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Following Jesus for Fun and Profit, or Is There Something More?

September 5, 2010

Sermon: Following Jesus for Fun and Profit, or Is There Something More?
Text: Luke 14:25-26, 33

I invite your attention to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 14, Verses 25, 26, and 33.

Hear now the Word of God:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

While preparing for today’s message, I was reminded of an old story about a man who was really down on his luck. This man was seated on a park bench, very discouraged and disheveled, when a pastor walked by and stopped in front of him. Putting his hand on the shoulder of this man who seemed to be in such bad shape, the pastor simply said, “Trust Jesus” before continuing his walk.

About three weeks later, the two men met again. This time, their encounter was quite different. The man who had been in such a dreadful state was wearing a brand new suit and driving a new automobile. He seemed to have had a complete turnaround in his fortune.

The pastor asked him, “Don’t I know you?”

The man answered, “Yes. Aren’t you the man who came by the park bench one day and said to me, ‘Trust Jesus’?”

The pastor answered, “Yes. I am a pastor. I did say, ‘Trust Jesus.’”

The man explained, “Well, I did some checking, and Trust Jesus was running in the fifth race at Churchill Downs. I put all the money I had on Trust Jesus, and he paid fifty to one. I can never thank you enough for that tip.”

This is a funny story, but it is also a sad truth. Many people are peddling that kind of gospel. You do not have to search very far to see the gospel of prosperity depicted. You can just surf television channels. I personally have a problem with promoting the concept that Jesus will solve all your troubles if you only trust in him. Many people here in this very congregation – good, strong Christians who trust Jesus – have had a very hard time in recent days and months. For some of them, it has been illness within their family. Others have suffered an illness themselves. Some have lost their jobs or their businesses. It is so easy to push the platitude that if you put your faith and trust in Jesus, everything is going to be alright. The gospel does not teach that philosophy, however. Consider a very different take on the gospel.

Great crowds began following Jesus. He had grown quite popular. Some followed because they believed he was going to be the answer to all of the political problems. Some followed because they believed he could heal them. Some followed just out of curiosity. Others had taken seriously Jesus’ simple call, “Follow me.” They understood something about what that imperative meant.

When Jesus instructed those first disciples to follow him, they left everything they had. They left their nets and boats. Two left their father standing in a boat. They all left their entire way of life to follow this itinerate rabbi. Some of them understood, at least a little bit, what following Jesus meant. It indicated that life would be different. It certainly promised they would have greater joy, but it did not mean that life was going to be a piece of cake or a bed of roses.

Some have called this passage of Scripture the hardest of the sayings of Jesus. We have great difficulty in understanding his meaning in these three very startling, rather harsh, comments. First, Jesus says, “If you don’t hate the people you love the most – your mother, father, brother, sisters, children, wife, husband – you cannot be my disciple.”

Since the days of the Reformation, one of the best ways to interpret Scripture has been to look at other passages. The idea is that Scripture is a unified whole with no contradictions. Though that statement is not quite accurate, it is true that sometimes looking at other Scripture gives us a way to understand the sayings that are most difficult. This is one such case.

We find a parallel passage to today’s text in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 10. Matthew makes the same point but words it differently. Here, Jesus uses Aramaic hyperbole to assert that you cannot love those people more than Jesus. In other words, Jesus is saying here, “No person can come ahead of me in your order of priorities. I have to be first in your life.” When we allow Scripture to interpret other Scripture in this way, we see that Jesus certainly affirmed the family. He told us that if we did not love our brother, for example, we could not possibly love God. He told us that we are to love those closest to us, our neighbors. That certainly must include those in our own family.

The second of these difficult sayings states, “You cannot be my disciple unless you take up your cross and follow me.” To those following him, this meant that they would have to walk the path that the vilest felons walked. Felons were crucified, put to death, on the cross. It was the Roman way of capital punishment. Is Jesus saying you have to die like a criminal in order to be his disciple? No, again he uses Aramaic hyperbole. He is saying, “No purpose in your life comes ahead of the purpose I have for you, your purpose in following me.” That purpose may, indeed, include suffering. It may include some sacrifice.

