Down and Dirty Discipleship #5
Today we come to the close of our series “Down and Dirty Discipleship.” We’ve wrestled with some of the hard teachings Jesus and today we look at two teachings. The first seems to be at odds with what we’ve been taught about the family and how important it was to both the Jewish and the Christian cultures. And the second, made a lot of the people who were following Jesus and some who follow today, stand up and say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t what I signed up for.”
As the opening video indicated, we’re going to focusing on the Cross and Discipleship.
The Cross and the call to Discipleship. That’s what our passages of Scripture are about this morning. Let’s look at them. Luke 14:26-33, Mark 8:34-38 (NRSV)
 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?
 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,
 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?
 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Mark 8:34-38 (NRSV)
 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Those are both rather distressing passages of Scripture aren’t they? Most of us love our families. Even with all of the problems that families have, most of us still love our families. It was true back then as well. You can almost hear the crowd in the background murmuring to themselves or their neighbor, “He’s turned into a fruitcake. He wants us to hate our families. And what’s all this malarkey about carrying a cross. I’m not touching that thing.” The crowds who loved and adored him were beginning to wonder if he wasn’t “a bit of a nutter” as my Irish friends would say. So, what are these verse all about? How do we make sense of them today while remaining faithful to Jesus.
I. FIRST THINGS FIRST:
Let’s put First Things First. I think that’s what these two passage are really about; putting God first; putting Christ, our relationship with Christ and our Christian lifestyle before anything else. It’s about putting First Things First. That’s why we begin and end our worship service the way we do. For years we always started with announcements and activities and then when our mind was full of all those things we wanted to be involved in THEN we’d get to God, but by that time we were distracted by thoughts of what were going to bring for the potluck or how were we going to rearrange our schedule to make the committee meeting that we’d forgotten about or some other mundane thought.
Our focus in worship should be God. We don’t need our minds cluttered by all of that First. So we focus on God first. The other thing we do is take up our offering last. The world says money should be first in our lives. However we know what Jesus taught (the first shall be last and the last shall be first) and as an act of discipleship we take up our Tithes and Offerings, money, last. That which the world says should be first in our lives we put last.
In a sense that’s what Jesus is saying here. There are a lot of things we put before God. Oh we say God is first, but when we live it out, there are tons of other things which we allow to creep into first place. Sometimes it’s our job. Sometimes it’s a hobby. Sometimes it’s family. Whatever it is, it’s taking up space reserved for God. We’re Called to put God First; to make First Things First.
That doesn’t mean neglect your family but there will be times when God matters more than family.
II. SECOND THOUGHTS:
If God is First, then we’re called to be in Second Place, so what does that look like? What’s that mean? Well, that’s this Self-denial thing. When was the last time you and your neighbors got together over juice and water and talked about denying yourself even one of the pleasures of life? Probably never, right? We don’t live in a time when self-denial is talked about very much. I’m not sure there ever was a time that self-denial was ever taught as a great virtue for everyday life. But especially not now.
We’re more of the mindset of the comedian I read recently who came up with the perfect thing to give up for Lent. He stated that if you followed his advice you could be 100% faithful in this one act of self-denial. “Give up your New Year’s Resolutions for Lent.”
Even though Greed is listed as one of the seven deadly sins, it has become one of the major gods in America. We are obsessed with making money. And not even making money. At least that’s industrious. We are obsessed with everything about money. We gamble more than ever before. State after state has started Lotteries to help raise money. Here in Texas they sold the lottery to us as a way to raise money for the schools. And then when it passed they said, “Oh, what we really meant was that education might be ONE of the places we could put the money.” And now our schools are hurting all because the state has decided to plunder education funds.
Deny ourselves? Absolutely Not. Oh, we will deny reality. We’ll deny we’ve gotten older. We’ll deny that we have wrinkles. We’ll deny that we’ve lost hair with a comb over. We’ll deny we’ve gained weight and swear that we wear that same size jeans as in high school. We’ll deny the truth. We’ll deny we know what the preacher’s talking about. But we won’t deny ourselves. When was the last time you told yourself “No?” When was the last time you said to yourself or someone else, “No, I just can’t do that, that’s not what God wants me to do.”
Self-denial is one of the significant spiritual practices. You don’t say “No” to yourself just to say “No”. You say “No” to yourself in order to be able to say “Yes” to God and “Yes” to Jesus.
I will never forget one baptism I did. Lauren was eight and loved the church. She loved coming to worship and Sunday School. She wanted to be in church whenever the doors opened. She didn’t want to miss what Jesus might do. She soaked up everything like a sponge.
Lauren and her family were expecting a baby brother, and even before brother was born, Lauren was a proud big sister. About two months after John’s birth, Mom and Dad brought John to be baptized. As I was asking them the standard questions, “Do you repent of your sin. Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior? and Will you nurture John that by your teaching and example he may be guided to accept God’s grace for himself.” Mom and Dad both said, “Yes,” in that adult, this is serious business but part of the ritual sort of way. But Lauren’s eyes were big and wide and serious and totally in tune with God and the joy of the moment. For her the answers weren’t just simple responses. They came from the heart. And when I asked “Will you nurture . . .?” Lauren’s answer was , “Oh, Yes.”
