June 22, 2014 (Discipleship Sermon Series, week 2)
Once upon a time there was a fire in a small town. The fire brigade rushed to the scene, but the firemen were unable to get through to the burning building. The problem was the crowd of people who had gathered not to watch but to help put out the fire. They all knew the fire chief well – their children had climbed over his fire engines during excursions to the fire station, and the friendliness of the fire chief was legendary. So when a fire broke out the people rushed out to help their beloved fire chief.
Unfortunately the townsfolk were seeking to extinguish this raging inferno with water pistols! They’d all stand there, from time to time squirting their pistol into the fire while making casual conversation.
The fire chief couldn’t contain himself. He started screaming at the townsfolk. “What do you think you’re doing? What on earth do you think you’re going to achieve with those water pistols?!”
The people realized the urgency of the situation. How they wanted to help the fire chief. So they started squirting more. “Come on” they encouraged each other, “We can all do better, can’t we?” Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt.
Exasperated the fire chief yells again. “Get out of here. Your achieving nothing except hindering us from doing what needs to be done. We need fireman who are ready to give everything they’ve got to put out this fire, people willing even to lay their lives on the line. This is not the place for token contributions”
This story was originally told by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He was urging us to realize that discipleship to Christ means much more than token levels of support to the church and God’s mission in the world. It calls for wholehearted and total life commitment. (1)
This morning we continue in our discipleship sermon series. If you recall, last week we heard the calling from Jesus as he commissioned the apostles to go out "and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."
To become a disciple you must also become a student and be willing to learn from Christ in your prayer life and allow the Word of God to come alive.
This morning we are challenged with a text that is a little tougher to decipher and seems to speak an opposing view to what we think Jesus would have instructed. This is a busy text that the lectionary has placed in front of us this morning. It is almost like Matthew all of a sudden remembered that he had a lot that he wanted to share with the reader and let loose. It is a random flow of thoughts from Jesus that at times is hard to connect.
Where should our focus fall this morning as we are confronted with all of these thoughts?
I would like to turn our attention to the last six verses of Jesus' preaching.
Did Jesus just say that he was going to bring a sword? Surely he does not mean a real sword, like those that we see in the movies or are on television, like Game of Thrones. Perhaps not. There may possibly be other things that can cut as deep and as sharp as a sword though.
If we really want to admit it, the commandments that Jesus has placed upon us as his followers are quite demanding. They make us uncomfortable at times and we are often hesitant to follow through on them. You mean you want me to share your word with all nations? You want me to love my neighbors as I have loved myself? You want me to forgive someone 7 times 70 times?
These are some tough standards to live up to. It is the sword, or demands, of Jesus that cuts through all of our excuses for not following in his commandments and his great commission to go out and serve all people. Lance Pape says it well in his commentary on this text, "The demands of the prince of true peace may very well feel like a sword cutting through lesser loyalties and making quick work of our flabby, commonsense morality."
Not only does he bring the sword, he expects us to be set against our families; man against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. Our foes will be members of our own households. For some of us, it may ring true. For others it is hard to decipher the point that Jesus is actually trying to make.
The point is that we are not going to find ourselves in an actual war with our families, but it is used to heighten the idea that Jesus has came to stir things up and it truly shakes up our values, rearranges our priorities, and reorients our goals. The focus shall be returned to God and it is through Jesus that we are instructed in this manner.
All of this brings us to the main point of our gospel message this morning. "Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
We are well aware that Jesus ultimately took up his cross and carried it through the streets of Jerusalem before being nailed to it and breathing his last breath. Are we expected to do the exact same thing? It is not a literal cross though that Jesus is referring to in this passage.
What crosses do we have to pick up? What does this look like in our discipleship to Christ? We each have to listen to God's voice and discern what cross in our personal lives it is we are to carry and where our passion lies. As a congregation though, we have set out mission and vision statements that help guide us in our lives as disciples.
The beginning of our worship service is intentional as we are reminded why we are here and what it is we are called to do. Every Sunday we begin with our mission statement, We are Called, to Love, Serve, and Share God's Word. Our vision statements then set a course for us as we interact with our community on a daily basis.
As disciples we are called to Love. We are called to be a loving presence to those in our lives by opening our hearts to all. We allow this to happen by engaging in scripture and finding the Grace of God in all we encounter. We in turn share this grace and love with others.
As disciples we are called to Serve. We are called to serve others by being an example of Christ in all we do. We are to go out and serve our neighbors in our community and beyond. We have a great example of this by what we did on God's Work. Our Hands. Sunday last year by washing windows at Grand Ravine and making cards for our local nursing homes. We did this just this past week by serving at the AAESA Carnival and working the food tent. The possibilities to serve are endless and each of you will find that your passion to serve falls into different categories.
As disciples we are called to share. We are called to share the Word of God through worship, education, community service, and intentional living. Through every aspect of our living, those that are not members of the church should be able to tell that we are following Christ. This at times may be the hardest of the three to commit to, as well as to be consistent. We fall into the old traps and this is where Jesus comes in with his sword to cut through our excuses.
Our mission and vision statements set the direction for our ministry at Immanuel and everything that we do should reflect to how we are fulfilling the mission and vision statement.
Reflecting back upon the story from Soren Kierkegaard, we are not called to token discipleship. We do not just do it from time to time. Discipleship requires our full-time attention so that we may give ourselves whole-heartedly and commit our lives fully to Christ.
Jesus placed his life upon the cross fully trusting in the resurrection. May we be as bold to take up our own crosses and fully commit to a life of discipleship that follows in the path of Christ.