Sunday, September 4, 2022

“The Cost of Discipleship—What Can You Afford?” The Gospel Message for Sunday, Sept 4, 2022 — Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 14th chapter of Luke, beginning with the 25th verse.

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “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. (Luke 14:25-33, NRSV)

All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that word, we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“The Cost of Discipleship—What Can You Afford?”

“What’s in your wallet?” With the great influx of credit cards into our economy and society, there is a question that seems to have become almost extinct. The current generation of young adults, and my generation for that matter, hardly ever seem to ask the question, “Can we afford it?” The scenario, more often than not, seems to go like this. You go into a store like Walmart, Circuit City, or Best Buy. You see a nice 60-inch television on sale for $450. You think, “I have that much credit on my card.” So you slap down the “plastic.”

Of course, there are also times in life when the question shouldn’t be “Can I afford it” but a related question, “What can I afford?”. That may be the question regarding some big situations in life. The old car is rusting out, and the engine is dying. There is no question you’ll have to get a different car; you will have to afford it. The question is, though, what can you afford? Or the circumstances of life dictate that you’ll have to get an apartment or even buy a house. Again, it’s not a matter of you can afford it, but what you can afford. Those are some pretty big issues in life, and they require that the questions be asked. But they are not the most important issue in life. Jesus spoke about that in our text today. The biggest issue in your life is your relationship with Jesus as one of his disciples. And being one of his disciples carries a price tag. Regarding that discipleship, Jesus asks you today… “What Can You Afford?”

When Jesus turned to speak to the multitude following him, he wanted them to ask themselves the question, “Can you afford to be a disciple of Jesus?” You see, a huge cost is involved in being a disciple or follower of Jesus. And He wants you to count that cost before you jump into this discipleship relationship. Jesus laid out the cost of discipleship. It amounted to this: Give Him everything! Give Jesus all glory and praise. When success crowns your efforts, to whom will you give the credit? Whose back will you pat? Will you sing your own praises, or will you acknowledge that all your abilities and blessings come from God? Give Jesus all your love. Everything you do should be an expression of love for Him. Don’t give more of your love to anyone or anything you give to Jesus. And the love you give to others should be an expression of love to Jesus. And regarding possessions? Give them all up for Him! The possessions you have can not be allowed to come between you and Jesus; therefore, give them up! Jesus simply summed it all up by saying that the cost of being his disciple is to give up your life to Him. And his question for those who express a desire to follow him is, “What can you afford? Can you afford to be his disciple?”

Those to whom Jesus put these questions were many people who had been drawn to him by the great blessings He had brought. They had heard about this Jesus. Many had come to Him with their problems, and Jesus had solved them. The ill and diseased had come for physical cures. The disabled had come for healing and wholeness. And Jesus granted those. But now He asked them how long they would stay with Him. If He journeyed 2, 3, 4, 5 days, or even a week without doing a miracle, would they keep following? When He reached Jerusalem and faced bitter opposition from the Pharisees and other religious leaders, would they stay with Him?

Today he puts those questions to this multitude that is traveling with him. You and I have been drawn to Him by the blessings He has poured out on us. But how long will you follow? If in His wisdom He doesn’t miraculously cure a loved one of a terminal illness, will you still follow? If in His wisdom He determines that it’s time for a loved one to leave this world, will you still follow? If in His love for you He thinks it wise for you to carry a burden right now, will you still follow? And if you are a disciple and meet some opposition in your life, will you still follow? And as He makes this total claim on your life, will you still follow? Can you afford to be a disciple of Jesus when this is the cost?!?

Those questions ought to just depress you and me. How many times have we turned away from Him already?! As I look into the “checkbook” of my life to see if I have the wealth of righteousness Jesus demands, I find a big fat zero! Already in our lives, how many times haven’t you questioned Jesus’ love and devotion to you when things got tough? How many times haven’t you and I had gigantic blessings just dropped into our laps by Jesus only to say, “I deserved it, and I ought to treat myself now?” How often do we fail to give God some of our precious time to study His word or come to worship because we first must treat ourselves to a bit of rest and relaxation? How many times have we greedily and stingily hung onto all those blessings instead of returning with thanksgiving a portion to Him who gave them? How often have you and I been unwilling to risk an earthly relationship by speaking the truth of Jesus to someone? We’re either afraid to mention sin to them, or we’re embarrassed to admit that we believe in a heaven and a Savior who gives us heaven. You and I don’t have what we need to be disciples of Jesus. We can’t afford it!