That’s the kind of response we should be giving to God all the time. And that’s what self-denial helps us do. When we say “No!” to ourselves then we are better able to say “Yes!” to God. And that’s what Jesus wants for us, to be able to say “Yes!” to God.
III. ROUNDING THIRD:
Third, let’s talk about the cross. Through the cross God did what only God can do. God transformed a horrible instrument of torture and death into a symbol of life and hope. God transformed tragedy into triumph; humiliation into glory; despair into hope. God took what was ugly and cruel and violent and transformed it into a thing of beauty and a symbol of peace.
I love the cross. I love it for what it stands for. I love it for the memories it holds. I love it for the promise it holds. Every time I look at a cross I’m reminded of how much God loves me.
I have friends who collect crosses. They have crosses from all over the world. Their walls are covered with crosses of every shape, size, color and style. I don’t collect crosses but I do have a few that are favorites. Do you have a favorite cross? Most of us do.
This cross was a gift on my Walk to Emmaus. It was made by a member of a former church. We both moved about the same time, me to a different Church, Emerson to a different Conference. He had always wanted me to go on the Walk to Emmaus and kept up with our conference until I did, and he made these crosses for the pilgrims on that Walk. That’s why it’s special. It was made by him.
This cross is special because Mary’s grandfather made it. It was one of the last things he made in his shop. It’s made out of red oak, from lumber he and I cut there on the farm. We cut down the trees, we had our own mill and sawed the lumber. Most of it we used for trim in the house we built. But there was enough left over for Grandpa to make this cross for me. It’s dated and has his initials on the bottom. It was 23 years old this year.
Then I have a cross I carry in my pocket every time I preach. It’s not a talisman or anything. However it is very special. Back in 2005, I was part of an international team who was chosen to help start the Walk to Emmaus in Ireland for the Irish Methodist Church. This hand cross was a part of that Walk. Every team member held it was they gave their talks. Every pilgrim held it at least once during the Walk. It was presented as a gift to one of the women on our team. About a year later, this woman and I served on a team together. We used it on that Walk. All the team members and all the pilgrims held it as well. During the closing worship Debbie presented it to me. It’s been in my pocket every Sunday since. It reminds me of the faith connection with our brothers and sisters around the world.
These crosses are special because of who made them or who gave them to me. They are special because of the love involved and the sacrifice of time and effort that went into making or buying them. There is another cross that is special for the same reason. And it’s the one that all of these crosses represent, and that is the original cross of Calvary. The cross of Christ.
No greater sacrifice has ever been made. No greater sign of love has ever been given. The Son of God willingly and knowingly gave his life and faced the cruelty of the cross so that we might know how much God loves us. Through his sacrifice we find forgiveness. Through his brokenness we find wholeness. Through his death we find eternal life.
IV. LAST BUT NOT LEAST:
Last but not least, through His Sacrifice we find a way of life; a way which changes lives, our community and the world.
Let me give you an example. A couple of you sent me this story. I got caught up in the story and chased rabbits for more time than I expected researching this story but it is incredible what I’ve found out and what this little gesture has accomplished. Watch and then as Paul Harvey says, I’ll tell you the Rest of the Story.
After the game the teams gathered at the 50-yard line to pray. Isaiah, the teenage convict-quarterback surprised everybody and asked if he could pray. He prayed, “Lord, I don’t know what just happened so I don’t know how or who to say thank you to, but I never knew there were so many people in the world who cared about us.” On the way back to the bus, under guard, each of the players was handed a hamburger, fries, a coke, candy, a Bible, and an encouraging letter from the players from Faith Academy.
Rick Rielly from ESPN said, “It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs” kind of unbelievable. Life of Rielly – ESPN Dec 2008
It made such a difference in both schools that Faith did again next year and called it the Annual OneHeart Bowl. The second year, the over 4,000 fans collected ankle socks and gloves for the Gainseville students.
The story doesn’t end there: A Youth Leader in Krum heard the story and decided to promote the same thing. It took the city by storm. KSCS picked up the story and promoted other folks to come support them, too. Not just fans & cheerleaders but the band too.
In 2009 Wade Phillips, former Head Coach of Dallas Cowboys attended and said, “This game was the single greatest exhibition of sportsmanship I have ever witnessed or heard about.”
Sports Illustrated listed this as one of the Top 10 Sportmanship Moments of the Decade.
And as testimony to the impact of this single act of Sacrificial Love, in 2009, Mack White was a student manager on the Gainesville State team. Now he lives with a family from the Faith Christian School who is helping him transition back into the free world. It’s being made into a movie.
As hard as these teachings are to hear and to process I think this single event epitomizes what they mean. This is what denying yourself is all about. This is what it means to make First things First and to put father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters, even one’s own self behind serving God. I think this is what it means to take up the cross and follow Jesus. If we lived and acted like that in everything we did, it would have a profound effect on the world. The world would be in a much different place.
Deny yourself. Say not to yourself and Yes to God. Take up your cross, be ready to make that sacrificial gift, and follow Jesus.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.