Phil. 2:12-18; Psalm 62:6-14; Luke 14:25-33
“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.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear Jesus’ words today, it seems that being a disciple is something way beyond my ability. In my current ministry with the Fresh Expressions movement and campus ministry, I get the opportunity to have great conversations with many non-Christians; people who have never even been in a church before. A young woman (a non-Christian) and I were talking about faith one day and she asked me, “What is all this Jesus follower stuff all about?” She said, “It seems like a lot of ‘to do’s’ and an equal number of “don’t do’s” in order to be a part of that religion.” She continued, ”A Christian friend told me that to be one, means you have go to church every Sunday, read the bible daily, pray without ceasing, follow all of God’s laws, and tithe.” The young woman huffed and said, “it sounds more like a lot of empty rules, than a community that claims a life of transformation in God.”
I wonder, how many of us have pondered the question, “what is all this Jesus follower stuff really all about?” When I was the rector in one of our local parishes, I spent much of my ministry there helping folks understand, that being a follower of Jesus is not so much a list of “to do’s” and “don’t do’s,” but that it is a way of life that leads to, and is a result of God’s transforming grace. Grace, God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved, and by it we know the forgiveness of our sins. Grace enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills. So, how do we see grace as tangible, real, and outwardly discernable? In the community of faith, the first sacramental encounter with God’s grace happens through the waters of baptism. The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the beginning of the journey, the life-long journey of discipleship.
A candidate for baptism is required to answer several questions, or if too young to answer for themselves, their parent and/or sponsor responds on the candidate’s behalf. Candidates respond to three questions about the Trinitarian faith: Do you believe In God the Father, do you believe in God the Son, and do you believe in God the Holy Spirit. Belief for do many folks, means they accept something as fact. The word belief means so much more than merely an assent that God exists.
The Greek form of the word “believe” as found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Πιστεύων), means “having a conviction of, or to trust in, or to place confidence in something or someone.” So, if someone asks us if we believe in God, we might respond with, “yes, we place our trust in and we have so much confidence in God, that God is the first priority in our lives.”
If we believe in, trust in, and place our confidence in God, then there should be a radical difference in how our relationship with God, stands in contrast to our other closest relationships (father, mother, spouse, children, brother, sister, and life itself). “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.” I don’t think Jesus was telling us to hate these folks. I believe Jesus was pointing out, that our relationship with others, relative to our relationship with God, should be as distinct and dissimilar, as love is to hate.
After answering the believe questions, the candidate for baptism is required to take upon her/himself the baptismal promises, or if too young, their sponsor makes those promises on their behalf. These baptismal promises point us toward discipleship. The promises at baptism show us a way of life patterned after that of Our Lord, a life of taking up our cross and following him. Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant by that cross bearing thing? Was he seriously telling us that crucifixion is the only way for us to be disciples?
See, the cross of Jesus was more than an instrument of torture and death. The cross of Jesus shows us through flesh and blood, that God desires reconciliation with God’s creation. God enacted self-giving love, offered himself to those he loved, and risked rejection in the process. God showed us vulnerable love without strings, love focused not on self, but on the other and Jesus made real, the kind of love, we should have for one another. Our baptismal promises, if we follow them, points the way for us to try and love as Jesus loves. Cross-bearing love rejects our natural tendency toward self-interest, self-preservation, and self-fulfillment. Cross bearing love is reconciling love.
Candidates for baptism are asked these questions:
- Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? We cannot be Christians in a vacuum. Discipleship requires frequently gathering with sisters and brothers in Christ, in all the messiness and beauty that is church life, so that we can practice together, the way of loving as Jesus loves. Some times we get it right, some times we don’t, but that is what reconciling love is really all about. It’s not easy.
- Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? This seems to be self-explanatory however, there is an assumption found here in this question. Listen again, “whenever you fall into sin.” It is assumed that we WILL fall into sin not just once, but more than likely, many times throughout our lives. The real question is when we fall, will we return to the path of following Jesus, by loving our neighbors, which is what reconciling love is really all about. It’s not easy.
- Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? This is the tough one and Paul speaks about it in his letter to the Church in Philippi. We are to be “known as children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.” So, for a world struggling in darkness, “will we not only share good news with words, but will we be good news through our actions, which is what reconciling love is really all about. It’s just not easy.
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? And then, Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? If we begin to see others with different eyes, (through God’s grace-filled eyes) and then, if we put others above self, if we deny ourselves, then we really are following Jesus and taking up that cross of self-giving love for our neighbors. Striving for justice and peace among ALL people and respecting the dignity of EVERY human being is what reconciling love is really all about. It’s not easy.
Interestingly enough, the baptismal promises hearken back to Jesus’ commands to love God and love neighbor. These two commands, because of their brevity, may seem so simple to follow. However, Jesus reminds us that reconciling love is as radical as hating those closest to us, or taking up and carrying an instrument of torture and death. The reality is, being a disciple of Jesus is NOT easy. It takes commitment, practice, and trust. Oh, and yes, this difficult journey of discipleship we all desire to traverse would be impossible if it were not grace. Grace, God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved, and by which, we know the forgiveness of our sins. Grace enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills. It is only by grace that we hope to become disciples, followers; fellow sojourners of the one we call Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.