Following Jesus Isn’t ‘Easy’

Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on August 31, 2014, the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost.  The sermon text is Matthew 16:21-28.


Dear Friend in Christ,


*A young man, eager to make it to the top, went to a well-known millionaire businessman and asked him the first reason for his success.  The businessman didn’t even hesitate to answer:  “Hard work.”  After a lengthy pause, the young man asked, “What is the SECOND reason?”


This morning I want us to deal with “the lure of the easy way”.


Last week Pastor Carol told us about Peter “the rock”.  He made such a bold of confession of faith and Jesus said “on this rock I will build my church.” Those were “heady” days for the followers of Jesus.  In the eyes of the disciples, everything was going along swimmingly.  The crowds were large, Jesus was popular, and by extension the disciples had it made.  Their future was secure.  That’s the way we like it too.  When the world sees us as successful, it makes us feel so safe and secure.


In today’s gospel reading we have a curious phrase that is easy to overlook.  Matthew writes in verse 21, “From that time on”.  Matthew is signaling a change in the direction of Jesus’ ministry and what he is emphasizing.  He tells them plainly that he is heading to Jerusalem and will suffer and be killed, and on the third day rise.


Peter responds, “Oh no!  Never!  This will never happen to you!”   Jesus comes right back in an extraordinary way to this “Rock”: Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.


How would you like to be called “Satan” by Jesus?  Especially when Peter thought he was saying the right things, giving Jesus a great show of support?  Perhaps Jesus called Simon Peter “Satan” because of the experience Jesus had in the wilderness.  Remember when Satan wanted to get Jesus “off course”, “off  his mission from God”?


            All you have to is bow down to me.


Surely Jesus heard Satan that day in Peter when he said, “Forbid it Lord that you should have to suffer and die.”  Surely in our day Jesus hears Satan speak when we want to take the easy way and avoid the call to true discipleship.


Jesus goes on to say words that are meant not just for Peter and the disciples, but for us too:  If you want to follow me, you must take up your cross too.


This past week Pastor Carol and I spent a few days in Amish Country, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  My family tree is full of Amish and Mennonite ancestors and I so I feel right at home with much of their food and customs and words.  They maintain a life style that is so different from how you and I live.  The true Amish don’t use electricity and dress so plainly and the men don’t shave their beards and they educate their children in one room school houses and they absolutely observe the Sabbath and worship plainly and fervently. 


It can’t be easy to be Amish in the 21st century, but they do so to keep the values that they cherish and to worship the Lord in the way that they think best.  It may not be “our way” but we can’t help but admire their dedication and resolve to be faithful as Christians.


The September issue of The Lutheran magazine arrived this week.  The issue is devoted to Christian Education and Sunday School.  The lead article talks about how much Christian Education is changing since our nation’s social life has impacted the life of the Church so much.  Traditional Sunday School no longer works as the primary way to teach the faith in most congregations  today in America.  Parents are giving in to sports on Sundays.   The number of married couples with children in our ELCA congregations dropped from 41% in 1988 to 26% in 2013. 


So congregations across the United States, including ours, are looking at creative ways  to pass on the faith.  I hope that you will be especially attentive to Pastor Carol and our Christian Education Team as they provide Children’s Church during the month of September.  We’re also looking at some cross-generational events during the year.  A picture in the Lutheran shows a family participating in a “Home Huddle” in which they gather often to share their highs and lows, read Scripture, talk, pray and bless each other.


We as Christians must resist the lure of having our faith be easy with nothing expected of us.  We need to learn sacrifice and setting priorities and living out what we profess as Christians.  Would you agree that anything worthwhile in life requires dedication?  A sound body requires that we exercise, eat the right food, and conquer bad habits.  A sound mind requires that we read, that we observe, and that we continually learn.  A sound marriage requires that each partner goes in understanding that marriage is not a 50/50 proposition, but a 70/30 in which both partners give the 70.


We don’t like to hear that our Lord, our faith, and our church require self-denial, but it is true.  Too many churches today leave out that part of the message, thinking it will turn off folks.  Our world today faces tremendous challenges.  Are there folks who care enough to act?  One cynic said, “When the going gets tough, everyone leaves.”  That happened to Jesus.  As the way got harder, the numbers of those who followed dwindled, until finally He died alone on Calvary.  Yet, if He had been unwilling to lay down His life, the world would never have known the love of the Father.  If those early disciples had not picked up Jesus’ cross and followed after Him, we still would not know about that love.  And if you and I do not pick up the cross in our time and make those hard choices and assume those difficult responsibilities, our children’s children will not know the story of Jesus and His love.


This day, how will you take up your cross, avoid the lure of the easy way and dedicate yourself to  being a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ?


*King Duncan in eSermons