Theme: What it takes, the tasks and responsibilities, to be a useful disciple in the Kingdom.
- The proper ordering of our loves protects us from defection
- Counting the cost, protects us from discouragement
- Being unencumbered, protects us from duplicity
- Have clear ears. Hear what Christ is saying.
(Some missing at the start) … defeated by an alliance of men and elves. The ring passed on from Sauron with all beings influenced by its undeniable power. Bilbo Baggins reluctantly parts with it when his old friend Gandalf convinces him to pass it down to his young heir, Frodo, who is unaware of its evil background. Gandalf realizes that Frodo’s possession of the ring puts him in danger and thus launches him on a journey with his friends to dispose of the ring in the Fires of Mount Doom. All the while, they are pursued by evil beings on horseback, intent on seizing the ring. The journey to the Fires of Mount Doom is not unlike the undertaking of following Christ. There is evil to be overcome in order for good to prevail and the task requires learning, apprenticeship, trusting, following and in a word discipleship. Just as Frodo must trust Gandalf and follow his wisdom in order to rid the world of the ring, so Christ calls his disciples to a journey of faith, allegiance and trusting in order for good to prevail and evil to be vanquished.
This clarion call to apprenticeship, discipleship, I prefer the word apprenticeship, discipleship has been a little dulled over the ages, but this clarion call comes towards the end of Christ’s time on earth as he challenges his disciples with the same sobriety as Gandalf does Frodo. In fact, in remarkable ways, the scenes in the gospel of Luke that we are going to look at and the scenes from the Shire are similar. Both seem to be tranquil, peaceful and doing well. Jesus as a matter of fact, is at the zenith of his popularity and the Shire is enjoying what appears to be wonderful peace and tranquility. But evil and death are on the horizon for both. Christ knows that a certain determination will be required of those who follow him, just as Gandalf knows that a difficult journey awaits Frodo as he heads towards the Fires of Mount Doom. Frodo has many things to learn, decisions to make. He is in the process, he is on a journey, not unlike the journey into discipleship that Jesus will place before his followers and that I am placing before you today. So let’s examine what constitutes a disciple. Recognizing that the word is overused, underpractice if such a word as underpracticed exists, but it is underwhelming in our culture today. The story is found in Luke 14. We already read it, but I am going to unpack it a little bit and we will revisit it right now.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, this is picking up in the 25th verse, as I said he is at the zenith of his popularity “and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters- yes, even his own life he cannot be my disciple.”
I am going to suggest to you four attributes or characteristics of a disciple, a true disciple and here is the first one. A disciple has a clear idea of what they love. As you know in the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins a 111-year-old hobbit is reluctant to part with the ring as it has kept him perpetually young. He is torn, sensing its evil power, yet craving the allure of goodness and being drawn to it. He loves it. Gandalf on the other hand is quite clear headed and horrified of the specter of something so evil being in Bilbo’s possession. In my mind one of the most attractive features of Christ is that he always brought moral clarity to peoples lives. To his followers now he is saying this, to bring moral clarity in what could be a muddled mess of what it means to be a disciple, he says, “You must hate all, even your own life.” But the word hate mentioned here is not isolated from Christ’s other thoughts, nor is it ultimate. Christ’s idea about hate must always fit into everything else he had to say about the fine texture of life and relationships and when you do that you understand that love is what He always proclaimed was ultimate. Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37 reiterates it again. “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, strength and totality of your being.” So Christ’s point here is that the true disciple loves God to such a degree that the unaware person would think they disregard all other persons and cares, not frivolously, in a very calculated fashion.
Let me explain that. In my opinion, this is another way of saying that a disciple has a clear idea of what they love. Saint Augustin furthered this idea when he wrote of the necessity of what he called ordering our loves. At the collapse of Rome in the early 4th century as the vandals were sacking the gates, Augustin received a letter from a friend of his Lawrence, (Law ren sus) is how it would have been pronounced at that time, in which he asked Augustin to explain to me how is it that I can be a good person in the midst of a collapse of a culture. What constitutes a good person? A faithful follower of Christ. And Augustin wrote a long letter back to Lawrence, which he wove together the Apostles creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Now toward the very end of this letter, after discussing faith, hope and love he closes with this remark and I would like you to at least hold onto it for a moment and entertain it. Augustin wrote, “For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes or hopes, but what he loves.” The modern church I think often majors on nailing down doctrine. What we believe and that degree has some merit. But Augustin realized that if I know what a man or woman loves, I will know what they believe and what they hope. If I only know what they believe without properly ordering our loves, we get the kind of calamities we see happening all of the time. When people with theological sophistication fall off the wagon of sexual purity.
