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August 30, 2020

Message for August 30, 2020- “Costly Discipleship”

(From Matthew 16: 21-28)

     One of my favorite books that my Mom would read to me as a child was called The Little Red Hen.  It is the story of a hen who finds some wheat and decides she would like to make some bread.  To turn the wheat into bread it must first be harvested, then ground in a mill, and finally baked into bread.  The hen asked the other farm animals to help her at each step in the process, but they all refused.  My favorite refusal came from the cat, “No!” she said, “I am much too fat!”  In a similar manner, all of the other animals refused to help the hen with any of the bread preparation tasks.  Finally, when the bread was baked and ready to eat, the hen asked the animals who would like to help her eat it.  All of them were more than happy to help eat the bread, even though they had been unwilling to help the hen to prepare it.

     The story of the hen who wanted to bake bread, and the responses of the animals who refused to help her, was very amusing to me as a child.  I enjoyed it so much that I did not even realize that it held a message, an important life lesson within its narrative.  Many years later, I heard someone say in a church meeting, “Everyone wants to eat the bread, but nobody wants to bake it!”  It struck me that this statement was a reference to The Little Red Hen book that my Mom had read to me so many times as a child.  Even more appropriately, I was aware of the context in which the reference was made, and of the underlying message behind the story I had so enjoyed.  The speaker was talking about the big “C” word within our Church—that word is commitment.

     It should not surprise us that commitment was discussed at a church meeting I recall attending many years ago.  Commitment is an issue in many aspects of our worldly lives today, as the story of the red hen reveals for us in an amusing and light-hearted fashion.  Our lives together as a church are not immune to the same concerns.  In fact, Jesus’ ministry among his disciples and followers also had to deal with some hard issues around the subject of their commitment—true commitment to him.

     And so, we encounter this morning’s reading from Matthew Chapter 16, where Jesus shared a hard message with his Disciples and followers.  It is not one for the faint of heart.  There came a time in Jesus’ ministry with his Disciples when he had to share an essential lesson that they needed to both   understand and apply if they were to survive the mission of the journey ahead of them. “If anyone desires to follow me,” he said, “let them deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow me.”  With these words, the Master became the instructor in a hard life lesson for his followers—Discipleship comes at a cost—it takes serious commitment.

     Jesus knew well that one should not enter into any situation that has not been properly vetted and discerned, one to which one cannot fully commit.  One must take stock of one’s physical and spiritual resources, and adequately assess any endeavor before undertaking it. Let us look at a worldly analogy Jesus used in Luke 14, verse 28 to illustrate the need to use good discernment in making decisions.   Jesus asked his followers, “Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether you have enough to finish it?” He continued by stating that it would be embarrassing for anyone to lay the foundation for a building job that they were not able to complete.  Jesus used this analogy to illustrate the same hard lesson for his Disciples found in this morning’s lesson.  Jesus revealed to them that anyone who does not bear their own cross and follow Jesus is not a true Disciple.  Taking stock of their own resources and circumstances, one must be willing to relinquish what they have and love in order to follow Jesus and become a true and committed disciple.

     Friends, we are living in some difficult and trying times.  As in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry with his Disciples and followers, we too face hard decisions if we want to be true disciples of Jesus and to follow him in mission today.  Racism is running rampant in our country, even as frustration over   complacency with the injustices in our socio-economic systems grows stronger and deeper with each passing day.  In the midst of the chaos of our times, there has emerged a wonderful example of commitment—commitment to justice.  In the wake of the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, a man whose name can be added to the growing list of victims of acts of white-privilege and racism, both tangible and intangible, the NBA players this week said, “Enough!” They decided to boycott their playoff games.  The players were willing to put their money and their love of the game of basketball behind their voices, which have been crying out for some time now for equality and justice for all people.  Not one person, not one team, but essentially all of the players on all of the play-off teams chose to boycott their games!  It was time for those in the limelight, those with a platform for their voice, to make a grand gesture for everyone in our country to witness.  They chose to take a hard stand, relinquishing what they loved, to show the strength of their commitment to the cause of equality and justice for all people.  Now that is true commitment!

     Church, the time has come when we can no longer afford the luxury of being infants in faith.  Instead, as Peter said to the Ephesian Church in Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love, we in all things grow up into him who is our head, that is, Christ.”  So, I will speak a truth in love about faith to you today. True commitment to our faith in these times calls us out of the comfort of our position of privilege.  To follow Jesus is to take up the cross of justice and follow him on the journey toward equality for all God’s people.  Only then will our American dream become a reality, and cease to be a nightmare for so many of our people.  True discipleship, friends, is costly; it calls us to let loose of the roadblocks to our living a life of true faith, and instead to embrace the cross of commitment.  The Holy Spirit will guide our path if we will commit to listen and to follow the Spirit’s leading.  True discipleship is costly, but it brings us the only true life we as Christians can hope to live.  May God’s people say Amen.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, we are one in the Spirit, we are one I the Lord, and we pray that all unity may one day be restored: And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side, we will work with each other, we will work side by side, and we’ll guard human dignity and save human pride: And they’ll know we are Christians   by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

(“They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love”-words and music-Carol Cymbala)