The Completion of Discipleship

Luke 14:25-33

25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”


When I felt the call to attend seminary, I had just one problem – I had not completed my undergrad. Well, it just so happened that Northern Kentucky University was only about 20 minutes from where we lived. So, I applied, and it was the beginning of my journey…

However, at that time, our sons were in the 9thand 10thgrade, and our daughters in the 3rdand 4thgrade.  Bob’s job required him to travel for most of the week.  It wasn’t long after I started school full time, I began working at Procter and Gamble full time, as well – not to mention, my job as a mom was full time – 

I get tired just thinking about those days.  No doubt, there were times I knew that “I bit off more than I could chew. There were times that I knew I underestimated when considering the costs.

It was only by the grace of God, that I completed what I had set out to do – graduate with honors so that I may be accepted into graduate school – Seminary.

You have heard the saying, “Don’t Bite off more than you can chew!”  A saying that often means…be careful that you don’t try to do something that is too much or too difficult for you…Don’t bite off more than you can chew. 

I wonder if this is possibly what Jesus was trying to say to the crowds today as they surrounded him…“Listen…be careful that you don’t bite off more than you can chew!If you want to be my disciple – there is a lot, you have to deal with –  

Because you can’t become my disciple if you don’t….

Hate your mom, dad, sister, brother, spouse, children – 

Hate your life!

You cannot become my disciple if you don’t pick up your cross and follow me.

You cannot become my disciple unless you give up all of your possessions.

Honestly, I’m not sure I would want to stay seated in the pew right now after hearing this text.  If it was Jesus’ intention to weed-out those who were serious about becoming His disciple, this just may have done the trick.

Consider the cost right now! I’m giving you an out!  I’m giving you an opportunity to walk out and get out of a situation that you cannot finish to completion if the pressure is too much for you!  If it’s more than you can chew…here’s your chance…

But, if you think you can do it…

Here are the requirements:

Must hate mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, and children.

Must hate life itself.

Must carry the cross and follow Jesus.

Must give up all your possessions.

Consider the costs!  

I mean after all, it’s like anything else – right.  We didn’t just decide to start to build a new fellowship hall until we sat down and considered what it would costs us.  We had to know if we could afford it!  And, come on – let’s face it!  It’s always more costly than what we would expect.  All kinds of things show up that we didn’t think about or consider in our calculations – 

So, when considering the costs to be a disciple for Jesus, make sure you leave room for incidentals – I’m also thinking that you may want to think about if you are a risk-taker or not – there’s an awful lot of risk to consider – like – Where you will sleep? What will you eat?  Think about it…you won’t have any possessions…You gave them all up!

You know…I don’t think there were too many disciples with Jesus as He made his way up the cross. Where were the 12 who had been with him?There was not a single person or disciple with Jesus that day as He was nailed to the cross – 

I don’t know about you – but, I’m thinking there were quite a few, including the disciples themselves, that bit off more than can chew.

Let’s face it! It’s too hard!  

I cannot do this list of requirements that Jesus wants me to do – 

I’ll be honest, I’m not willing to give up my possessions.

I love my family.

And, can I really carry the cross?  Am I willing to die for the sake of the Gospel and Jesus Christ? If a gun is pointed to my head, would I be willing to proclaim Christ as my Lord and Savior? While I certainly would like to think so – to die to this life, would be frightening.

Consider the costs.  

You know, here is the thing…I believe that Jesus knew that in no way you and I could possibly do these requirements.  And, while Jesus is not asking us to do anything that He has not done himself, He is God – and we are just mere human beings.

Besides, how can God tell us to honor our mother and father – but now we are told to hate them? How can Jesus tell us to love one another and now we are to hate them?  

Therefore, what in this world does Jesus want from us!

I had a young girl in confirmation in my first congregation.  She was not confirmed because she said that she did not believe in God.  I did everything that I knew to try and help her see how much God loved her.

One day, she blurted out in one of our discussions, “Gees…what does God want from me!  You would think He wants my HEART!”

I about fell out of my chair!  Yes, Yes! That’s exactly right!  God wants your heart! God wants your allegiance. God wants a relationship with you! God wants you to be transformed from things of this world to things of our eternal world!  

You see, Jesus knew that we could not meet the requirements as specified.

But what He does want is our hearts – 

  • Love me more than you love your family.
  • Do what it takes to proclaim the Gospel – even if it means getting out of your comfort zone – 
  • Know that suffering, pain, trials and tribulations are only a part of this world – but not the world I am about to offer you.

