St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


“The Cost of Discipleship


September 8, 2019


The Reverend Nathanael Saint-Pierre



Have you ever been in a relationship and asking yourself what’s in it for you? Have you ever been in a job and inquiring if your boss or the people you serve appreciate your efforts and productivity? You might have been part of a movement and wondering about the cause you think you’re defending:

in today’s gospel, Jesus is letting his followers know what they are getting themselves into.

What’s the price we ought to pay when we choose to follow Jesus?

Luke is a writer interested in Jesus’ familial environment. He started Jesus’ life story by telling us about John. It is the only gospel to tell us that John the Baptist and Jesus were related. They were probably cousins. It is also the only Gospel to tell us a story about Jesus being a twelve-year-old boy in the temple having some tension with his parents. Contrary to the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus’ message is mostly addressed to the twelve, Luke put Jesus in large crowds, but Jesus is not seeking for growth in numbers of half-hearted potential followers. He is looking for disciples willing to commit, willing to sacrifice. The Luke’s Jesus is very demanding. 

Basic organization suggests that all movement must have a structure. A school has a headmaster. A church has a pastor (rector, priest in charge, senior pastor, etc.). A movement has a leader. Someone who is in charge of showing the direction the organization must take. To be successful, a movement needs to clearly enunciate its goal and objective, but more importantly, the means to reach them.

The fact is that our primary allegiance cannot be ourselves when we are defending a cause. Salvation in Jesus Christ is not a personal matter. We don’t become members of a church to be among the people we love, and people who look at life through the same lens as we do. We are committed to a God who excludes no one, even those who are not related to us: our former oppressors, those people of a different culture and lifestyle, those that we dislike. Jesus is calling his disciples to undivided loyalty to him.

When we are following a movement, we cannot be leading the movement. We need to let go of control and the search for self-benefit. It is understandable that sometimes we think we know better. In a world in which competition has become the norm, we identify the people leading us has having “leadershit” instead of leadership. We strongly see everything we can do better. But if every follower becomes a leader, the movement will inevitably crash. We need a sense of cohesion and togetherness to make sure we are in line with the movement. Jesus is inviting us to evaluate this cost before we join the team. Don’t join the team if you cannot say no to your family asking you for a favor that goes against the collective interest. Don’t join the team if your ego is too big to swallow your pride and be humble. To follow Jesus is certainly to choose persecution instead of glorification. It is to displease those who count on us to fool the system. If Jesus were our leader today, we would define him as egocentric, self-referential and too demanding. But Jesus wanted to be clear that the same way that God’s love is unconditional, our love for God cannot be shared. We don’t subscribe to this movement for the crown; we are in it for the cross. Our love for God is expressed through the sacrifice of our own lives. Jesus became that sacrifice.

“Salvation in Jesus is not merely a transaction. It is, at heart, a covenantal relationship. And no relationship lasts without loyal commitments and actions. Because the one who redeems us also calls us into costly discipleship, Jesus' command to "Follow me" is both gift and demand.”

When we choose to follow Jesus, we also choose to lose self-interest to prioritize common salvation. We become part of a movement that only Jesus is leading. We have faith that although we are not at the command of it, whoever God has put there cannot bring it down because God will not let him. It is not a faith in the leadership. It is a faith in God. (When we stand against the Bishop, against the rector and against the pastor, and against the leader, it is not about them. It is about us.)

The Jesus Movement is a radical movement that demands a countercultural view. We don’t follow Jesus to Jerusalem for the crown; we follow him to Jerusalem for the cross. We don’t follow Jesus to win; we follow Jesus to lose ourselves in him. To join this movement requires sacrifices (the cross). A message difficult to follow in a culture that wants so much control on every issue, and a culture in which winning is sign of success. We often sing “All to Jesus, precious savior, I surrender all.” Today is the day that the lord has made to entrust ourselves to God and let him be our guide, our redeemer and our leader.

In today’s gospel, Jesus let his followers and us know that there is a price to pay to be his disciples. Surprisingly, there is a price for grace. This might sound contrary to Christian teaching that always proclaims grace is free. Luke’s Jesus is defining grace as free but not cheap. To receive grace, the price to pay is to accept Christ wholly. To accept Christ is to make God first. It is to forget about self, be prepared, and why not, ready, to turn our backs to family, material goods and earthly temptations when they stand between us and God.  Jesus requires nothing of his disciples that he himself is not willing to give. There is a "more powerful one" than Satan to deal with in life: God. It is wise to count the cost of facing him. There are benefits in allying ourselves with God rather than having him as the decidedly stronger enemy. Amen.