The Cost of Discipleship
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
9 September 2001
Second Bible Reading Luke Chapter 14:25-33
Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: '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. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 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 who sees it will ridicule him, saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish." Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
There's just been a conference in South Africa on overcoming racism. Today is racial justice day. A day when sadly many will still struggle for justice because of racial or ethnic persecution. A day when many will continue to seek asylum in countries where they believe they and their families will be safer and free from the hatred and bigotry of racism, ethnic cleansing and political biases and oppression.
Asylum seekers have been much in the news recently. They often provoke strong reactions.
On the one hand we sympathise with them as they try to escape oppressive regimes, on the other it seems like we wonder if things are really as bad as they are making out and are they just trying to get into the UK because they've heard it's an easy life.
And before we make too firm a judgement one way or the other, we do well to recall that God came to us in Jesus as an alien and a stranger whose parents too had to seek asylum at an early age. A man who in later life suffered the indignity of a fixed trial by people who had political expediency at the top of their mind rather than true justice.
Jesus was born in conditions many asylum seekers would identify with: poverty and obscurity. At an early age His parents had to seek a refuge and asylum in a foreign country as they feared for Jesus' life - I wonder what Joseph and Mary's story would have seemed like to an officious Egyptian immigration official?
He lived most of His adult life as a homeless wanderer with few, if any real possessions. But perhaps because of His background:
- He always reached out to strangers
- He always was open and welcoming to the unclean and the outcast
- Always accepted people for what they were
- Always identified with aliens and strangers
- and said that what we do for the least of them we do for Him
And it's this same Jesus who, in the gospel reading today, challenges us about how serious we are about following Him.
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and wants His disciples to understand the > cost of following Him. And the closer Jesus gets to Jerusalem, the clearer He becomes about the demands of discipleship. And as He got closer to Jerusalem so the conflicts began to increase and the demands began to become more explicit.
In the deep South of the USA there is a saying that goes "the preacher has just changed from preachin' to meddlin'".
You can just imaging the disciples thinking it was fine when Jesus was just talking about love and harmony—but now He's started talking about changing lifestyles—that's meddlin'.
Today's passage is tough because it's radical. It uses strong language, to shock people into understanding what was at stake. It challenges us to put what we say about our belief in God into action—to put following Christ before everything else. It's fascinating to read on in Luke and see that it wasn't the people who'd been marginalised from society that had a problem with this, the sinners or the outcasts or the tax collectors (or the asylum seekers)—they all kept coming to listen to Jesus - they weren't put off. The people who had the most problem were the Scribes and the Pharisees, the establishment, the well off, the wealthy and the well to do. For them maybe it was that their material possessions and their status had got in the way of leading a Godly life, and that's a challenge for us all.
For Luke continually challenges the lifestyle of His listeners and unerringly points to the cross as the way of life. Challenges that will sometime put us in conflict with our families and those around us. Challenges us by saying that following Christ means giving up everything else.
And to illustrate that point Jesus uses 2 examples, He wants His followers to sit down and work out what it means. What will be the cost of following Him.
The first example is that of a someone who wants to build a tower. Jesus says that it's sensible to work out what it's going to cost before hand - can we afford it? Can we afford to follow Christ - with all that it entails, giving up the things of this world for the things of the Kingdom. It's a challenge to us today: have we got our priorities right? Is Christ really at the centre of our lives?
The second example is of a King who is engaged in a war. He's under attack and needs to do something. Doing nothing is not an option. Can He afford not to do anything? It's a completely different emphasis.
As Jesus heads towards Jerusalem, to an unfair, biased trail and to crucifixion, His question in this second parable isn't can the disciples afford to follow Him, can they work out the cost, are they prepared for the conflict?
His question in the second parable is can they afford not to follow Him, there is no other way to eternal life?
Is there a real alternative to a life of discipleship in the Christian life, a way which demands we give all we have, a way which requires complete surrender to God. It's an all or nothing proposal.
Just like we say in the Covenant prayer:
Challenging words. Can we afford to follow Christ? Can we afford not to? Are we prepared for the conflict that following Him might bring, or do we just want a quiet life?
Are we prepared to
- reach out to strangers as He did
- be open and welcoming to the unclean and the outcast as He did
- accept people for what they are as He did
- identify with aliens and strangers as He did
And in serving God so find our perfect freedom.
Finding that the things we have left behind pale into insignificance compared to the riches of His kingdom He invites us to share.
His Kingdom is a safe haven, where no one is refused entry. Its borders are always open to all who, knowing the cost, choose entry.