But the despair that comes from such an evaluation of our spiritual checkbooks is exactly what Jesus wants to bring out by asking if you can afford to be His disciple. You see, many of those traveling with Him believed they were doing something for Jesus and themselves by following. Many of them also seemed to be looking only for those temporary, earthly blessings of physical healing and satisfaction. But His blessings go far beyond our earthly ideas of what blessings are. Jesus’ blessings are eternal. And the cost of such blessings of eternal life is unaffordable for us. But not for Him! You see, Jesus brings us to that despair and hopelessness so that we’ll listen when he says, “All you who are weary and burdened,” that is all you who know and are bothered by your sin and guilt, and who knows where it leads, “come to me, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus then shows you that he also counted the cost of us being his disciples. He “calculated” that one innocent life given to God would pay for the perfect life that Adam had destroyed. So Jesus took on that life, lived it, and let it be punished. He gave it all up in love and praise to God on a cross. With that life, Jesus paid for ours. With that payment, Jesus made us His disciples. Could you can you afford such a payment? NO! You and I don’t have the spiritual resources to afford it. But Jesus does. He made the payment necessary to make you His disciple!

So, now the question has changed. No longer must we ask whether we can afford to be a disciple of Jesus. Now we have to ask, Can you afford NOT to be a disciple of Jesus?

Again, it’s necessary to estimate the cost (or perhaps benefits) of being a disciple of Jesus over against not being His disciple. Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). So, without Jesus’ life payment applied to your spiritual account, what can you afford? What can you and I buy for ourselves? Scripture is clear. Without the perfect innocence of life demanded by God for entrance to heaven, we buy nothing for ourselves but a one-way ticket to the suffering and punishment of hell. Our sin-stained living buys despair and hopelessness in our earthly lives. To put it in the terms Jesus used in his discussion, we try to build a building (a life in heaven) we can’t build, and we try to fight a war (battle against sin) we can’t win. Already in this life, without Jesus, we would be lost, wandering aimlessly through life, as many people do. And what about beyond this life? Without Jesus building and fighting for us, we would be eternally lost to the agonizing punishment of hell, as many people without Jesus are.

Only Jesus can afford the payment that rescues us for eternity. He has built the building for us. He has won the war for us. The question is important. What can you afford? Can you afford NOT to be a disciple of Jesus? The wealth of being a disciple of Jesus is something that you and I will never want to give up! We may not have all the material blessings this world has to offer, but you have the peace this world can’t give! You have the eternal security so many in this world can’t find! And you have an eternal home that no one in this world can build for you! We can’t afford not to be disciples of Jesus, who gives us all that!

So, he calls us to follow Him. He calls us to follow Him to his cross. There we see Him carry our sin and guilt. There He endured the anger of God for our failure to love Him by standing up for His truth. There Jesus took God’s punishment for our love of this world and all the things in it we think will give us such pleasure and security. He calls us to follow Him out of the grave into a new life. That new life is eternal, but it has begun already now. As we live on this earth, Jesus tells us it will involve carrying our own crosses. We carry those crosses with resolve and determination because it basically amounts to living at all times and in all circumstances in a way that will honor and glorify Jesus. Jesus put it in terms of hating anything that gets in the way of honoring Jesus in our life, whether that be people or things. It means giving up everything to and for Jesus. Was He calling those multitudes to empty their pockets of all their money and to give it to Him? When He calls us to give up everything, is He calling you and me to empty our savings accounts and to place that money and every paycheck into the offering plate? No!

But He is calling us to use every ounce of strength in our bodies, every penny we have, and every second of every day in a God-pleasing way. He calls us to offer a life of thanksgiving to Him for counting the cost of our salvation and paying it for us. He calls us to bring offerings that accurately reflect our thankfulness for the great price He paid to give us life eternally.

So many people aren’t Jesus’ disciples and therefore are not benefiting and will not benefit eternally from his payment for their sins. In addition, too many of His disciples take that discipleship and its earthly and eternal blessings for granted and risk losing them. And that point at which we are called to leave this world for our eternal dwelling comes suddenly. How important, then, that Jesus keeps asking us, and we keep asking ourselves, What can you afford?

Can you afford to be a disciple of Jesus? Can you afford NOT to be a disciple of Jesus?

Dear Lord, by your grace, our salvation is free. We don’t earn it. We don’t have to try. Yet, as we receive that salvation, we recognize that our lives will change, that there will be a cost in our discipleship. It’s not the cost of earning your love, which has already been given to us. But it is the cost of putting aside our old self so that we might be more fully devoted to you.

Help me, gracious Lord, to offer more of myself to you. Help me to give up those things to which I am clinging. Help me to renounce my sin and turn from it. Help me to let go of the possessions and securities that keep me from following you with abandon.

O Lord, may I be more and more your disciple each day, by your grace and for your glory. In your name, I pray, Amen.

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Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Sermon contributed by Rev. Christopher Raiford.
A disciple is not simply one who merely changes moral behavior in regards to the teachings of Jesus Christ, but in response to God’s work in him or her seeks a fundamental shift toward the ethics of Jesus Christ in every way. When it comes to discipleship Jesus reminds us that it is very costly.

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