The Cost of Discipleship

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on September 16, 2012, the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  The text for the sermon is Mark 8:27-38.

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Today’s gospel lesson is one of those “good news/bad news” kinds of messages.  The good news?  Peter is the first one to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah of God.  Peter actually gets it in his head and heart and says it aloud publicly.  “Jesus, you are the Messiah!”  The bad news?  Jesus told his disciples, “There is going to be a heavy price to pay.  I will suffer, be rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, and be killed.”

 

And then the bad news seems to get worse.  “And anyone who wants to be a follower of mine will also need to experience suffering and rejection as they also take up their own cross.”  Talk about a downer message, this seems to be it.  If Jesus were running for political office today, his handlers would advise him, “Sound more positive, paint a rosier picture, and make the people feel great about being one of your followers.”

 

When Peter takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him for talking about suffering, Jesus in turn rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

 

Now we are getting to the heart of the gospel message.  It has to do with what is important in the eyes of God, as opposed to how the world views what is important. 

 

Have you heard of Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross?  In 1518 Luther traveled from Wittenberg to Heidelberg to take part in a debate about his teachings.  This is the first time he proposes his “theology of the cross.”  Certainly today’s message from Jesus about the cross and the call to discipleship was on his mind.  Luther says that God reveals himself where human reason least expects it, in order that we may live not by sight, but by faith.

 

Here are some of his statements from that debate:

1.      This is clear: Those who do not know Christ do not know Christ hidden in suffering.  Therefore they prefer works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general good to evil.

 

2.      God can only be found in suffering at the cross.

 

What is this “theology of glory” that Luther talked about?  I have an illustration from my own experience.  Back in my seminary days, we had The Reverend Robert Schuller visit our class one day to talk about his experience at founding a congregation and building the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.  He termed his philosophy as “possibility thinking.”  It seemed to work, for his successes included a world-wide television ministry, a huge campus, the well-known glass cathedral, and famous people always visiting.  I remember one of my class-mates raising a hand and asking, “Dr. Schuller, how do you address sin and suffering in your preaching and teaching?”  This is what I remember of his response, “We don’t talk about it in our morning services.  We keep it upbeat and positive.  People don’t want to hear about sin and suffering.  At least not at the Sunday morning services that are being broadcast.  I address those kinds of things in the evening services where we don’t get such public exposure.”

 

Wouldn’t a debate between Robert Schuller and Martin Luther be a most interesting spectacle, if such a thing could happen?  So, dear friends in Christ, this day let us remember to:

1.      Understand that the cross of Jesus was costly – he gave his life on the cross for our sake.

2.      Jesus calls us to carry our crosses too – to risk being persecuted for the sake of Christ – in order to be his followers and disciples.

 

May God inspire such discipleship in each and every one of us today.  Thanks be to God. 

Amen!