Several years ago I had the opportunity more than once to teach a part, a very small part of the ethics curriculum at the United States Naval Academy. This course, as you may or may not know, is developed after the 1992 electrical engineering final exam scandal. As you know, apparently the, and I have no electrical engineering DNA in me at all, but this was considered the most difficult course and the most difficult exam. And it is required of all midshipmen. And you may or may not know that hundreds of mids cheated on this final exam and were caught. Interestingly enough, on the hallway walls just outside the classroom where the cheating was taking place, hangs the United States Naval Academy Honor Code. Words like honesty appear there, that everyone says we believe in. Well what happened? The mids loved passing the course, completing the exam and graduating more than honesty. It was people like you and me. But they loved the wrong things in the wrong order. If you want to know what characterizes a good person, find out what he or she loves. Augustin believed that the truly good person loves what God loves in the order in which he loves all of creation. Dallas Willard calls this true inner goodness. The point is, that a genuine disciple has to have settled the score on this issue and so I put before you I believe the same question that Christ is putting before his disciples. Do you love God in His kingdom more than anything else? Are you clear on what is ultimately good and what is ultimately evil? Bilbo Baggins had not settled this in his own mind. Nor had Frodo who from time to time in those moments of deep insecurity or uncertainty would slip the ring on because of a misguided sense of safety and not understanding good and evil.
For those of us intent on being disciples and properly ordering our love, this is perhaps the most troubling part of our attachment in modern society to entertainment. It’s not so much the sex and violence, which generally is a portrayer and not particularly healthy, but it’s not so much the amount of the sex and violence, but that the medium of entertainment in the idea of Simon Vay(?) generally reverses the poles of good and evil. In most of today’s movies and TV shows as Simon Vay once charged, imaginary evil is romantic and varied and alluring and cool and imaginary good is boring and dull and repetitive. Sex outside of marriage, the back seat of a car or somewhere else is enticing, a monogamous heterosexual marriage of 40 years is dull. If you had a steady diet of this kind of entertainment, the reverses of poles of what is truly good and evil, you will have trouble ordering your loves properly. Again, ordering means that God created all things. Food, sex, leisure, entertainment, work and money, but he wants us to love these things in the order in which he loves them. And I suggest to you my friends that could take a lifetime. And so Jesus tells us that we must resolve the ordering of our love, or at least drive a stake in the ground and say I will begin that monumental task. Why? Because actions follow affections. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart. But notice the stark assessment here by Christ. If you haven’t resolved this, you cannot be my disciple. Do not undertake the journey. Why? Well I believe the proper ordering of our loves ultimately protects us from defection and if defection is a possibility, do not undertake the journey to the Fires of Mount Doom.
Here is the second characteristic and it comes as Christ goes on and you will notice by the way that this is a lot like a dentist going after a cavity, he bores down straight, deep, long, hard and doesn’t give up. And he goes on to say, “If anyone does not carry his cross and follow me, he can not be my disciple.” Now suppose one of you for example, if you are not clear on what I just said, supposed one of you wants to build a tower. Will you not sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it. For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him saying, “This fellow began to build and he wasn’t able to finish.” Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with 10,000 men to oppose the one coming against him with 20,000. If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the others are still a long way off and he will ask for terms of peace.
Now here’s my second idea for disciples. First one is you have to be clear on what you love. Have a clear idea on what you love. Second I think you need to have a clear idea on what you face and what it takes to finish well. Jesus talks about carrying your own cross and I believe that is demanding because it basically signifies a death to your own agenda. Let’s at least get clear-headed on that. Jesus did not carry the cross for himself, it was for others. And it’s the idea of carrying our own cross signifies that we live now for others, which in my experience and my life is far easier said than done. It means though that you join the forces of good against evil. I think every person setting out on the journey to discipleship ought to read C.S. Lewis, Screw Tape Letters. To understand here that you are not going out to a Sunday picnic and frolicking in the lilies with Jesus. As Lewis writes in his preface for those who want to set out on a journey, “There are two equal and opposite era’s under which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence and the other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves, demons, are equally pleased by both.” You have to have a clear idea of what you face and what it takes to finish.