This will be really hard, Jesus says.  The things of this world will want to consume you.

…but here is the there…My face is set for Jerusalem. With or without you, I’m on my way to the Cross. It is the Cross that will bring you GRACE.  

I want YOU so badly in my kingdom and for you to be with me – that I’m willing to climb up on that cross – all by myself – 

So that my GRACE will be poured out abundantly – over and over again – ON YOU, FOR YOU, and WITH YOU!


When I made the decision to go to seminary and complete my undergrad – looking back, I know I bit off more than I could chew…Ask my husband and children how many times I said I wanted to quit – It was too hard…

While I thought I had considered the cost – there were a lot of incidentals that I had not considered – 

The sacrifices that my family made –

The financial burden – 

And, the time I lost with my children growing up – 

After graduating Cum Laude, I knew it was only by the grace of God that I had completed what I set out to do…

Jesus says…

Be my disciple.  Know the call is costly.  Don’t give up but give it all you got.  Recognize that – through your baptism – where the journey starts, your choices are shaped by the waters where Christ claimed you as HIS CHILD!

As a disciple and a beloved child of God. Jesus says, I want your heart!  I want your allegiance. 

I want you because I created you and I love you!  

I knew you even in your mother’s womb.

I have called you by name and you are mine.

Be my disciple.  The journey will be costly, difficult, and hard…And, there will be times that you will want to give up and quit.

But my grace will be enough. It will be all you need.

God’s Grace.  God’s amazing GRACE will carry you…carry us… to the completion of our discipleship.

Amen.

Relentless Grace

Luke 13:10-17

10Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

IMAGINE WITH ME…

IMAGINE a young child whose world is brand new! 

A child that goes to school for the first time.

A young child – maybe it’s you.  Maybe it’s your daughter or son – Granddaughter or Grandson…

A child who learns their ABC’s…who runs, plays, laughs, and makes friends.

A child who learns to play an instrument, loves to dance, play baseball, soccer, volleyball, Golf, and or…even HOCKEY!

IMAGINE WITH ME…

A young child who grows into a young adult…graduates from High School, goes to college, attends Seminary, Law School, Veterinarian or Medical School, joins the Peace Corps…

…Who travels the world, loves culture, people, and hungers to know more about LIFE!

…Who finds the ‘love of their life,’ raises a family, takes care of their loved ones as they grow old, who begins to see and experience the ebb and flows of life…

Who becomes a witness to LOVE, LIFE, Disease, EVIL, HURT, PAIN, and yes…even DEATH.

IMAGINE WITH ME…

A woman, who was once a young, vibrant woman, but now has now grown old…

A bent-over woman – so bent that now all she sees – all she experiences – all she knows is the voice of others, – the ground on which, she walks on – the dirt, her feet, and the feet of others – Not to mention, the constant back pain.

A bent-over woman whose life was once full of energy, who played with her friends, grew up in the community, and loved God –

And, a woman who for now 18 YEARS suffers from what is known today as Osteoporosis, which literally means “Porous bone.”  In other words, the density and quality of bone are reduced.  As the bones become more and more porous and fragile, the risk of fracture is greatly increased. 

Of particular concern are spinal and hip fractures.  In fact, some fractures can occur even if you haven’t fallen.  The bones that make up your spine can weaken to the point of crumbling, which results in severe back pain, loss of height, and a hunched-over posture.

But, in spite of her pain – the fact that she is unable to see what is in front of her – she shows up to worship in the Synagogue on the Sabbath –

The Sabbath – the Fourth Commandment of God’s Law: 

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy.

On this Sabbath Day, something is different.  Jesus is preaching and teaching.

This woman doesn’t know him.  She’s minding her own business.  She came to worship.

But Jesus sees her.  He feels her pain.  He sees her differently.  He knew her as a child!  He had watched her play with her friends, go to school, and raise a family. 

Jesus knew her!  And, he had compassion for her! 

“You have been through enough.  Your suffering is over.”

“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight…”

Can you imagine…really IMAGINE what that must have been like?!!!  That after 18 long years of seeing nothing but the ground that you walked on, the agonizing pain of being bent-over – and now able to stand up straight!

I had the pleasure of having a conversation with a Buddhist man the other day.  I really don’t know much about Buddhism – but now have a clearer picture. 

In all reality, it reminds me much like the Jews who were there that day at the Synagogue when this woman comes to worship. 

I say this in the sense that this Buddhist told me that he spends his life trying to obey the law.  They have a book of “do’s and don’ts.” 

