Pastor Sherry’s message for September 4, 2022
Scriptures: Jer 18:1-11; Ps 139:1-18; Philemon 1-21; Lk 14:25-33
Back in the 1980’s, when I was first coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I looked to a set of commentaries to help me understand the New Testament. I had been asked to lead a women’s Bible Study and knew I needed help with understanding the difficult passages. My parish priest (I was an Episcopalian at the time) suggested I consult William Barclay’s commentaries. Rev. Dr. William Barkley, was a minister in the Church of Scotland and lived from 1907-1978. At that time, his volumes were paperback books with distinctive blue, green, or pink covers, each one explaining a given book of the Bible. Since I knew next to nothing—and my church had the whole set—I was grateful to delve into them.
Over time, however—and as my faith deepened—I began to see some problems. First, Barclay didn’t believe in the miracles of Jesus and, as a student of the Enlightenment, attempted to explain them away with science. In my heart of hearts, I knew this couldn’t be. The Gospel of Mark certifies that Jesus had power over nature, including the laws of nature; the supernatural, including angels and demons; and both physical illness and mental infirmity. Even more impressive, He had the authority to forgive sins and to bring dead people back to life. I loved Barclay’s wisdom and knowledge, but I began to believe his concept of God was too limited. I knew then (and now) that I wanted a God who is powerful enough to alter the very laws of nature that He has put into place. I wanted a God who can truly do …immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)—and we have Him!
Secondly, I also discovered Barclay must have been what is known as a dispensationalist. These folks believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for a specific era, which ended before our time; that is, the miraculous works Jesus and the apostles did (healing, raising people from the dead, etc.) ended upon their deaths. But I have witnessed and experienced miracles of healing and perhaps you have too—these gifts are not passé.
Nevertheless, I would never suggest we dismiss all that Barclay had to say. Among many wise things he wrote, I believe his distinction between being a disciple and a follower of Christ is both profound and accurate:
It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple: to be a camp follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, ‘So and so tells me that he was one of your students.’ The teacher answered devastatingly, ‘He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.’ There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.
(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.162.)
I believe this is the consistent message of our Scripture passages today. All four lessons assigned for today are variations on a common theme: True Discipleship.
A. Our OT lesson is from Jeremiah (18:1-11). God has the prophet draw Judah’s attention to the work of a potter. Then, as now, potters worked moist clay on a wheel. As the wheel spun, the potter would use his hands to shape the clay into a bowl or pot to then be fired/hardened in a kiln. The image of a potter with wet clay is a metaphor for God’s relationship with them then and with us now. If the clay (us) is malleable, then the potter (God) can mold and shape according to His plan.
The power of the Potter is absolute! He has a plan/purpose as He works in and with us. Interestingly, He can rework pots or vessels that turn out wrong or are flawed. If we allow Him to do so, He has the power to shape us into vessels of honor. What a wonderful thought! But, this requires us to be totally cooperative and totally committed. Christ’s disciples say “yes” to this process. Barclay would suggest that distant Christ-followers, however, tend to walk their own way, paying little attention to what Jesus might desire of them daily.
A true disciple, then seeks out and cooperates with the will of our Potter.
B. Psalm 139:1-18 gives us a perfect rationale for surrendering our will to that of our Lord. In verses 1-4 He has searched us and He knows us. He knows who we are. He knows our thoughts. He knows what we intend to say before we say it. He knows our behavior too—what we are up to. Additionally, in verses 5-11, we learn there is nowhere that we can run to escape Him or His knowledge of us. He is omniscient, and also omnipresent. Where-ever we may go, He will be there too. He is the “with us” God, Immanuel. And, in verses 13-16, the psalmist declares: He made us (knit me [us] together in my [our] mother’s womb). He thought each one of us up and called us into being, regardless of what our parents planned. He ordained how long we would live. And He ordained a plan and a purpose for each of us.
This psalm assures us that God knows us, is with us, and has a plan and purpose for each one of us. Doesn’t it just make so much sense for us to want to fall into step with God’s plan? Those of us who have ignored God’s plan for our lives, and walked our own way, know from hard experience that pathway leads to turmoil and trouble. Again, you know you are a disciple—not just a follower—when you surrender to God’s plans for your life.
C. Philemon is such a beautiful little book! Paul is in prison, waiting to be executed, but he takes the time to write a dear friend in Christ. Paul had disciple Philemon, who now has a house-church meeting in his home. Paul, as Philemon’s mentor, could have demanded that he allow Onesimus, Philemon’s former slave, to remain free. But instead, Paul blesses him and entreats him to accept Onesimus back as a freed man. He is asking Philemon—out of love for Paul and as a disciple of Christ—to be obedient to Jesus. Scholars speculate that the population of the Roman Empire was about 120,000; 60,000 of those were slaves. Slavery was very common then. As people were conquered, they were enslaved. Nevertheless, Jesus had said in John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Jesus would want Philemon to allow Onesimus to remain free, as the former slave is now his brother-in-Christ. This is no longer an economic or a political issue, but a moral and a spiritual one. True disciples do not hold on to the things of this world, but rather seek to please the Sovereign King of this world.
D. Finally, Jesus, in today’s Gospel lesson (Luke14:25-33) draws our attention to the cost of discipleship. Believers or followers should think ahead of committing themselves to being disciples, as the cost is high.
Nothing is to come before Jesus in our hearts–not spouses, children, parents, siblings, or self. Jesus is stating a strong contrast for effect. He does not really mean we have to hate these relationships. There is a place for them in our lives; but all of them should take a distant back seat to Jesus.
Just as a builder considers his/her resources before planning construction, and just as a king considers his resources before engaging in battle, so too must we estimate or count the cost. My son is a structural engineer in business by himself. He is now reconfiguring what he calls “boomerang” plans. He had designed, signed and sealed the plans, but the contractor then complained that he/she could not locate the materials called for—due to supply chain issues–or that the materials specified—due to inflation—were no longer financially feasible. The plans were then returned for my son to redesign with cheaper or more readily available materials substituted for the original ones. Back in Jesus’ day, builders tended to know the cost of wood and bricks for home building. But, even so, a home owner would need to estimate the cost of construction and have the money and building materials at hand before beginning a building project.
The point is, if you can’t commit all, then remain a believer, a follower.
But being Christ’s disciple, a true disciple, means being willing to give all of one’s self to the effort, including carrying a cross.
True disciples, then,
(1.) Allow God to mold and shape us.
(2.) Understand that since God made us, knows us, and knows all things, it makes good sense to cooperate with His plan for our lives.
(3.) Learn to “let go and let God”; or to honor God’s will over our own.
(4.) Have thought through the potential cost, and then commit to Christ no matter what.
Are we willing to do these things? Consider the following old illustration:
A hog and a hen sharing the same barnyard heard about a church’s program to feed the hungry. The hog and the hen discussed how they could help. The hen said, “I’ve got it! We’ll provide bacon and eggs for the church to feed the hungry.” The hog thought about the suggestion and said, “There’s one problem with your bacon and eggs solution. For you, it only requires a contribution, but from me, it will mean total commitment!” That’s the cost of true discipleship. (Source unknown.)
Let’s pray: Lord, you are asking of us a difficult thing. We want to be more than just Christ-followers or believers in Jesus. We desire to be Jesus’ disciples. Give us the grace and the courage to do so. Help us to trust in You and to let go our control over our lives and give it to You. We pray this in the precious and efficacious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams