I think one of the hardest things about being a Christian and being part of a religious community is overcoming the disconnect between what we do on Sunday and what do the rest of the week. Coming to church on Sunday morning, while for many of us may be a logistical nightmare in getting ourselves and our kids ready and out the door, is not the hard part of saying you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Further, this hour of contemplative worship, is not the hard part of being the church. No the cost of discipleship, the challenge of being the church in the world today, is far more daring than simply showing up.
In our scripture reading this morning Jesus lays it on the line. He has some final words to his disciples. It’s his rally day sermon. The disciples are getting ready to sign up for ministry, to serve in one way or another and Jesus is about to give them his requirements for serving. First he says, you have to leave home. You have to leave your family and you have to leave your possessions. The cost of discipleship requires putting the vision of God first in your life. Jesus probably met that both literally as well as figuratively. Being a disciple requires going outside of your safety net. It requires living outside of the familiar, the comfortable, and the protective space that gives you all you need and living with the people who share your DNA.
Therefore, being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires a measure of courage. Earnest Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure.” Discipleship is easy to talk about, but takes far greater courage to live out.
In his speech entitled, “Citizenship is a Republic,” Theodore Roosevelt declared,
“It is not the critic who counts; the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done the better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives, valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without err and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worse, if fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Jesus says, “whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” It takes great courage to carry the cross. But it is only by giving up the things the keep us comfortable and carrying the load of that which makes us uncomfortable that we are able to respond our calling to be disciples. Jesus doesn’t lay this out because he wants us to suffer, or be uncomfortable, or be lonely. He lays this out because he understands that we often, often, often put our priorities in things that do not sustain us.
We rely on things that do not give us strong foundations upon which to place our life and it’s priorities. Jesus makes this point when he says, “it’s a fool that doesn’t first sit down and estimate the costs before building a tower.” Jesus gives us the parameters of discipleship so that we can be successful. So that we can finish what we started.
The task is not to make Christian discipleship palatable, but to recognize it for what it is. God calls us to a new kind of living. To be a Christian means to be grounded in grace, and surrounded by God’s love. It also means to be willing to give of ourselves for the world around us. It means refusing to focus on what’s best for me and my own, but instead focusing on how I might live sacrificially, so that others might come to know God’s love. It means not asking what I have to gain from this faith, but asking instead what I am able to give. It means wrestling with challenging beliefs and concepts – often times being called to stand in direct opposition to the world that surrounds us. It also means acknowledging our sin and the sins of the world and recognizing that our sin can only be forgiven by the grace of Jesus Christ. We may not want think about Jesus in flesh and bones any more than we want to think about sin, but my friends that’s the beauty of what Jesus means when he says he abides in us. It’s that the grace of God gets down to the core of our humanity and sees us for all we are in all of our fleshy reality.
As I have come to the end of my second week as your new pastor, I have continued to listen to the stories of this congregation and I know you some of you are anxious. I know some of you are angry. And I know some of you are hurt. And I know some of you are hopeful. I know there is an urgency to get some things fixed.
I suggest we do this. Let’s start by building a foundation. Let’s start with asking ourselves who it is that God is calling us to be and what it means to be disciples in the world today. For every time we think about what we need at OPPC, let’s think about what other’s in our community and world need. For every time we wish things were more comfortable, let’s remember the cross. For every time we worry about what we owe, let’s remember what we have been given. We need to know why we do what we do, before we do it. We need to understand who we are as one body, as one church, as one mission, as one foundation, before we go start building different rooms in the tower. For a foundation that is built in parts will crumble. This church is built on one foundation. It’s built on the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ. We need to understand what that means for us as a community of disciples.
This will require courage and it will require hope and it will require sacrifice. But fear not, for God is with us.
Never place a period where God has placed a comma. That is a pretty good description of how we try to live out our faith in the world. We live with other people who believe differently and we give them the benefit of the doubt because we try to “never place a period where God has placed a comma.”
This isn’t something new with us as a church. In 1620, just before the Mayflower sailed with its load of Pilgrims bound for a new land, their pastor, John Robinson preached a sermon to the departing company. He said, “There will be yet more light to break forth from God’s Holy Word.” In other words, “God is still speaking.” Let those with ears listen.