9/5/04, P14C - Holy Communion

“Giving It Up”
Luke 14: 25-35

“Simply put, if you are not willing to take all that is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it all goodbye, you can’t be my disciple.” JESUS, The MESSAGE, v33

These are some of Jesus’ most radically demanding words. He sets up an extremely high hurdle for those who would consider discipleship. There seems to be no easy way around Jesus’ demanding requirements.

As a kid I was blown away by a missionary family who were on their first furlough from Africa. Paul Decker had been the youngest School Superintendent in his state and his wife was a physician. Yet, they sold all of their stuff and moved their family to Sierra Leone. Dr. Paul was six and a half feet tall, red headed with red freckles and the Africans thought he was a god. He used this as a way to tell them about the true God who sent His Son to save them: and revivals followed wherever he went. The Decker’s also helped improve the schools and established a medical clinic where villagers had never seen a doctor. Despite the impoverishment the Decker’s children thrived and one son now is a popular author of Christian novels and literature.

In our story from the life of Jesus we hear him turning to the large crowd that had been following him, hearing his sermons, witnessing the many miracles, but evidently not showing much commitment. Jesus showed his humanity as he spoke sternly to them about their half-heartedness. Sure, Jesus was glad to have the stragglers following along, but he was now headed for his Cross and they would require a much deeper level of dedication to continue as his followers. As it happened, most deserted Jesus as he suffered and died and only John, his best friend, his mother and a few other women were at the foot of the Cross. There may have been a few who encouraged him as he carried his cross to Golgotha; but, it is obvious that the commitment level of the thousands who had been following him in his popularity was not sufficient during Jesus’ Passion. As they cringed in their hiding place, some of them must have been haunted by the words that we have read: “If you are not willing… you can’t be my disciple.” Willingness is the operative word in Jesus' challenge. We may, or may not, be called to give up everything that is near and dear to us, but we are called to be willing.

Whenever we talk about willingness in the context of this story, we must remind ourselves that it took place while the Old Testament dispensation of the Law was still in effect. Willingness is a kind of bridge from humanity’s inability to fulfill the legalism before Christ’s Death and Resurrection, to the New Testament plan of salvation which is based on what God has done for us already, and not on our physical or emotional ability to fulfill the Old Covenant Law. New Testament salvation is based on what God has done and what the Holy Spirit is doing now in calling and empowering us to respond to God’s call. Willingness also means that we are yielded to the Spirit’s guidance and direction. It is His work through us that matters most, not our own sacrifices, or works of righteousness which we might do. For example, we might build a church building but it takes God to build a Church.

Willingness, our response to the Holy Spirit’s call also separates us from other religions which emphasis legalism. Indeed, my World Religions professor, Marvin Harper, indicated to us that other religious systems are essentially a list of do’s and don’ts. They are a re-cropping-up of salvation by legalism. Many of the religions of the eastern world require martyrdom from their adherents. In today’s news we see how another group of religious zealots have martyred themselves for a false cause, and in the atrocity have killed hundreds of innocent school children in Southern Russia. Sacrificing one’s life for a cause is not the point of today’s text; it is willingness to follow the Good Shepherd in a life of service and surrender.

The thrill of ministry is to be able to see folks making progress in their faith walk. Perhaps they have been an occasional attended for a long time, but they feel God calling them to sign up for a DISCIPLE Bible study course, or they express their willingness to go on a spiritual life retreat, or mission trip. They feel their life taking on new significance; and then, as they are in worship the Holy Spirit moves in their souls and they make a commitment to Christ. This is why we typically give folks an opportunity to respond to the sermon by coming to the Altar Rail for prayer. It’s an engrained part of Methodism to encourage folks to commit, and sometimes recommit themselves.

Our “Yes” to God’s call is an affirmation that determines every subsequent question or decision. It is like our marriage vows to faithfulness that will keep us from falling if an opportunity arises that we are not expecting: Because we have said “Yes” in our vow, we will remember. One of the classic challenges to our back home Sunday School faith is presented when we first go off to college and hear some radical challenge to basic Christianity in a classroom. “Hum?” we ask ourselves; but, if we remember our vows of Confirmation, our faith holds its course. We have said the “Yes” that shadows every subsequent question, choice and decision in life.

Have you thought about what your life would look like if you gave it to Him?

The Decker’s would always end their message by emphasizing that they had a wonderful life as a result of their willingness to follow God’s calling. Paul told the story of how they were all gathered one evening for a beach picnic as the Sun began to set over the Pacific Ocean. The family hugged up close and in the beauty of the red and orange sky re-affirmed their commitment and willingness to continue to give all else up to follow their calling into God’s service.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
9/5/04, P14C
- Holy Communion