Sermons from St Faith's   

True Discipleship

Revd Denise McDougall, Sunday, 4th September, 2016

‘Give a new heart to those who have fallen from the practice of faith; may they again find joy in Christian discipleship.’ Some poignant words used during Evening Prayer.

No-one has ever found being a real disciple of Christ easy but constant effort on our parts should bring great joy. However Jesus repeatedly warns the crowds about the hardships and difficulties they would face by following him and that message wasn’t just for the inner circle of faithful Apostles but all people of all times. Generally Luke portrays Jesus as merciful, sensitive and gentle but when it comes to a question of possessions either emotional or material he becomes demanding. To anyone listening to today’s opening sentences and who genuinely tries to live out the gospel in their lives – those words are absolutely devastating and confusing. Are we really being asked to hate our families and ourselves and then later on he talks about giving up all our possessions? I remember a sermon that Bishop David once preached when he talked about treasured possessions and after the service a friend said to me something like Oh dear, that really has made me think about all my CDs to which I replied yes and I kept thinking about our caravan in Anglesey!! We all have possessions that we really wouldn’t want to be without!

If Jesus was really asking us to hate our families and give up everything which makes us who we are, our personal characteristics or our treasured possessions it would make him immoral and unethical as a teacher. We must not accept the text out of context, as often happens when isolated verses are quoted; the first rule in biblical interpretation is to compare the text with the rest of the Bible and also take into account the culture of the time. Passages such as these are very challenging, especially in today’s world I remember making it very clear when I was training for ministry that I would never leave or neglect my family.

Jesus however is not using the word hate about our families in the way that we understand that emotional term today; the word hate in the Bible is often used to express priority and preference rather than emotional hatred. What it means is that we give priority or preference to Christ’s call even over family love if something presents an obstacle when following our Christian principles.

Once when I was teaching the mum of a boy in my class found some stolen items in her son’s bedroom and after much deliberation she informed the police. She told me that she loved her son dearly but after all right was right. She certainly didn’t hate her son but acted in a way to show that she placed her Christian principles above her son’s actions.

Of course many Christians have felt called to obey Jesus’ commands literally and have lived their lives as hermits, religious or missionaries, they did choose to give up all their worldly goods and we all know of St. Faith and other martyrs who gave up their lives totally for Christ.

But what do these extraordinary demands of Jesus mean for ordinary people, living ordinary lives? The parables in the reading call us to take stock and become aware of what is going on in the world. Sadly we do live in a society where great emphasis is placed on prestige, power and materialistic possessions, if we take in the enticing adverts around, pop up adverts on our computer screens or on the persuasive pages of newspapers or glossy magazines it becomes clear that we live in a permissive culture, one that worships false gods, possessions, alcohol, drugs, crime and greed. Our young people are in a state of confusion and revere celebrities, sport’s stars and want designer clothes. So how can we pay attention to the things of God when are part of such a culture?

In our own rather comfortable ways we are happy to say we are followers of Christ, we go to church every week, say our prayers daily and do our best to live Christian lives but if we are truly honest when gospel values clash with our own way of thinking we have little difficulty compromising. We happily pick and choose and yes, we do try to live out the Gospel message but often on our own terms. And let’s be honest we don’t really expect or want to be called to make huge sacrifices in our lives. Perhaps the greatest barrier to total commitment is our unwillingness to give up the things which provide security and material comfort.

Renouncing these things however does not necessarily mean giving them up, but it does mean developing a detachment from them so that they aren’t the b all and end all of everything in our lives. It is our attitude towards our possessions that is the all important thing and the way in which we encourage others to share them or how we use them for the benefit of others.

Following Jesus does come at a cost and the journey is frequently challenging and demanding but Jesus never sets us up to fail. He is saying clearly to the crowd that if they want to follow him they’d need to understand what they are getting themselves in to, they need commitment for the long haul ahead. During these times we may well be carrying our own cross but let’s not forget that Jesus is also alongside bearing that cross on our behalf.

Jesus wants everyone to be aware of inevitable sacrifice but also wants us to be prepared to see our discipleship through to the end. He emphasises to the crowds that the decision to follow him must not be taken on impulse or without careful consideration. Discipleship was not then and is not now a past time but an exacting way of life.

On a personal level I was horrified when I first retired from school and a friend suggested that I would now be able to enjoy my church hobby so much more! She obviously didn’t have any idea of the commitment needed.

So when Jesus is tells the crowds to hate their parents their wives and abandon their children and also hate themselves he is sharply confronting them with the importance of their commitments as they join a much larger family, we don’t live in a bubble so need to take stock and fully commit to becoming true disciples of Christ. Jesus wasn’t denying the importance of close family ties but was saying that there was an urgent task to be done. We have an urgent task here today and must act as Jesus would expect, ignoring our own personal preferences about things and making sound choices with integrity so that others can benefit.

There were always risks attached to what Jesus asked of his disciples just as there are today and everything, including our lives and decisions will have some element of risk attached if we are working to benefit God’s kingdom.

Our faith should be a challenge, an inspiration, yes, a summons to sacrifice but also a call to great joy. True discipleship touches us at a deep emotional as well as a spiritual level; it affects values, priorities, loyalties and our whole way of looking at our world, our community, our lives and the lives of those we love. I pray that we may all go in joy and with commitment to love and serve the Lord. Amen.

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