I played some football a long, long, long, long, long time ago and you need to have a pretty good idea of the arduous task in front of you before you go to football camp. Again, many don’t and many don’t finish. They quit. Frodo is naive about the journey in front of him, the existence of evil and the size of the opposing force. As that one great scene in the movie if you have seen it, Aragon who he has never met, but now has met and he says, “Are you frightened? Well not nearly enough.” You need to understand the challenges are not all out there in terms of evil. We need to also appreciate the internal challenges associated with transforming our former allegiances and changing very familiar behavorial patterns that for most of us have been a part of us for years and this my friends can be equally daunting. As Dallas Willard has observed just coming with terms for example just what our feelings really are, will be a huge task. This is why the Puritans thought long and hard about what they called dying well. Anyone can burst out of the blocks, all hot and bothered about Jesus, but the point is do you plan to finish well? That is a difficult task.
I draw up some of this by observing Christ two illustrations. Did any of you notice the two illustrations when he says suppose? They are both steep and uphill and question whether or not you will finish well. Notice the first one. A man, he is not building a mud hut, a deck on the back of his condo, a small home, he is building a tower and in that day and age a stupendous undertaking. Second is a story about a king going into a battle. Did any of you notice the army he is going against is twice as big as his own? What’s Jesus point? You have to have a clear idea of what you face if you are going to undertake this journey and whether you are planning to go the distance. Are you planning on maintaining your allegiance to Christ when you are 60? When you are 70? When you are 80? Have you any idea of the enormity of changes that is going to demand? If you don’t, Jesus said you cannot be my disciple. Now why does Christ lay down such a tough gauntlet? Well I believe the first challenge, this idea of the proper ordering of our love, was to protect us from defection, of getting into it and then saying I don’t love this enough, I am out of here. The second challenge is having a clear idea of what we face and whether or not we plan to finish, is to protect us from discouragement. If you put your hand into the plow and then later on turn back, you are not fit for this kingdom.
Where Jesus is hardly through, like many times if you have sat in a dentist chair, it seems to go on and on. He goes on to say this, “In the same way any of you who does not give up everything he has, cannot be my disciple.”
In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo does not require a great deal of possessions to complete the journey. That’s because of the nature of his task and the type of enemy, which he faces. If he trusts and obeys primarily Gandalf, perhaps good will prevail over evil. I think Jesus’ point here for us is that you don’t require possessions as much as you require power for this kind of battle. Like David trying on Saul’s armor, you have to know what is an encumbrance and an encumbrance is something that gives you a false sense of security and power and strength, versus that which really empowers you. The Hebrew believers struggled with this notion. You might remember in the 12th Chapter, the writer to the Hebrews said as he was trying to urge them to move on, he said therefore since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, so many have taken the journey, you need to also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and trips us up. If you are trying to capture an idea of what he is talking about, some day in privacy pull down your pants and try to run around your house. And watch how easily it trips you up. That’s what possessions do. Paul told Timothy the same thing. Remember he said, “No solider in active service” ah there is your word active, “entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life.” Well where am I going? Where is Christ going with this? I believe you can’t maintain allegiances to unnecessary items and successfully make the journey. You have to wisely make a distinction between what is in your province versus what you regard as being in your possessions. And my friends again, the difference is not semantics, it is substantive.
Let me unpack this. Possessions in and of themselves are not necessarily bad. In fact, it is interesting in the Greek when Christ said; “Unless you give up all of your possessions” the Greek ideas are unless you properly categorize them, put them in proper categories. Fascinating. See possessions are not necessarily bad, but possessions be they material or immaterial, are not morally neutral. They demand attention, cultivation and perhaps allegiance and Jesus said, “You can not serve two masters.” The distinction depends on who owns the stuff of your life. In Frodo’s case, Gandalf determined what was required to make the journey. Now Frodo could not make that determination because he had never been to the Fires of Mount Doom. In the same manner, Jesus must make the final call as to what you require to follow him. And to make that determination, you have to relinquish everything to him. He now determines who will take care of and use the stuff that adorns your life. It might, by the way, at the end of the day remain within your province, your care, but it will no longer be your possession and there is the big difference. Such relinquishing requires careful reflection and thought. You will not untie this knot in one day. Possessions are slippery little devils. They can be obvious and material, you know you rank in life, your company, your home, your car, your fortune, your 401K and what remains of your 401K, things like that, or they can be elusive and immaterial. My point is that they become encumbrances when they are required for your sense of well being, that the world is okay because I have this. Ah, a ring.
