Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 11, 2010

Sermon on Luke 14:25-33

DISCIPLESHIP ISN’T FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!

  1. Christian Discipleship lets nothing get in the way of our faith
  2. Christian discipleship contemplates the challenges against our faith

 Text: Luke 14:25-33

Introduction

Some jobs are not for the faint of heart.  This weekend we remember the terrorist attacks on our nation nine years ago.  The firemen, police officers, and other rescue workers who put their lives on the line running into the burning twin towers and running through the ash and rubble must be brave men.  The servicemen and women in our nation’s military who sacrifice the comforts of home and put their lives at risk for our safety cannot be wimps.  The firemen who drove into the blazing inferno of a San Bruno community last week to put out fires and rescue lives cannot be faint of heart.  These are jobs that must be filled by brave men and women who are willing to get the job done in the worst of conditions, even if their life is on the line.

Some jobs are not for the faint of heart.  If we may call being a Christian believer a “job,” then we would need to add that to our list of jobs that are not for the faint of heart.  There are times, of course, when being a Christian seems like a gentle thing to do—when you come to church and peacefully listen to the Word of God, when you love your family at home and do your best at work, when you help the needy in your community.  But the Christian life is not always “sweetness and light.”  The Bible readings chosen for today’s service point out that disciples of Jesus often face hardship and difficulty for no other reason than that they are disciples of Jesus.  Those hardships can cause a real temptation for us to retreat from Christian discipleship, but Jesus warns us against that in today’s Gospel.  Christian discipleship is not for the faint of heart!  Christian discipleship lets nothing get in the way of our faith, but Christian discipleship contemplates the challenges against our faith.

I.

Some churches offer “seeker services.”  A seeker service is designed to be an easy and friendly church experience for people who want to check out a church.  In our reading, there was quite a crowd of people who were following Jesus, and many probably had some desire to “seek” him out and learn more about him.  These words of Jesus were his “seeker sermon”—but hardly the easy and friendly message one might expect at a seeker service today!  Jesus pulled no punches when he explained that Christian discipleship is not for the faint of heart.  “Large crowds were traveling 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.’” 

Jesus already talked about carrying one’s cross earlier in Luke’s Gospel—chapter nine, to be specific.  The imagery of suffering and torment that went with the cross was much more vivid to Jesus’ immediate audience than it is today, when we adorn our churches with multiple crosses and wear them as jewelry.  But to that shocking image of the cross Jesus adds another.  His disciples must hate their parents, spouse, children, family, and even themselves if they are to be his followers.  This is not exactly a warm and easy seeker sermon! 

Before we assume too much in our Lord’s words, let’s not forget that Jesus used hyperbole as much as any other human being does.  The God-man who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves would hardly tell us to hate our own family without reason.  Jesus’ point becomes clear if we keep the big picture in mind.  He is talking about what it means to be a Christian disciple.  How faithfully does a believer follow Jesus?  Jesus makes it absolutely clear that nothing is allowed to get in the way of faith in him.  If a family member threatens our faith and distracts us from discipleship, then love for Jesus means we will hate the sinful temptation that even a loved one puts in our path.  Jesus himself practiced this.  When he first explained his upcoming suffering and death to his disciples, Peter tried as hard as he could to dissuade Jesus, and Jesus finally had to say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Christian discipleship lets nothing get in the way of our faith—not even our closest family and friends.

Last week, our circuit (small regional group of WELS congregations) had its monthly meeting in Livermore.  Our circuits were recently restructured, and now our congregations in Modesto and Clovis (near Fresno) are a part of our circuit.  The congregation in Clovis is carrying out ministry to the Hmong population in the area, and two men—the Hmong evangelist and vicar—were with us at the circuit meeting.  Our Hmong brothers and sisters in faith often face rejection from their families when they become Christians.  They know firsthand what Jesus says in this reading!

How do you face up to those kinds of challenges?  Dear Christian disciple, do you let nothing get in the way of your faith in Christ?  How willing have you been to rebuke the family member who is trapped in repeated sin and doesn’t seem to care about it?  How willing have you been to stand out from the crowd at work or school and not participate in the dishonesty or drunkenness that the rest engage in?  How willing have you been to let go of family, friends, or “fun” that opposes God’s law for the sake of Christ?

