The (Unpleasant) Realities of Discipleship

Romans 6: 1b – 11
Matthew 10: 24 – 39

Last Sunday (Trinity Sunday), I suggested that our participation in the Trinity’s dance was discipleship. Well, discipleship is the reoccurring theme this morning, next Sunday, and the Sunday after that.

Our text this morning, however, does not paint a glamorous picture of “accept Jesus and all your problems will magically disappear”. Our texts, instead, are painting an unpleasant, yet realistic picture of “follow Jesus and your hardships may multiple”. But, perhaps we should pause and take a few steps back.

Matthew’s tenth chapter opened with Jesus summoning the disciples, who he gave the authority (or power) to exercise unclean spirits and to heal all illness; but with great power comes great responsibility. These disciples are personally responsible for Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the gospel, the good news, to the lost sheep. Yet, Jesus warns them that this mission is not always easy or pretty, but instead of sugar-coating it he offers the down-and-dirty worse-case-scenario. We enter the text at this “reality check” of a discipleship guided by the gospel in opposition to our worldly powers (that be).  

Jesus eases into warning his disciples, us included, of the realities of discipleship especially in the First century. It is a gentle warning, really a reminder, that despite this authority (or power) the disciples are to remain humble.

Then, Jesus basically says “discipleship has a cost, it is risky and requires sacrifice”.

First, we often envision Jesus as the peace-loving pacifist (dear I say hippy). However, he notes here that he “did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword”. This may seem pessimistic, but it is actually realistic. God’s will stands in direct opposition to the powers of this world. Why? because God’s will is rooted in loving service that humbly brings down the mighty and uplifts the lowly rather than satisfying the worldly desire for power, fame, and wealth. This opposition is worth defending and standing up for, and therefore conflict may and often does arise.

Second, our dance with the Triune God (discipleship) is rooted in God’s will and mission of redemption for the entire creation. This dance, especially in the First century, isolated the disciple from the society, community, friends, loved ones, and family. At this time, Paganism and Judaism were legalized Roman religions but the emerging Christians were not. Therefore, these communities sought to distance themselves from the disciples (Christians) for fear of government persecution, including crucifixion. This extreme is difficult to comprehend in the Pacific Northwest “None Zone”, but perhaps we all have stories of disagreements and understandings of our world that has resulted in conflict, isolation, and perhaps broken or damaged relationships with those that are upon different paths then this dance of discipleship.

Then, Jesus concludes with a call “to take up the cross and follow him”. What does this mean?

It is the deepest core of discipleship. It is not necessarily literal, but it is a spiritual death similar to that in our Romans text. We are “drowned” and “die” with Christ in our Baptism, for it is our sin that we drown. What is sin? According to Martin Luther, sin is being curved in on the self. Unfortunately, we awake each morning to find that our selfish desires and wills (e.g. sin) are survivors and pretty good swimmers. Therefore, we are called to drown these, dying to ourselves, daily to be raised, resurrected, into discipleship, into the mission of redemption for the entire creation, and the dance of the Trinity. This process of death and resurrection is not without struggle, grief, and mourning, but it will be perfected in our physical death. We will be discussing the “demands” of discipleship next week, but this week offers a realistic “warning”….the question is are we willing to be consecrated (or made holy) in the Triune God’s dance; a dance that will change us and our world. This is the question that Christ is asking, are we willing to accept these unpleasant realities?

As a preacher, I have been entrusted to preach the good news. Perhaps, the death of our selfishness and our resurrection into the dance of the Trinity, our discipleship is the good news! It is not easy, but we are not to fear the worldly powers! The Triune God resurrects us, inviting us, and even drags us (kicking and screaming) into their dance, our discipleship.

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