Many Christians in this world face persecution on a daily basis because they follow Jesus. You might think harassment occurs only in other parts of the world, but it also occurs right in our own community of Spartanburg. Several years ago, a woman attending church here with her children, said to me, “I want you to know that when I come to Morningside with my children, my husband ridicules me. He mocks me and makes fun of me.” Persecution does not just happen on the other side of the world. Suffering occurs right here in our own community because people have decided to follow Jesus.

Jesus teaches us a lesson in the third statement: “You cannot be my disciple if you do not renounce all that you have, all of your possessions.” Again Scripture interprets Scripture for us. In I Timothy 6, the Apostle Paul says the love of money, not money, is the root of all evil. That was the problem, for example, with the rich young ruler. Our priorities are wrong if we put our possessions ahead of our relationship to Jesus. Jesus is saying that no person, no purpose, and no possession in our life come ahead of Jesus.

Back in the dim ages, I taught a course called Master Life, which some of you will remember. We hit this key passage in that course straight on because it is so difficult to understand. I love Mark Twain’s comment about difficult passages in the Bible: “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” We see that being a disciple of Jesus is not something we can take for granted. It is certainly not something we do for fun and profit. Being a disciple of Jesus is something we do for a deeper reason.

Why do we follow Jesus? This Table reminds us. This Table becomes a visible, tangible way for us to remember why we follow Jesus. We follow Jesus because of what he has done for us. It is through his life that we learn how to live. It is by his death on the cross that we have access to life eternal. It is by his death on the cross that our sins can be forgiven. It is through his resurrection that we have a resurrection faith, the promise of life eternal.

If you look at the life of Jesus carefully, you will notice times when he had conflict in his own family. His purpose went beyond simply seeking good relationships with his family. You will notice that Jesus did take up his cross – literally dying as a criminal. You will notice that Jesus gave up his own personal possessions, though he did not have many. He even said he did not have a place to lay his head. When he turned and made these statements to this crowd, I imagine the crowd thinned out a little bit. I imagine some people said, “If it is going to be that hard, I don’t want any part in it.”

Why do we follow Jesus? Why do we accept this same lifestyle? We follow him because he loved us and gave himself for us. We follow him because our relationship to him is a relationship to love, because we come into this loving relationship with one who loves us so much.

I was talking recently with a husband whose marriage partner is afflicted with the terrible disease of Alzheimer’s, which some have called the “living death.” This person has been so faithful in offering care and comfort, in doing everything possible to attend to this marriage partner of many years. This man said to me, “I just don’t think I could do this if I didn’t love her so much.” Alzheimer’s disease takes a person away even before their body dies.

We have a relationship to Jesus for the same reason. Jesus loves us; and our response is to love him. When we love him completely, we put him ahead of every other person. We put him ahead of every other purpose. We put him ahead of every other possession.

Could I remind you that this Table before us is not Morningside’s table? Nor is it a Baptist table. This is the Lord’s Table, and this is the Lord’s Supper. Any person who affirms Jesus Christ as his Lord is invited to take this Supper. As we receive these elements today, we remember how much Jesus loves us. We remember our commitment to follow him as an act of love.

Let’s take the supper together.

On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. He blessed it and broke it. He said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” Let’s have a prayer of blessing for the bread.

Heavenly Father, as we follow you, we come here this morning as a part of your family, the family of God. We remember what was done for us on Calvary. Jesus’ body was broken, and his blood was shed so that we could have eternal life. Now, as we take this bread, we thank you for your unconditional love and saving grace. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.
He to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body given for you.” Eat this as often as you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat all of it.

We will have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Dear Lord, on that night so long ago, you took up the cup and said, “This is my blood, shed for you.” The next day your blood was shed on the cross, a symbol of your unbounded love for all of us. We thank you for that sacrifice. We ask that you help us take up the cross and follow you as we should in your name. Amen.

O to grace how great a debtor,
Daily, I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, Lord, Take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink all of it.

Receiving the Lord’s Supper is always a highlight in worship for me. We have begun and ended our special summer schedule.

The theme of this service has been discipleship, following Jesus. If you have never made a decision to follow Jesus as your Lord and Savior, could I invite you to make that decision today? Some of you have made a decision long ago to follow Jesus, but you have wandered away and you want to come home. Renew your relationship of love with Jesus. We invite your response.

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