Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Cost of discipleship - Proper 18C

4 September 2016 
Proper 18C 
The Cost of Discipleship 

This one time... At church camp... The theme for the year was, "leap of faith." For some reason, a group of us got into our heads that any time the theme was mentioned, we needed to leap around. During the lessons, during the softball game, during craft time, if someone said, "leap of faith," we'd all get up and leap about. Leap!

We tend to think of faith as a leap, something spontaneous in a way. Something that cannot be planned out. Faith doesn't work within an outlined list of duties or goals, or with a projection sheet. Yet, it seems like Jesus is saying today in the gospel passage, "I want you to plan, analyze, and figure out if you can be a disciple of mine." He suggests looking at the cost of being a disciple and personally seeing if you can pay. Have any of  you ever done a cost benefit analysis on your faith life? I certainly haven't. It wasn't part of the toolbox they tried to give us in seminary! But Jesus certainly seems to be pointing in that direction with his parables today. In the accounting world, cost benefit 
analyzes help make decisions. If you can project what an idea might cost to implement 
and project what the idea might bring in as profit or goods, then you can look to see if the benefit is worth the cost. So this is what we are going to do today: a cost benefit analysis of our faith life, as individuals and as a congregation. 

First, the costs. What are the costs of being a disciple of Jesus? 

In planning for any goal, you need to know what is involved. Planning to be a disciple of 
Jesus means, well, means that you have to know what it will take. From the text today, we can see Jesus telling us that it will take an overturning of our priorities: to let go of possessions, our own egos, our loyalty to our families, to be different, to let go of our desires, dreams, and ambitions for ourselves in order to put God's will first. As a congregation, it means not putting our church first, not letting our possessions, our building, our windows, our monetary funds get in the way. It means not letting ourselves be an exclusive club, always run in the way we want. 

Phew! That's a long list of costs. Some of them come at a very steep price too. 

Let's go through these in a little more depth. In overview terms, Jesus is talking about a world view switch. Family was the basis of society, family was the most important thing in the ancient world. Your family determined who you were, what you could do, who you could hang out with and talk with and so on and so forth. Usually when we look at this passage, we would rather take the Matthean version, because he doesn't use the word hate, but says, whoever puts his family ahead of me cannot be Jesus' disciple. Being a disciple means a new and total devotion to God. Nothing comes before God. God is first. And the thing about that, is that we all say that in the first commandment of the ten. God comes first. Not family. And yet this is not how human society grew up. Not how we function. 
Then again, Jesus continues with his insistence on giving up our possessions. “There are certainly possessions we have that we should give up if we are to follow the 
authentic life to which Jesus leads us. This might be the over possessing of people we 
claim to love. Do we live as if we own others? It might mean inner idols of overblown 
opinions of self, and our ego concerns. It might actually mean giving up material goods. 
There are many things that could become painful to us, causing a low grade depression, 
while we think we are pursuing our own self-interest.” Its cliche to say that it doesn't really have to do with giving up all your possessions, but having the right priorities. God needs to be first. Sadly, the real issue for most of us is not that we don't try to put God first. We do try. Some of us try harder than others of course, but the real issue for most of us is that we don't know what that kind of living looks like. As human beings, we are best at learning things through imitation. Including our priorities in life. Usually the way we live reflects the way we have imitated others who we idealize, or look up to. Kids are well known for soaking up and imitating the actions they see around them. They will act on behaviors they see their parents doing even if it gets them in trouble or they don't understand what it is. The subconscious thought process is that if my parents are doing it then that is what I should be doing. We have a hard time figuring out what the true life of discipleship looks like, what it looks like to have God as the most worthy thing in our lives, because that is not how we see people acting around us. 

In looking at the question of what it costs to be a disciple of Jesus, the answer is truly, "everything." Nothing can stand in the way between you and God if you are to be a full disciple of Jesus. Its a hard line to walk. It means giving up all your possessions, all your family, all your desires and dreams and ambitions and surrendering all to god because you believe that God's will is more important, better, and the true way of life. It means some very difficult choices and means changing the way those choices are made. Following the path of discipleship is not something everyone knows how to do. The easiest way to say it is, "Let go, let God." Four little words that turn the world upside down. 

"On one hand, Jesus makes it very difficult to be his disciple. It will cost us everything 
and we need to know the cost before 'jumping' in. On the other hand, Jesus may be
making it impossible to be his disciple on our own abilities? When we confess, 'I can't,' 
then we are open for God's 'I can.'" (Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.) Because God can make us truly full disciples of Jesus, even if we can't do it ourselves. Even more, God has plenty of other benefits that come along with the costs.

What are the benefits of being a disciple of Jesus? 

Foremost what pops into my head is: Saving grace! I have a feeling this is going to be a long list. The fruits of the Spirit from Paul's letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The sense of belonging to something greater than oneself, helping to build up the kingdom of God, finding meaning in our lives, and in the world, despite it's craziness, having a deep and strong relationship with God, seeing the world in a new way with new eyes. Humility. Tenacity. Community support. Knowing who you are as both a sinner and a beloved child of God. For the congregation as a whole, the benefits of individual members being disciples of Jesus are a sense of authenticity, openness, accountability, the ability to struggle and the ability to be light, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. 

What do you think? I think so! These things are not as concrete of benefits as say, food, clothing, or a new tv. Yet, I believe these benefits have more value. Does this list outweigh the costs? I believe yes. Has this cost benefit analysis been helpful? For me, it has helped me identify a few areas of my life in which I need to work at letting go. Paying the price of discipleship and paying attention to what God is calling me to do. 

We can see, it is not a simple and straightforward path. Becoming a disciple means having to make the choice to be a follower of Jesus every day, every way, over and over again when we face choices between the world and Jesus. Of course, sometimes we cop out and we say that Jesus understands. Yes, Jesus understands, Jesus understands everything, but that doesn't mean the choice was the right one. Following Jesus cannot be a spontaneous choice. It takes commitment, tenacity, and faith to follow Jesus. Being a disciple something that needs to be reflected upon, examined, looked at, analyzed. Are we called to be disciples of Christ? I believe that we are called to be disciples of Christ. That though we cannot give up everything on our own, our choice to try, our choice to be in deeper relationship with God will lead us into realizing the grace that God has already given us. So that in the end, we are not leaping into faith, but leaping for joy in the love of Jesus.