Sermons from St Faith's     

The Cost of Discipleship

Rev Sue Lucas, Sunday, September 13th, 2015

There are times, no doubt, when our faith is a comfort to us; but today’s readings, and particularly our Gospel, is a reminder that our faith is challenging and uncomforting.  The cost of discipleship is set out in stark terms:

‘if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.  For  those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will save it.’

These stark words are, in fact, our baptismal promise – for we are baptised into the death of the Lord in order that we might share in his resurrection.

We perhaps don’t want to see it – and we’re not alone, of course, because, in the first part of the Gospel, Peter doesn’t either – seeing Jesus’s Messiah-ship in triumphalist terms – hence Jesus tells him to shut up.  Peter doesn’t get it for now – nor at any point really until after the Easter events when we see a very changed figure in the Book of Acts – and in the tradition, after becoming the first Bishop of Rome, Peter eventually shared Jesus’ fate.

Most of us, God willing, won’t come to share in the death of our Lord in quite such literal ways – though it is sobering to remember that there are still Christians in the world who do. 

But we do need to learn to die.  That is what our baptism means.  That is what it means to be the church.

What are we called to die to?  Well, perhaps we are called to die to the fantasy of our own righteousness and rightness; and it is a fantasy – for all of us; for we live in a fallen world, and none of us is perfect, not one; and however well intentioned our actions may be, as our Epistle says, we all too easily bless the Lord and Father, and curse those who are made in the image of God. 

Even those we perceive to have wronged us are made in the image of God.  And we can too easily assume that the situation is clear; we can too easily assume what others think without taking the time to hear them – and it can be hard to hear, against the white heat of anger and the white noise of a cynical media.

And if we are called to take up our Cross, we are called to be Christ like – not a triumphalist Messiah, but a suffering servant, who from his Cross prayed for his persecutors.  The Cross we are called to bear is, perhaps, the most agonising form of cognitive dissonance – to recognise that those who profoundly disagree with us are not necessarily wicked or stupid, and cannot be dismissed or ignored.  Not that we necessarily end up agreeing – perhaps agreement is overrated – but it is very easy to disagree badly. Much harder to die to our own righteousness and to disagree well.

Can we do it?  Dare we do it?  It is a huge challenge; but it is also our calling; and we have the pattern of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit – which in the end, transformed even someone as committed to having the last word as Peter.

What profit us if we gain the world, but lose our lives?  What profit us to hold onto our most treasured fantasies of ourselves, whilst being blind to the need to reimagine things? 

Yet, if we can set our mind on divine things, not on human things – the Cross becomes the place of hope and life. 

Tomorrow, appropriately, is Holy Cross Day – sometimes called the Triumph of the Cross; the challenge of our faith is the cost of the cross; but the Gospel of Resurrection is the triumph of the Cross; for, in being willing to let go of our dearest fantasies, new, unlooked for possibilities emerge; God comes to meet us in the mess and difficulty of our own lives, and makes of that unpromising material the joy and hope of the resurrection.  Amen.


The sermons index page