“In For a Penny, In For a Pound” September 1, 2019
“In For a Penny, In For a Pound”
Jeremiah 18:1-11/ Philemon 1-21
I had this idea. You are all aware, I’m sure, that churches all around the world are always looking to find new ways to get folks to show up – to come to church. This is a good thing-this going to church. Folks who regularly attend a worship service will tell you that it is beneficial, it is uplifting, and it is an excellent way to fellowship with others and be in the presence of God. So naturally, these folks are going to want their friends and neighbors to get in on this wonderful thing; to be a part of the body of Christ, as it is called. And so I had this idea, and it was inspired by the words of Christ in today’s text from the gospel of Luke. So picture, if you would, the sign that we could put out by the street to promote this great idea and encourage folks to join us in Sunday worship. It would have to be in a prominent location with big, bold letters – a sign that everyone would be sure to see. It would read something like, “If anyone comes to this church and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he (or she) cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ.” So what do you think? It’s kind of catchy, isn’t it? The answer, of course, is that this would not be such a brilliant idea. It would most certainly get a lot of attention and cause a lot of talk but no, we’d probably better not follow up on this great idea.
So what gives? How are we to gain some understanding, how are we to benefit, from these words that Christ spoke to the crowds on the way to Jerusalem? Is this just another one of those “weird things that Jesus said” moments: we read through it – maybe a couple times – shrug our shoulders, and then move on? Somehow, I don’t think so. So let’s dive into it and maybe – just maybe- we can find the good news in the gospel of Luke.
The first thing to consider is the fact that Jesus is not speaking to a bunch of strangers here. These are mostly folks who have been following him for quite some time. They are past the stage where they are “just checking this guy out.” His message about being a part of the Kingdom of God has inspired them; it has given them hope. Now you can bet that a lot of this crowd has been taking some flack for spending so much time with this Nazarene trouble maker. Friends and family are whispering among themselves about shirking responsibility and wasting money – you can about imagine. But up to this point, it’s been possible to be a fan of Jesus of Nazareth without rocking the boat too much. But here’s the thing, Jesus knew that his time on this earth was short. He didn’t want curiosity seekers – he didn’t want fans – no, Jesus came to this earth to make disciples. That’s what is going on in this seemingly rude address with a group of followers – he is telling them that if they are thinking about taking that leap of faith, if they feel the call to become true disciples of the Son of God, then understand that there are no half measures. It’s all or nothing; in for a penny, in for a pound. And chances are, there are people they care about who are not going to like it.
In fact, there are pieces of us all that are not going to like it so much. The parts of us that look to find blame when things aren’t going our way; the parts of us that are quick to judge and slow to understand; all this goes by the wayside if we are to be disciples, true disciples, of Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite writers, Donald Miller, had this to say about the cost of discipleship: “The trouble with deep belief,” he said, “is that it costs something. And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them.”
Kevin DeYoung once said, “The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.” There are few who have lived that understand the cost of discipleship better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a Lutheran pastor and theologian whose continued resistance to Hitler and Nazi Germany led to his death in the Flosseburg concentration camp in April of 1945. One month later, Germany had surrendered to the Allied forces and the concentration camps were liberated. We can only speculate on what Bonhoeffer might have done if he had survived that day, but the legacy he left us is a spectacular testament to the life of a disciple. One example I would like share is when he came to America in 1939 at the invitation of the Union Theological Seminary in New York. It was a decision that he regretted. In a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr he wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people … Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” These are the thoughts and actions of a true disciple: no half measures, all or nothing, in for a penny, in for a pound. This molded piece of clay that was Dietrich Bonhoeffer continues to inspire and give hope to us today.
The Mission/Vision statement of the United Methodist Church is one we know well: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It’s simple and to the point. I’ve always found it interesting that if you turn this inside out, the meaning stays the same: “To transform the world by making disciples of Jesus Christ.” Either way you look at it, the emphasis is on discipleship and the hope is to transform the world. You know, maybe there is some good news in this gospel text today.
Amen & Shalom