Matthew 16:21-28; Romans 12:9-21
Can any of you see what I’m holding? Can anyone under 18 tell me what it is? Anybody under 25? Would someone from up front here like to read what it says? Yeah – this is a milk bottle from the family business my Grandfather started back in 1907 when he was 17 years old. R. Milleville Dairy. Anybody here remember milk delivery? One of our slogans was “At your door, or at our store.”
Through my high school years, and summers when I was in college, I had a guaranteed job. This bottle? I used to wash this bottle and hundreds just like it when they came back from the customer. Let me tell you – some of them came back pretty ripe, if you know what I mean. I also worked in our small store – selling milk, bread, and Perry’s ice cream. 10 cents for an ice cream sandwich. 10 cents!
At your door, or at our store. We had another slogan that went like this: “Everything we own, we owe to udders.” And you wonder where I get it from!
But you know, this business model – the Mom and Pop kind of place – doesn’t much exist anymore. I think we saw that start to happen at our dairy when my father’s cousin – when asked why she didn’t come to the dairy to buy milk anymore – said, “It’s another stop.” The last thing any of us needs is another stop, right?
And that’s why Wal-Mart is so successful. Would you agree with me that we live in Wal-Mart world? Wal-Mart succeeds because they know that Americans like to have a wide variety of choices, AND offers them at very low prices. They also realize that time is a precious commodity. At a Super Wal-Mart you can do one stop shopping for just about everything you might want or need. Get in. Get out, and be on your way.
Well – whether you love Wal-Mart or hate it, you have to admit that Wal-Mart understands what people are looking for in today’s market place. So we live in a Wal-Mart world – where we can get what we want – what we need – at a price to fit most budgets.
So how do we do church in a Wal-Mart world? It seems to me that we can learn a few things from Wal-Mart. After all – Wal-Mart isn’t the only saving place. When you walk through our doors, you’re greeted by friendly greeters, just like Wal-Mart. And since time is precious, I try to keep the service to under an hour. Most Saturdays/Sundays, anyway. Parking is convenient – unless you’re talking Christmas Eve or Easter. People get their needs met. They come in. They get out. And they go on their way. And once again, we’ve done church, right?
Wrong. The Wal-Mart model works for Wal-Mart, but when it comes to our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ – we can’t let this Wal-Mart world determine who we are as Christians. We can’t let it define how we do church. Christianity – being a disciple of Jesus Christ – cannot be gotten at bargain prices.
So what I’m going to say to you today will probably not make me too popular. But then again, I didn’t become a pastor in order to become popular.
What I’m going to say today is tough stuff. And if after hearing me out today, and you want to leave, that’s okay. But I want to repeat to you what I so often say when I talk about what it means to follow Jesus. I am not picking on anybody. I’m not scolding. I am not judging. It is never my intent to judge or scold. Because I need to hear this message – I need to hear and to think about what Jesus is telling me today about what it means to be his disciple as much as anybody else.
So I want you to listen again to what Jesus has to say. All it takes is one sentence. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Again, I know that these are not words you want to hear. But we need to hear them.
Being a disciple – becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ – cannot be had at Wal-Mart prices. Why? Because it’s costly. Discipleship is costly. It cost Jesus everything he had. His life. His breath. Every drop of blood.
Some of you may be familiar with the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during World War II, who was executed by the Nazis. He was a man who stood up for his faith in the face of incredible evil. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he talks about the difference between what he calls “cheap grace,” and “costly grace.” Now I want you to know that grace – God’s undeserved love and favor – is yours as a gift. In other words – it’s free! But when Bonhoeffer talked about grace, he said things like this:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross,… Costly grace…is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace…is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a [person their] life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son,…and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Again – We live in a Wal-Mart world. But being a disciple – becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ – cannot be had at Wal-Mart prices. Discipleship is costly. It cost Jesus everything he had. Jesus took up his cross so that we might have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And who doesn’t want – who doesn’t need – the love and forgiveness that is ours in Jesus Christ?