What is your lifetime record as far as keeping everything that threatens your soul out of the way?  By God’s grace, we have had our moments when we heeded our Lord’s call to be faithful.  But because of our sinful nature, we have had many moments when we let something else or someone else get in the way of our faith.  We would like to think that lukewarm discipleship is good enough, but in the very last book of the Bible, we read one of our Lord’s harshest rebukes for disciples who tried to be lukewarm in their faith.  To that group, Jesus said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

Jesus’ lifetime record tells a very different story.  In light of our lukewarm discipleship and lackluster faithfulness, God the Father commissioned his Son to enter into our world and permanently undo the damage our sins caused.  Jesus did not let the glories of heaven stop him from his journey to the cross.  Jesus did not let the temptations of Satan stop him from his heavenly mission to be our perfect Savior.  Jesus did not let the selfish suggestions of Peter stop him from laying down his life as the perfect payment for all of our sin.  Jesus let nothing get in the way of his mission to rescue us from sin and ransom us from hell.  He has paid the penalty for our sin!  He has laid down his holy life as our perfect substitute!  He has defeated death and opened heaven eternally for each one of you who trust in his death and resurrection!

II.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”—so the saying goes.  Earlier I mentioned our circuit meeting last week.  At that meeting, our WELS pastor in Clovis mentioned a suburban development in his town.  The streets were laid out and some homes were started, but the contractor ran out of money.  Now there is a subdivision that has been started but is not going to be finished—at least not for a while.  That has to be pretty embarrassing for the contractor.  That’s a perfect, modern-day example of the point Jesus makes later in today’s Gospel.  Christian discipleship must contemplate the challenges against our faith.

“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.”

Jesus’ two illustrations make the same point.  The man who wants to build a tower better sit down first and think things through.  Does he have the money and resources to finish the job?  If not, the end result will be an unfinished tower and the ridicule of the community.  The king who faces war against another better sit down first and think things through.  Does he have the manpower to defeat the opposing army that is twice the size of his?  That has happened in history, but does he think it will work for him?  If not, he had better seek peace before he loses his men in a bloody battle that they are likely to lose.

What is Jesus’ point with these two short parables?  Remember that, with many parables, Jesus has one main point he wants to get through; over interpreting the details could cause us to miss his main point.  The main point in each parable is that the builder and the king need to carefully consider the situation before they move forward.  Disastrous or deadly results await the person who doesn’t think through things before executing his plan.  When it comes to Christian discipleship, Jesus warns us that we must contemplate the challenges that will come against our faith lest we assume no challenges could ever come our way and our faith faces a disastrous and deadly result.

There are plenty of challenges for us to contemplate.  We have a default sinful nature that has affected human beings ever since the fall into sin and that continuously pulls us in the opposite direction our God-given faith wants to go.  We are surrounded by a world that rejects any sort of objective, biblical morality, that ridicules the idea that Christ is the only way to God the Father, and that bombards us daily with this activity and that event which will take time away from our Lord’s house and his Word.

Christian disciples, we must contemplate the serious challenges before us.  But we can also take heart in the strength that God gives us to meet those challenges.  Look at the promise of his lifelong love and commitment for you that he first gave you at your baptism.  Look at the power and strength God gives you in the message of forgiveness found in his Word.  Look at the peace he fills your hearts with every time you hear the good news of pardon through faith in the cross of Christ.  And look at the preview of heaven’s great banquet given in the Lord’s Supper—a preview of the banquet that awaits you and all Christians for all eternity.

What is the point of all these things?  In Holy Baptism, the Word, Absolution, and Holy Communion, we not only receive the forgiveness of sins but that forgiveness is our power and strength to face the very real challenges that our faith faces daily.  Our Lord has not left us on our own, but has kept his promise that “surely I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Conclusion

There are few things in life worth having that are easy to get.  Academic achievements like getting high honors or making the Dean’s list is a result of hard work and faithful study.  Advancing up the corporate ladder is the result of faithfully carrying out your duties as an employee and working to your fullest potential.  A good marriage and happy family life is the result of humble attitudes, forgiving hearts, and the improved communication that comes between married couples over time.  None of these things are easy to get and easy to keep, but I hope we agree that they’re all worth the effort!

Christian discipleship is no different.  There is no greater treasure than faith in Christ.  There is no greater status than being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  But discipleship is not easy.  Sin and temptation will always try to get in the way of faith, and daily trials can lead us to doubt the goodness of God.  But in every challenge that comes our way, we have the magnificent work and promises of Christ in our corner—the work of Christ that has forgiven all our sin, and the promises of Christ to be with us through good times and bad, until he takes us out of this world of sin and suffering and into his perfect and problem-free paradise for all eternity.  Amen.

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