When a Government wishes to increase the number of recruits for the Armed Services, the advertising campaign is based on the threat posed to the country or its values. ‘Your Country Needs You!, was the most successful poster campaign of the first world war. Modern day advertising is to recruit people to volunteer by appealing to their sense of adventure and excitement. There is never a footnote on the poster “Soldiering may be dangerous to your health”
Jesus was different. When an enthusiastic young man ran up to Jesus and said “I‘ll follow you wherever you go” Jesus stares back and retorts, ‘Foxes and birds have the comfort of hole and nest; I don’t have even that, and neither will you. Go home and think some more about discipleship” This does not sound like a winning formula for church growth.
Discipleship is costly in any era. In the past century i.e. the 1990s more Christians have died for their faith than in all the centuries before put together.
Statues of 20th Century saints and martyrs were erected in St Albans Abbey to mark the millennium. They include Mother Theresa. One of them Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor lived in Germany during the regime of Hitler.
Bonhoeffer was part of the resistance to the Gestapo, and though he lived in America for a short time and could have avoided persecution, he chose to go back to Germany to encourage others in Germany especially in the Church not to crumble before Hitler and his Government. Eventually he was arrested, along with other members of his family and placed in a concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was executed on April 9th 1945 just a few days before the concentration camp was liberated by the Allies.
While in the camp he wrote papers and letters about the theology behind martyrdom - these were smuggled out by guards who liked him. Later they were put in a book called ‘The cost of Discipleship’ Jesus, in our passage of scripture today is talking about the cost of Discipleship.
Bonhoeffer believed we live in a time of ‘cheap grace’ and easy beliefs. He argues that cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church. Cheap grace given away at cut prices The Sacraments, forgiveness of sins, the consolations of religion are showered with generous hands without asking questions or fixing limits
Cheap grace is forgiveness proclaimed as a general truth without stressing repentance. God’s love is taught as a general concept of God without stressing that God’s love wants our salvation. True grace is Costly – it is free because the account has been paid in advance by Jesus but not cheap. It is treasure hidden in a field – for the sake of it a person will sell all he has. It is a pearl of great price that a person gives their all to possess It is the kingly rule of Christ for which a person will pluck out an eye if it causes him to stumble. It is the call of Christ for which the disciples left their nets to follow him. It is so magnificently summed up in the Methodist Covenant Prayer:
In am no longer my own but thine. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will: put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
True grace can be costly. Jesus doesn’t want to con his followers into believing it will be easy - it will be fulfilling - it gives us inner peace, pardon, the power of the Holy Spirit - eternal life but could be difficult. Jesus drives the point home with three Cannot statements
1. If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his
wife and children, brothers and sisters- yes even his own life- he cannot be my disciple. This must have been shocking to those who heard it - it is shocking to us. We are to love family. Marriage and family are the good gifts of God. He means we should never love our relatives or ourselves more than Him. This is part of the cost many Christian workers pay is terms of time spent with family, or finance or promotion so fulfilling the call to missionary work.
2. If anyone does not carry his cross and follow me he cannot be my
disciple. This too would be very shocking to the crowds. After all, unlike us, many of them may have witnessed what Jesus here described: a condemned criminal bearing his own cross through the streets of a town to a place of crucifixion. Jesus is saying you may suffer for your faith. Jim Elliot had a passion to take the gospel to the Auca Indians of South American. He flew with a missionary pilot deep into the jungle. They landed their plane near a river. Their reception was violent and the Auca Indians killed them. An investigation showed that there was a gun in the plane that had never been used. They had come in peace. Jim Elliot had written in his journal these words “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose”. Jim’s and the pilot’s death became the seeds of more missionary efforts. Eventually the Tribe of Aucas were won over. Later, Elizabeth Elliot, Jim’s widow would baptise in the river where her husband was killed, the man who fired the fatal arrow.
3 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything. They
cannot be my disciple. This is a long way from what is called prosperity gospelfv - where faith will automatically give you health and wealth. Jesus had just re-enforced the point with two stories “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ The issue was not whether or not he should build the tower, the issue is to be prepared before beginning. The issue is not do with building or not or waging war or not... It’s to do with being aware of the costs from the outset.
Have you assessed the cost of being a disciple? When you, however and whenever you said your yes to Jesus, did you realise that suffering, poverty and losing all relationships were on the cards? It’s not too late to walk away... no strings attached.
Being a disciple is nothing to do with the warm fuzzy feeling, it is nothing to do with being (or being seen to be) good or holy, it is nothing to do with just coming to church. Being a disciple is all about listening to, learning from and living and loving like Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t say that you cannot be my disciple - all are welcome. He just asks us to give him our all. Amen.
Oh, I am back off hols and that is a version of what I'm preaching tomorrow... :-)