering Sunday became conflated with Mothers’ Day. In our secular world , going a mothering and mother church seems often to be forgotten on Mothering Sunday,leaving the day as purely a ‘Mothers Day’ to remember our birth mothers , forgetting the days origin in mother church.

    To hold the body of Christ together we really need to assemble together to praise God weekly and on Holy days like Easter,Christmas and Pentecost. After all the church, the ecclesia , is the congregation, the people,not the bricks and mortar. Where would the Christian church be today,had the disciples scattered after our Lord’s crucifixion. I think fear may have tempted them to scatter. Loyalty to Christ kept them together to witness His resurrection and ascension. And the birth of the church at Pentecost.

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