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"The Cost of Discipleship 2017"

Howard Boswell

Matthew 16: 21-28

Sermon Preached by the Reverend Dr. Howard W. Boswell, Jr.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 3, 2017

Kenmore Presbyterian Church

Kenmore, New York

 

In 1937, a book appeared in Germany.

Its title was Nachfolge, which means “succession.”

A young theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote it

out of concern for the renewal of the church.

In it, he suggested some problems with the church.

 

He believed the church offered people “cheap grace.”

He meant that people simply had to believe, but not obey.

He thought that “costly grace” required a person

to let go of life and let God be God.

He believed the church had become

too closely connected with the nation,

a nation in which Nazism was on the rise.

Eventually, this young theologian would be arrested and

on April 9, 1945 be executed by the Gestapo.

 

The book appeared in English in 1949,  

twelve years after its first publishing in Germany and

four years after Bonhoeffer’s death.

The book’s title became The Cost of Discipleship.

It remains in print to this day,

eighty years after it first appeared.

Let me read you only a part of a paragraph

from this classic work.

 

Bonhoeffer wrote:

The cross is laid on every Christian.

The first Christ-suffering

which every man must experience is

the call to abandon the attachments of this world.

It is that dying of the old man

which is the result of his encounter with Christ.

As we embark upon discipleship

we surrender ourselves to Christ

in union with his death—

we give our lives over to death.

Thus it begins;

the cross is not the terrible end

to an otherwise godfearing and happy life,

 but it meets us at the beginning of

our communion with Christ.

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

 

Eighty years have come and gone

since Bonhoeffer wrote these words.

Yet, the cost of discipleship,

the price of new life in Christ remains the same:

When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die.

Yet, I wondered when I remembered that passage,

what would the cost of discipleship be today, in 2017?

What would we need to let go of in order to lay hold of Christ?

What might we need to abandon

in order to be free to obey Jesus Christ?

 

Before we look at those questions,

we need to recognize Bonhoeffer was not the first

to place such a high price on discipleship.

In today’s lesson from Matthew, we heard Jesus say,

"If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves and

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 will find it.  

For what will it profit them

if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?  

Or what will they give in return for their life?”

 

Now, I’ll tell you the truth:

These words are hard to hear, especially in our culture.

In our culture, we don’t deny ourselves,

instead we allow ourselves almost whatever we want.

In our culture, we seek to gain everything,

          only to find ourselves wanting more.

 

Part of the problem for us may be that

we forget what the cross really is.

We’ve made it an object of adoration.

Even people who have no particular faith wear it,

because it looks good, especially in gold or silver.

We Presbyterians look down our noses at Roman Catholics,

because they have crucifixes.

We say, “We celebrate that Jesus is risen!”

Yet, what we may really do is look away from the truth:

Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried.

 

Yet, we turn our eyes from another truth

when we ignore the cross.

Being a Christian does not give us a pass from suffering.

Being a Christian requires us to let go of

some behaviors, possessions, or ideas,

or at least, hold them more loosely,

which brings me back to the questions

I posed earlier in this sermon.

 

What would the cost of discipleship be today, in 2017?

What would we need to let go of in order to lay hold of Christ?

What might we need to abandon

in order to be free to obey Jesus Christ?

I’m not completely sure, but I have some ideas.

 

First, I think discipleship in 2017 might cost us our comfort.

Now, don’t misunderstand me:

I don’t mean that we all need to go out and buy hair shirts!

No, I mean the cost of discipleship in 2017 might require us

to make decisions and to do things that are uncomfortable,

like placing our faith above party affiliations;

like listening to people of color and others

who experience prejudice;

like letting go of the notion

that the color of our skin gives us privileges

others don’t have.  

I could continue, but let me put it simply:

The cost of discipleship in 2017 involves

standing for Jesus who calls us

to take up our cross and follow.

 

Second, I think the cost of discipleship in 2017 involves

taking time to learn what it means to follow Jesus.

I believe every Christian needs to be a disciple,

which means we never stop learning.

Worship alone may not fill the bill.

We need to be involved in small groups and adult classes.

We need to read books that challenge our faith,

like The Cost of Discipleship for one.

We need to set aside time, every day,

to read Scripture and pray.

 

Finally, I think the cost of discipleship in 2017 means

paying attention.

I mean we need to listen, really listen to what is said in worship.

I mean we need to be engaged in what happens here,

not just go through the motions.

 

Today is a perfect opportunity to pay attention,

to engage in what happens here.

We’ve come to this table before.

We know what will be said and what will be done.

Yet, today, listen, really listen

to what is said, to prayers we pray.

Today, look, really look at the bread and the cup,

remembering the Lord’s death until he comes.

Today, as you come forward to receive the elements,

let your movement be an act of prayer

in which you come to Jesus Christ,

our Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

©2017 Kenmore Presbyterian Church