"Discipleship's Defining Characteristic"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 9/6/1998

Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33

     One of the most challenging lessons from Jesus came through his persistent theme that discipleship requires the surrender of all things. For example, in our lesson today we find these words, "None of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have." Where does such a statement place all of us?

     This passage is not just an isolated example. In Matthew Jesus taught, "If you want to be perfect, sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven." (Matthew19:21). In Mark, there is another example. Jesus spoke to a person who had faithfully followed the Ten Commandments all his life. Jesus gave him the same message, "Sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me." (Mark 10:21). The young man was devastated and walked away. Again, what do these statements say about us?

     It is easy to find this theme in the Gospels because by the sheer number of references, Jesus taught more on this subject than any other. Why was it so essential for his potential disciples not to become preoccupied with what belongs to this world? If the "things of this world" are so evil and can so easily corrupt us, why would God allow the possibility for us to create them?

     The issue, of course, is not that the material world is evil. The issue is how our world so easily causes confusion with our commitment to honor God with our lives. The key question is obvious. How can we embrace with our minds and hearts what Jesus came to give us when we remain distracted by the urge to achieve the prizes this world finds of value? Jesus knew that once we start down that path of needing and wanting what this world has to offer, it is most difficult to remember our calling to be representatives of the Kingdom of God.

     If we think that our material experience has not affected us, why don't all of us willingly and cheerfully give 10 % of our income to St. Matthew's? The answer to this question should be obvious. We have other priorities. We may believe that our security rests in storing up treasures on earth. We may also believe that we are not getting a good enough return on our investment. Whatever the reasons, all of them have us clearly attached to this world–an experience that is very brief.

     Issues like becoming more generous, placing more trust in God, and learning how to detach from what causes us to be afraid can so easily become neglected. This was Jesus' point. How can we be effective disciples when we still find it difficult to do something as basic as being generous with our money?

     We have attachments. And those attachments can become a source of fear and anxiety when any of them is threatened. They are not just in the area of how we handle our money. The distractions can come with any aspect of our physical lives, e.g., our relationships, our job security, our children, or literally with anything that can erode our confidence the minute it signals uncertainty. This is the problem Jesus was addressing. How can we claim to be so trusting of God when obviously each major upset betrays our attachment to everything but God?

     Look what happened to the disciples when they became overly attached to Jesus. The disciples were not prepared to enter the world by themselves. Their confidence was strong and solid so long as Jesus was with them. When Jesus was taken away and crucified, they went into hiding "for fear of the Jews."

     Jesus taught that, once we understand the truth of who we are and where we came from, there is nothing that can ever threaten us. This was and is his message. What is of God can never be threatened. All of us fall into this category. God created us so that absolutely nothing can threaten us. Do we really believe this? God's creation of us is so miraculous that our bodies can be destroyed at any time and we remain unscathed. Again, do we honestly believe this? Only when we become aware that we are spiritual beings can we fully awaken to our calling as disciples. Only then can the material aspects of creation be seen for what they truly are.

     Remember, the context of our lesson today was Jesus' teaching on a single defining characteristic of discipleship. When we learn to step aside from pursuing the prizes of this world and make our love of people our primary goal, miracles happen. It is then that the aspects of the material world can become useful instruments of healing and learning.

     For example, the church grew from a group of 12 with its meager resources into communities of faith that can be found everywhere in the world. Those communities have built hospitals, libraries, universities, retirement centers and on and on. The early disciples did not wait for Jesus' return, rather they took his spirit into the world. As they did, many of the "things of this world" became instruments and symbols of love's presence.

     Jesus knew what was required to save the world. He needed people who understood that they are called to represent God's love to people who have become lost among the symbols and dramas of this world. Jesus was teaching that to practice our discipleship faithfully, we have to remain clear on which kingdom we serve.


     Eternal and loving God, we are grateful that we have been asked to respond to the call of discipleship. We come willingly while knowing that our feet are made of clay. We have wonderful desires alongside our inconsistent follow-through. Our wills are subject to shifts in our mood. Our decisions are often based in self-interest. And there are times when expedience guides our thinking. How similar we are to the disciples your son handpicked. Thank you, God, for showing us how what is perfect can grow from that which is not. Thank you for your quiet wisdom that shines in each diamond, for the ones that sparkle are often the stones with the most flaws. Enable us to surrender our thoughts of unworthiness. As we allow the outcome of all things to remain with you, may we walk into tomorrow confident that your will is being done. Amen.


     Loving and ever present God, long ago one of your writers wrote, "And what of humankind that Thou, O God, should be mindful of them?" And the same writer answered, "You made them for a little while lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor, and made them rulers over all things."

     Yet how is it, O God, that we come to you with many requests for the very issues you have given us the power to solve. We want peace in the world, yet we judge our neighbors who live on our own block. We want your forgiveness for what we have done, but it is hard when we must become the one who forgives. We come to you for help with one of life's dramas, as if you had not been there when it started and may not be there when it ends.

     Help us to rediscover the confidence you gave us when we were born. Lead us to discover that the adventure here is in our creation and in our discoveries, not in how many times we can call upon you to repair and mend what we fear we cannot. Help us once again to affirm our faith that you have never left our side, nor would your love allow us to experience what we were not created to handle.

     While we cannot see the eventual outcome of anything we experience, enable us to grow in trust and confidence that you do see. Radiating that confidence, may each of us become a disciple who represents your presence everywhere. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .