I remember sitting in the Dean’s Office just after I was hired to teach my first college class. I was going to be teaching two sections of General Psychology and 1 section of Introduction to Philosophy. I was very excited and very nervous. The Dean offered me some advice. He said, “Start slow. These students have just returned from a summer break, and you need to go slow for a few weeks so they can get their feet back under them. If you move to fast you will lose them.”
I thought about that for a while. I also thought about the amount of material I had to cover in 10 weeks so yes, I was that professor that assigned work before class even began. I will also say I did not lose anyone in my class.
So here we are after a long summer break. Although I did not assign any homework before class today, I am going to hit the ground running and dive right in with this somewhat challenging passage from the Gospel of Luke.
We don’t talk a lot about discipleship these days, but that is what we are commanded to do. Well, we are called to do more than talk about it we are commanded to go and make disciples. We are not called to make church members or any other such thing; we are called to make disciples. But before we can make disciples, we have to be disciples. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we accept all of the consequences of following Jesus and walking in his will and his way. Being disciples also means that we have to make a definite decision; we cannot be wishy-washy if we are going to be disciples.
Three times in this passage, Jesus says that without a definite decision, a person cannot be a disciple. First, Jesus requires us to hate parents, spouse, children, siblings, and even your own life. Now stay with me here. Second, Jesus commands carrying your cross and following him. Third, he demands the giving up of all possessions. If we soften the word “hate,” just a little Jesus still leaves us with the requirement that we put all of our relationships second to him and his will. Being a true disciple is not an easy task; in fact, it is and will be a significant challenge.
To help us come to terms with that this “call of obedience” means for us today, we shall turn to what John Calvin has to say on the matter. I am not always a fan of Calvin, but I think he hits the mark on this one. Calvin offers a way of understanding the Christian life that will not seem a burden but will be liberating.
For Calvin, the Christin should understand their life from four implications of the teachings of Jesus; self-denial, cross-bearing, meditation on eternal life, and the proper use of the gifts of God in daily life.
1. Self-denial, Calvin’s interpretation is not bent on self-destruction as it would first seem, the denial of self, for Calvin, is the way Jesus offers us freedom from selfishness and the “deadly pestilence of a love of strife and love of self.” Denial of self is the escape from selfishness. Be able to deny one’s self enables one to dedicate their whole self to God and seek those things that are God’s will in our lives and not our will. The person who cannot give up the love of self is not truly able to love God and love neighbor, but, on the other hand, if we deny self, this makes room for the love of God and neighbor to flourish. Calvin is not saying we should hate ourselves, far from it, Calvin, and Jesus, are saying we have to be able to put others first in our lives.
2. Cross bearing; this idea of Cross bearing is figurative. Jesus is not asking us to find some wood, bang it together, and start carrying it around over our shoulder. Being able to bear our cross enables us to face suffering. To take our cross means to obey God even in our pain and loss, in meeting the trials and tribulations, and griefs of our lives. Calvin teaches that the Cross of Christ is healing medicine for the diseases and injuries of life, punishment, and correction for our mistakes in life, and comfort when we are persecuted because we stand with God’s justice. The Cross of Christ should bring us cheer, honesty to acknowledge our hurt, and freedom from bitterness.
3. Meditation on Eternal Life; this meditation enables us to contemplate the mystery and sense of wonder about the promise for human beings in the resurrection from the dead. We have lost mystery in our world and especially in the church. We can, or at least we try to explain everything. We attempt, in our human mind, to make sense of things that have no understanding, but Jesus is asking us to be okay with that and ruminate on it. We do not know how, but we all share in the resurrection of Christ. I believe that we will all see each other again, and for some that will be heaven and for others, well, not so much.
4. Proper use of the gifts of God in everyday life; Calvin would counsel simplicity of life in a way that enables us to understand that our earthly life is a pilgrimage and we should only carry what we absolutely need. There seems to be a push back these days from the accumulation of things. It might be a slight push back, but it is a push back. The world tells us we are successful when we accumulate stuff. The big house, the fancy car, etc. But how much is enough? When the rich man came to Jesus and asked him what he had to do to enter eternal life, Jesus told him to go and sell all that he had. The man was greatly distressed by this; Scripture tells us because he had many possessions. Jesus knew that it was the man’s possessions that kept him from truly following God.
Scripture tells us that if we have two coats and our neighbor has none, we are to give him one of ours. It’s okay to have stuff but is our stuff keeping us from following God’s will? Are we so distracted by our stuff and the hours we have to work to maintain our stuff, keeping us from noticing that others need our help? When does the physical church become so great a burden that maintaining it becomes a distraction from the mission to go, do, seek, make, feed, clothe, visit and all of the other things we are commanded to do as followers of Jesus?
I started by saying that being a disciple is a challenge. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires us to be counter-cultural; it requires us to stand up when everyone else is sitting down. Being a disciple means we have to have the mind of Christ in all things and think and act the way Christ wants us to think and act. Being a disciples means we have to put others first and yes, we have to love our neighbor and care for those less fortunate then we are without qualification or conditions. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means we have to take stands on issues that may cost us friends, relatives, and maybe our very lives. All of this is what it means to say yes to the call to come and follow me.