And, if you don’t get it right in this life, it is possible that you will be reincarnated and given another chance to get it right.

And, so I asked him, “What happens if you don’t get it right?  What happens when you can’t measure up, as hard as you may try?” 

He told me, “He didn’t know and wasn’t sure that he wanted to know.”  

He says that no one knows what their final outcome will be at the end…

Jesus humiliates the Jewish leaders that day for criticizing Him healing a woman, for whom 18 years has suffered pain and agony.

Seriously…you hypocrites, you want to give me a hard time about healing a woman who has come to worship God – whom you have probably seen here in this place every week on the Sabbath – Whom you have had no compassion for –

When on this Sabbath Day, you will lead your animals to get water – but yet, have no concern for this woman…

Be careful…you LAW followers…You can’t do it.  You will mess up.  And, before you start criticizing others, you may want to look at yourself first.

I looked intently at the Buddhist man and said, “What if I told you that I knew what my outcome was in this life?” 

And, He laughed at me…though curious…

“Yeah, how’s that, he asked me.”

My God loves me so much that He died for me.  My God FORGIVES ME when I mess up – even though I try really hard to do what is right.

Through Jesus, I have Salvation.

Through Jesus, I have GRACE upon GRACE.

He asked me how I knew that.  I told him, “Well, it starts with FAITH.”

He did not know what FAITH was…I even had to spell the word for him.  He had never heard of it. 

Now, can you Imagine that?

Faith is a hard concept.  And, it is easy to lose our faith when bad things are happening.  Because…

Here is the thing…we are all BENT in some way…

We break God’s LAW every day, even though we don’t want to.

We suffer and are in pain from all kinds of diseases – cancer, dementia, heart issues, depression – the list goes on…

We may have experienced a loss of our job, struggle financially, drug addictions and alcoholism…

We are all bent…

In fact, just like this bent-over woman who goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath…

We too, come to worship – Bent OVER – where all we can see are the problems, the pain, and the suffering of the world that not only, we ourselves experience, but also the world.

IMAGINE WITH ME…

A young child – maybe it’s you.  Maybe it’s your daughter or son – Granddaughter or Grandson…

IMAGINE a young child whose world is brand new! 

But this isn’t any child…this child is not ordinary, but extraordinary…This child is God’s CHILD! 

Jesus sees you.  He feels your pain.  He sees you differently.  He knew you as a child!  He watched you play with her friends, go to school, and raise a family. 

Jesus knows you!  And, he has compassion for you! 

And, Jesus says, “You have been through enough.  Your suffering is over.”

“…you are set free from your ailment.” When he lays his hands on you, immediately you are able to stand up straight…”

IMAGINE WITH ME!

That day when we are made perfect and righteous – our CROOKED SOULS have been made STRAIGHT –

We are no longer bent when Jesus lays His hands on us – reaches out to us…

And as we stand up straight,

WE ARE FACE-to-FACE, with our Lord Jesus Christ!

God’s Amazing Grace upon Grace poured out upon you…overflowing with God’s MERCY and LOVE…

Because if truth be known, we can’t get it right…not in this lifetime or any other time.

My God loves you and loves me so much that He was crucified, died, and was resurrected just so that our world will be made brand new!

And, so you see, my Buddhist friend…

That is how we know our future!

Amen.

PURE JOY!

Luke 3:7-18

As a young mother, I used to say, “I just pray that my children grow up to be good citizens, believe in the Lord Jesus, and be happy.  I am very blessed because for the most part, all four of our children have met that criteria.  However, as I have gotten older and wiser, I think I may have missed the mark in some respects.  Happiness is very important, but there is something greater – And, that is to experience JOY!

About four years ago, our youngest daughter, Megan came to me on Thanksgiving night.  She was crying.  What is wrong, I asked her.  And, she told me how depressed she was and while I listened to her, all I could think about was why?  I couldn’t understand at the time.  We had provided everything for her!  She was in college, had an apartment, she had nice clothes, food to eat, a car to drive, and she knew that she was loved.  It was more than I ever had at her age!  I felt frustrated because I didn’t know what else I could possibly do!

Well, at the time, little did I know that she could join about 3.3 million other adults who suffer depression in the United States.  And, that number continues to grow at an alarming rate.  Not only is depression a real thing, but often leads to drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide. 

Today is known as GAUDETE Sunday.  In Latin, it means, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!”  On this third Sunday of Advent, we light the pink candle on our advent wreath.  This candle represents joy!  Notice that the other candles are blue – but this candle is different. It stands out from the others and I believe because it just may be the most important of all.