And the immaterial ones can tend to be deeper and more difficult to release. They can include for example, wanting recognition, being invulnerable, a concern for image and overbearing concern for image, what are they thinking about me today? A concern for your body, six pack abs? Flat, flat tummy? Always wanting to be right or successful or comfortable or happy or entertained or insulated or protected or never questioned or never wronged or never embarrassed. Why is the unloading of such possessions non negotiable? You notice again for the third time Jesus boars in and says, “You can not be my disciple if you aren’t clear on this.” Because possessions improperly considered give you a sense of well being and at that point, they become idols. An idol by definition is anything or anyone to whom you give ultimate responsibility for your sense of well being. I can remember in college being a poor college student, as apparently we all claimed to be, and the sense of well being I had one day when I had about $40 in my pocket and a full tank of gas and I thought that everything is okay in the world today. Well you are on the way to adultery, because that in no way informs you whether or not the world is okay. And really those small little things grow as we become adults. Our toys get bigger, and a sense of what makes us happy and secure and a safe place gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
The first challenge, the proper ordering of our loves protects us from defection. The second challenge of counting the cost, protects us from discouragement and the third challenge being unencumbered, protects us from duplicity. As one person said, “If you can’t give it up, you don’t own it, it owns you.” Having a clear idea of what is required in discipleship, keeps us from saying one thing, such as “I love you Lord. You are the Lord of my life. You’re number one. Everything to you.” And then over here living another way. That’s duplicitas living. And Jesus says, “If you give up all your possessions and are clear on what you really require, you can be my disciple.”
In many ways Frodo was meant for the moment before him. I think he _?__ that this is the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s almost like I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want not to do it. He has this idea of a legacy awaiting him and I think in many ways this is why the Lord of the Rings, both the book and the movie and what have you, all resinates with us because we were all made for a sense of purpose and legacy in a journey. I think it is imprinted in our DNA. But you have to have a clear idea of what you love, what you face and what you require to journey toward your legacy and this imprint and intuition for legacy is what Christ last appeals to. Uh, don’t get out of the dentist chair. He is not quite through yet. He says salt is good, but if it loses is saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for soils, nor for the manure pile, it’s thrown out. Now if you have ears to hear this, you ought to hear it.
Here is my last idea. Not only is a disciple clear on what they love, they are clear on what they face, and whether or not they plan to finish, they are clear on what they require for this journey and last they have clear ears. That simple. Most human beings have two ears. Vincent Van Gough not withstanding. But not everyone uses them to hear. In fact, many times we are cluttered. I grew up in a family of four boys and I still remember as a young, young lad my brother Carl coming in saying to my father, “I am not hearing out of this ear.” And at that time we would tip the head over and we would pour in hydrogen peroxide. I don’t know how many still do this and the bubbling action begins and sure enough, what pops to the surface was a big hunk of tin foil buried down in his ear. Events like that you tend to remember. And after that, he had ears to hear. He had ears, but he wasn’t hearing. And Jesus is saying, “Most of you have ears, but how many of you get it?” That’s what he is saying. How many of you get what I just said?
Hear what? Well Christ is recalling, this is not at the end of his three years on earth. If you go back to the beginning of his three years where he introduces the availability of the kingdom, he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt at that time was dug up out of the earth and it was used as a preservative. But if it simply sat out in the hot sweltering desert sun, the salt content would leech back out of it and in to the soil and all you would end up with is useless rock and gravel, which that’s what the Middle East has plenty of is rock and gravel. Christians are called to be salt of the entire earth. We are to be useful and exert influence on all aspects of creation. This is our ultimate purpose in life. This is our legacy. So what is Christ’s point here? How many of you have ears and picked up what he said? If you do not take up the tasks and responsibilities of being a disciple, you are useless to my kingdom. To my quest. To discipleship. You might as well live as a hobbit huddling back in the shire, oblivious to the oncoming evil, the looming battle, the quest. Hobbits’ often like humans, seek out tranquility, safety and peaceful living. But at the end of the day, the only safe way for Frodo to live, was to follow Gandalf. The shire is not safe. Retreat is not safe. Frodo has one good option on the table. It’s to follow Gandalf. And frankly I think we have one good option on the table, we must follow Jesus as the smartest and the wisest man who ever lived. Being an apprentice, discipleship, provides the only avenue to the realization of good. Now if you are sitting here thinking, well maybe, maybe not. Not to decide is to decide and to choose inactivity or doing nothing or passivity after hearing Christ call, is as Dallas Williard recently said, “If you are someone who says, it’s up to God. Without Christ I can do nothing.” But if you do nothing, it will be without Christ. If you love what God loves, and the way he loves, you will be decisive. Since no one can say I love and do little. If you are clear as to what you face to finish well, you will be determined. Your face will be said like a flint and if you are clear as to what is required in life, you will be diligent and if you have ears to hear, you will not be deaf.
Let’s pray. Our Father in the heavens, Son Jesus, Holy Spirit to the end to which we can glorify you by being disciples, to those who have ears to hear today, set them on the journey to the Fires of Mount Doom. In Christ’s name. Amen.