First, I’m not preaching a new sermon. I’ve trimmed the one from three years ago and will use it again this year because, well, it’s still true.
But there are two things I hope to emphasize this time that I’m not sure I made clear before. One is that knowing the cost of discipleship means knowing we can’t afford it. The price is too high, it’s beyond our capacity. And the other is that following Jesus means devoting our whole selves to following Jesus, not the way we follow him. Let me explain.
It is easy to get caught in the trap of believing that our particular method of following Jesus is the only way to do it. Because it works for us, we think it’s not only best, but anyone who doesn’t follow Jesus the way we do isn’t really following Jesus. Not only does this thinking bring us perilously close to judging others, our form of discipleship becomes more important to us than our relationship with Christ itself. And that’s just wrong.
Jesus doesn’t say, “Follow me according to a particular formula,” or even “Follow me according to your understanding of scripture.” Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple, you have to give up all your pre-conceived notions of what that means, and just stick close to me.” Discipleship means becoming a student of Christ, not a student of ‘following.”
Maybe I’m just picking at nits, but I think this is an important distinction. Christ calls us to follow Christ, not whatever form of Christianity we claim to practice. May I be faithful, may you be faithful, as we follow Jesus together.
March 3, 2019 This message is based on an outline provided by J.D. Walt for the Listen to HimLenten study series.
A lot has happened since we left Jesus preaching on a level place last week. He has traveled all over Galilee, healing, casting out demons, preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God – and it seems that everywhere he goes, the Pharisees are on his trail. They question him and challenge him. They invite him to dinner, and then criticize him to the other guests. Those Pharisees…
By the time we get from chapter six – where we left off last week – to today’s reading in chapter 9, Jesus has even raised a young girl from the dead. He has fed 5000 people and calmed a storm in the middle of the lake. He has sent out his apostles on their first mission trip, and explained that whoever wants to follow Jesus must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow him. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for his sake will save it.
And then he tells them something really amazing. Jesus says, “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God.” (9:27) He isn’t predicting that some of the disciples will live until the second coming. He’s telling them about an event that is just around the corner. Continue reading →
Today’s gospel reading reminds me of the phrase “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I have often heard this phrase applied to good preaching, and the words we are about to hear from Jesus certainly qualify. But I was surprised to learn that this phrase was first used to describe not preaching, but newspapers.
In the early 1900’s, Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote, “The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead, and roasts them afterward.”
Mr. Dunne was lampooning the power of the news media to shape events by the way those events get reported. Even in the early twentieth century, someone who worked for a newspaper could make fun of the way newspapers influenced the news.
After all, newspapers are supposed to keep opinions about how things should be on the editorial page, and report objective facts in the rest of the paper. Newspapers are supposed to just bring you the news.
And that is what Jesus was doing as the people gathered around to listen to him teach. He presented the objective facts about the Kingdom of God. But those facts, like a good newspaper, can have the affect of comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable. Continue reading →
I knew a guy once who worked really hard at appearing humble. In public, he was always putting himself down, always declining praise when he’d done something good. But in private, it was a different story. One time he told me of a particularly generous thing he’d done for someone we both knew. And then he said, “But of course, I don’t want anyone to know it was me. Jesus says to give alms in secret.” And I thought, “but you just told me.” Continue reading →
Last week, we talked about being the church instead of just going to church. We learned from the Psalms that we can only thrive when we are firmly planted in the house of the Lord. That kind of planting requires an all-in commitment, and it involves getting our roots connected to each other as well as to God.
But how do you do that? How do you become a disciple of Jesus Christ who thrives, whose faith grows exponentially? How do you apply the principles Jesus laid out for his disciples more than 2,000 years ago to life in our 21st century culture? How does working your faith develop a faith that works? Continue reading →
We’re working our way through the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel this month, taking a deep look at what it means to live like Jesus. It’s more than just doing what Jesus does, and saying what Jesus says. Living like Jesus means having the same purpose and identifying ourselves completely with Christ. This is an act of continual surrender.
So far, we’ve learned that we need to pay attention to interruptions, because that’s where God often shows up. But sometimes we have to really look for God in order to see God at work. And we have also been reminded to depend completely on God’s provision for us, if we want our lives to be fruitful. Last week, we learned that when evil seems to be winning the battle inside us and in the world around us, the only thing that can save us is finding our identity in Jesus Christ.
Mark likes to insert one story into another, and the story of John the Baptist’s execution last week was one of those insertions. Now Mark brings us back to Galilee, as the disciples return from their preaching expedition. It’s been a good trip, and they are eager to tell Jesus all about it, but they are also really tired. Continue reading →
The New Testament is mostly letters – letters from Paul to various churches, letters from Peter, and from James, Jude, and John. It’s mostly letters, but not entirely letters. There’s the Revelation of John at the end of the New Testament, and the four gospels at the beginning. And sandwiched in between the gospels and the letters there’s a book called The Acts of the Apostles, or simply, “Acts.” Some Bible scholars like to call it “Second Luke” because it continues the story of Luke’s gospel beyond the resurrection of Jesus. So it’s appropriate that the assigned readings for the season of Eastertide include passages from Acts, or “Second Luke.” Because, as we learned last week, the story isn’t over when Jesus rises from death to life. It’s just beginning. Continue reading →