However, how do we find joy?  How in the world can we experience joy in our daily lives when there is so many things to be depressed about in these agonizing days of suffering, hatred, and oppression?  How can we rejoice in the Lord when we are feel like the world is crumbling down around us?

In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist has been proclaiming all over the Jordan River to “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  This Baptism of Repentance is gaining popularity.  People are curious in knowing what he is talking about and the he crowds are growing.

But John sounds a little frustrated.  He calls the people snakes!  In the Bible “The Message,” the translator puts it this way, “What do you think you are doing slithering down her to the river.  Do you really think a little water is going to keep God’s judgement from you?  And, do really think just because you are child of Abraham that you are exempt from the wrath of God?”  

These are not bad people.  They are people just like you and me.  They too are living in agonizing times.  Rome is powerfully in charge.  The poor are suffering, people are hungry, taxes are high, and many are living in fear. Just like us, they want the world to be a better place!  They want life to be more than just going through the motions each day.  They want the status quo of just existing to be different.  And, so they ask the same question that you and I may be asking today: “What should we do?  How do we experience this Baptism of Repentance? How do bear fruit that is worthy of Repentance?”  In other words, “How do we experience JOY in this agonizing world that we live in?

John gives them a list:

  • If you have two coats, give one away 
  • Tax Collectors – collect no more than prescribed
  • Do not extort money from anyone – Be content with what you have.

 For me, I question why do we need to be baptized to do these things?  What is this baptism of Repentance?  What is the point?  Then John comes out with it.  This is only water.  Jesus is coming and He has something that will change you from the inside out. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire!  He will ignite a Kingdom Fire within you!  Everything will be different within you! You will be changed!  Your life will never be the same!  You will experience joy!

Through this baptism, the focus is no longer on you!  You will begin to see the world differently. You begin to realize that you are difference in the world.  You are the one who changes the status quo because you can now see the needs of the community, the church and the world. This will become natural. It will become the new normal within you.  

You are not just a child of Abraham.  You become a Child of God!  This will bring you great joy! This Joy is knowing that God is present!  This Joy is knowing that God diverts evil. This Joy is knowing that through Jesus Christ, God cancels out judgement on us. This Joy is only found in the Life of one whose Life now belongs to Christ!

And, so you see, happiness can be found in the gifts we will receive on Christmas morning.  But it will be only a fleeting feeling. We can have everything that could possibly make us happy, however, if we don’t have the joy that can only be experienced through Christ, we are missing out!  

Over 3.3 million people in this country alone are missing out! I cannot help but to think, is there a correlation between depression and knowing Christ Jesus?  Is it possible that while the number of depressed people is growing at an alarming rate, so also is the decreasing number of attendees in the church also growing at an alarming rate?  Is it possible that the church family, fellowship, reaching out to others, loving one another, and the love of Christ is the difference in this world?

It wasn’t too long after that Thanksgiving, that our beautiful daughter, Megan, began to remember her baptism and to whom she belonged.  God changed her focus to help other people and her life began to change.  In all honesty, she has never been the same!  Every Thanksgiving, she reminds me of that day she came to me so depressed. It was true.  There was nothing else I could possibly do for her.  It was the Spirit of God who began to work in her and through her that continues to bring joy to her life!

We have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and Fire!  We have been saved!  Not by anything that we have done, but what Christ has done in us and through us!  So many people in our world think that they can make themselves happy!  And, they can – temporarily.  But it is only through the suffering that Jesus did for us on the Cross that will bring us Complete joy!  

The implications of our repentance and baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire is God’s spirit that cleanses us, refines us, and makes us worthy and able to bear fruit of merciful justice, radical and sacrificial generosity, and vocational integrity!  We can never be truly worthy for God to enter our lives on our own and the fruit we bear will never be enough for all that Jesus has done for us. 

But God comes still.  God prepares our hearts, forgiving us and cleansing our hearts.  It is God who prepares the Table for us and welcomes us!

It is Gaudete Sunday!  “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!”  The question, “How do we experience joy in this agonizing world that we live in?  Only Through Jesus Christ, the one who is coming!

Amen!

Megan Landers currently serves at Lutheran Chapel Church in Gastonia, North Carolina as a Family and Youth Director.  For over two years, she has proclaimed Christ to children and young adults, growing the number of Youth in her congregation.  On Sunday, December 16, 2018, her children performed a Christmas program.  About 200 attendees participated in worship that day to “Rejoice in the Lord!”