Matthew 16:24-28

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:24-28

What does discipleship look like?

We had a church council meeting this week. A gathering of people who consent to serve in rather thankless leadership roles in the life of our congregation. Every Christian congregation and Jewish synagogue have some form of these councils. We can’t do community life without them. They make decisions that guide the life of the congregation. They lead or serve on teams that do the real actual work it takes to make congregational ministry happen. They spend many hours every week and month doing this. For years.

One of our council members had spent the day in a grueling annual board meeting at work. When it ended, the others planned to go to a happy hour to relax. She said she couldn’t because she had to go to a church council meeting. She said, “They looked at me like I was crazy.”

For some people, their experience of the faith amounts to what one of our church folk here refer to as “sit and git” Christianity. The faith is a spectator sport for them. They expect worship to entertain and serve them. They think that giving money to charity is the best they can do to make a difference in the world. Their weekly engagement with the world at home and work happens with hardly a thought along the lines of “What did Jesus do?” They make time for worship, learning, or service only after their calendar clears up from all their other travel plans, hobbies, sports, or just sleeping in. Then they wonder why they just don’t “feel very connected” to the life of the congregation.

This seems to fall short of a standard that begins with these words: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

I once worked at a Bible camp where the staff was expected to work hard. “Don’t just sit there, do something!” was pretty much internalized by all of us. And it was not too subtly enforced by the director of the camp. It wasn’t so much what he said, it was more of a non-verbal kind of communication, but we all were terrified of being caught by him in a non-productive moment. I didn’t like it at all. I specifically remember thinking that, if I ever get to be the boss of anything, I’m not going to be that kind of boss. My co-workers won’t be afraid of me. Their stomachs won’t tighten when they hear me coming down the hall.

I think about that when I read again Jesus’ words about the cost of discipleship. Clearly, his expectations are different than the “what’s in it for me?” attitude that drives much of what we do in our lives. We could read those words as if he was a scary boss who only values his employees for what they produce but I don’t think we need to. Even given the warning at the end of the final accounting to come.

I think it far better to hear him as one who knows us, and understands life, far better than we do. He knows what we need, even what we want, and he knows how misguided we are in finding those things. He does care about “what is in it for us” but he knows that the good we seek is best found when such good flows through us rather than ending in us. He knows things like real freedom lies not in the absence of responsibilities but in accepting and fulfilling those responsibilities with willing and grateful hearts.

The world might think such thoughts are crazy. Jesus doesn’t.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, bring us to that place of maturity where we finally realize that our lives do not belong to us, that we are instruments useful to you, and that the daily responsibilities of our lives are where crosses come and we bear them or not. Thank you for the hours of diligent service, the hidden acts of love and care, the tireless efforts made for the sake of justice for all, that happen every day through those who heed your call to self-giving love and service to the neighbor. May you find us doing the next right thing, regardless of the consequences, not because we have to but because we want to. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


One Response to “Matthew 16:24-28”

  1. Linda Says:

    Maybe we shouldn’t rush to judgement on the perceived merits of individual’s walk with God. How are we to know that the act of “giving money to charity” isn’t a sacrifice for these folks? It is for our family! How do we know that the “sit and git” congregants aren’t shepherding their friends, family, co-workers with the goodness they receive by attending church as a “sit and git”. As one who has served as a volunteer on several church committees through the years, I’m a bit discouraged by today’s devotion.

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