Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 9:18-24
Sermon: "What Does it Mean to Be a Disciple"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God." He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it."
What Does it Mean to Be a Disciple
Third Sunday after Pentecost - June 20, 2004
Over the past few years we have seen a plethora of reality television shows. The basic concept of these shows is to give us an idea of how people react placed in various situations. Each of them places some sort of obstacle or temptation in front of the people. In addition, to the one who makes it to the end there is a large prize, usually cash, and prestige. You and I have these kind of realistic offers everyday.
My personal favorite of this type of shows was the Survivor series. I hardly ever watched the show. One didn't need to. The morning radio DJ's covered the entire night the next morning on the air. The basic premise of this show was to be the last one on the island. To be the last person left, one had to make alliances, break alliances, prove themselves worthy in the eyes of others, and vote just right at the end of each week to continue to survive. One might think this set-up would bring out the best in people. It did not. It tended to bring out the worst. The reason it brought out the worst is because each person was in it for themselves. Each person wanted that big prize at the end. They also wanted the prestige. They wanted to be noticed by people. They wanted people to stop and say, "Do you know who that was that just walked by?"
This question may sound similar to what Jesus asks the disciples, but it is not. It is in essence the exact opposite. It is the opposite because Jesus does not point to himself when he asks the question, he really points to something beyond. For the next few minutes let's explore what Jesus is asking and what the question really means.
We all heard the question Jesus asks of the disciples; "Who do the crowds say that I am?" Jesus and the disciples had just left the crowds. It is important to know what has happened before Jesus asks this question. In the first part of this chapter Jesus sent the twelve out to cure people and to proclaim the kingdom of God. They were told to take very little with them. While they are gone Herod tries to see Jesus. He has heard the rumors of Jesus and he asks the question, "John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?" He does not see Jesus and there is no answer given. When the disciples return Jesus tries to draw them away but the crowd found them. Jesus fed the crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish. These events immediately precede the question from Jesus.
Now Jesus and the disciples are alone. Jesus asks the question about his identity. Who do the people think Jesus is? The answers are varied. Some say he is John the Baptist. Others think he is Elijah. Still others believe he is a prophet of old. The crowd really believes Jesus is something wonderful. Here is the question we have to ask ourselves. Jesus had the following of the crowd. He could easily have basked in the prestige and the glory of his acts. Think about it. Jesus really had the power to heal. He could have had all the money he wanted. Jesus could cast out demons. He could have lived anywhere he wanted and been known throughout the world for his power. Yet, Jesus does not stay with the crowds; he walks on with his disciples.
So, Jesus was being compared by the people to some pretty important and powerful Jewish people. Now, Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Talk about your loaded questions. I don't believe I would have wanted to be in their shoes. But Peter blurts out the answer. He is right. Jesus is the Messiah. But, but, there is a difference. Jesus is not the Messiah they are expecting. They are expecting a Messiah of great power to become the earthly ruler in the same fashion as King David. This ruler will kick the Romans out of Israel and restore Israel to her proper status of power and wealth in the governments of the world. They will have wealth. They will honor. They will have prestige. They have just played the game survivor on an international scale and they will be the winner.
However, Jesus does not come for that purpose. Jesus has come to bring in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not about Jesus first. The kingdom of God is not about us first. The kingdom of God is about God and God's will first. Jesus has come not to give power to anyone.
Jesus has come to share with us the incredible love of God and show us how to share this love to one another. Jesus is the Messiah of God. As the Messiah he will suffer and he will be rejected and killed. He will be killed because he helped people. He will be killed because he healed people. He will be killed because he fed people. He will be killed because the powers that be perceive him as a threat. They can not stand before the awesome presence of his love. Therefore, he is killed. He is the first one thrown off the island. If this was a reality show, in the eyes of the world Jesus would have lost.
This concept of surviving is how we think. We have to be the top. We have to get to the top of the ladder or the top of the heap. Our corporate world is full of the skeletal remains of those who followed this philosophy of life. Our social world is full of people who have been burned by attempting to live by this concept. We even have a children's game that teaches this philosophy of life, king of the hill. The last one standing on the top of the hill is the winner. What a great game to teach our children about the ways of the world.
In actuality, Jesus teaches the opposite. It is not the one who survives on the skeletal remains of others who survives. It is the one who is willing to share and give love to the world who survives. Jesus tells the disciples he must suffer and die for the sake of the world. For the world to receive the fullness of God's love Jesus has to offer his own self for us. Furthermore, the disciples are to follow his example. They must pick up their cross and follow Jesus. Notice they are not taking up Jesus' cross. What Jesus does on the cross is done by God for us, once and for all, never to be repeated. Disciples of Christ have to pick up their own cross. What is our cross? Our cross is our own worldly ambition. Our cross is our own sinful desires. Our cross is our longing to be on the top of the hill, wealthy and noticed by all. Our cross is our desire to be the last survivor.
Yet, to be faithful disciples of Jesus we have to die to all of these desires and worldly wishes. Our eyes are to be on Jesus. Our hope is to be in Jesus. Furthermore, we open ourselves to the love of Jesus allowing that love to fill us completely. Then we share that love to the world around us. There are many people around us who are caught up in the worldly views of success. They are filled with desire and longing and yet, they are empty inside. They are empty for they do not know of the love of God. When we pick up our cross we carry on the example to the world that God loves us. We share that message as we die to our desires and trust in Jesus. Then we are faithful disciples who save our lives for eternity. AMEN.