But when Jesus says, “Take up YOUR cross and follow me,” well – I think we just have a harder time with that. Because now you’re getting personal. You’re making me feel uncomfortable and squirm a little bit. Now you’re talking about those six marks of discipleship. And you sound like you’re really serious about them. Pray daily. Read your Bible every day. Worship every week. Develop Christian friendships. Give. Serve. That’s asking a lot. You’re talking about self-denial. You’re talking service and sacrifice.
The thing is, we want Jesus, don’t we! And what Jesus wants to give us. But sometimes we’re not so sure about this cross thing. I know. I told you. This is heavy stuff.
When Charles Swindoll was a young boy, he was greatly influenced by this remark from an old Texan: “The problem with the Christian life is that it's so daily.”
Yeah. It’s so daily. And you’ve heard me say this before, being a Christian is more than just going to church on [Saturday] [Sunday]. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a way of life – a way of being.
And quite frankly – it is also a joy. I can’t think of a better way of life. I can’t think of a better way of living.
And since I’m running out of time here – and yes, I am trying to keep this worship service to no more than an hour – I want to share with you what Paul has to say about what this way of life – this “so daily” understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like. It’s in our reading from Romans. And the last time I included this reading from Romans 12 in a sermon, I gave you a challenge. And I’m going to give you that challenge again. And I’m going to do this too. I want you to make this a daily reading. Remember? One of the marks of discipleship that we practice around here is “Read the Bible every day.” So I’m going to give you this challenge – to read this section from Romans every day this week. Romans 12: 9-21. If you want to get an idea of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus – these are just some of the words and practices that we just need to learn. By the way, ther first verse you’ll hear is from verse 2, but it fits my message. So listen.
Do not be conformed to this world. [In other words, let’s not let the Wal-Mart world we live in define who we are.] Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another... serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering,...persevere in prayer...Contribute to the needs of the saints…Extend hospitality. Bless those who persecute you;...Live in harmony with one another;...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I would encourage you to read the entire chapter, but verses 9-21 will do. And I want you to do this because – I like to think of us as being Romans 12 Christians living in an Acts 2 church. And if you need to be reminded of what I mean by saying we are an Acts 2 church, then read Acts chapter 2, verses 41-47. Go ahead and do that too.
So you’ve got homework to do. Read Romans 12:9-21 every day this week. And if you want extra credit, Acts 2:41-47. Take your bulletins home with you. The chapter and verses are listed there. Read it to yourself. Read it to your family around the supper table, or before the youngest child in your family goes to bed.
Because what Paul is saying here– and what Jesus is saying – is, “Be this.” Be this. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus – if you want to take up a cross – then be this. Notice I didn’t say, “do this!” I don’t want you to get hung up on the false understanding that, well, if I just do this and I don’t do that, I’ll be okay. Because following Jesus is not a system of do’s and don’ts. Being a follower of Jesus Christ – taking up one’s cross to follow him – is a way of life – it’s a way of being. As someone once said, “Don’t just go to church. Be the church.”
And yes, it is so – daily. Jesus did not say “Take up your cross and follow me to church on Sunday morning, then you can do whatever you like the rest of the week.” No. But neither did Jesus come into the world to ruin your weekend – especially this Labor Day Weekend celebration here in Clarence Center. [And by the way, I’m going over to the Labor Day Fair right after worship. If you’d like to come with me tonight, feel free to do so. I’m going – well – how can I say this genteelly? I’ve discovered I run into some of our folks from Zion down there – who don’t even come on Christmas or Easter. And you know what I’ve told you how some people have said to me. “Pastor, why is it when I see you I feel guilty?” With some folks you’ve got to start somewhere – so I’m going down there tonight for some fellowship – AND to stir up a little guilt.]
Listen! Christianity is not a philosophy. It is not about ideas. It’s not about do this, don’t do that. It’s about Jesus Christ. It’s about a cross. The cross of Christ – and the cross that he asks everyone of us to take up in order to follow him. It’s about who we are at the core of our being.
Folks, the grace that God gives to us in not a cheap grace, but a costly grace. But the good news for us is that it’s free.
So – “Don’t just go to church…
R: …be the church!”
Yeah. I think we’ve got this. Amen