Luke 14:15-35

Life Long Learning to Live

I’ve been asked to talk this morning about becoming a disciple of Jesus. This is a very big subject, and I’m not going to be able to cover everything that could be said, but I hope that I’ll be able to make a start and to give us some things to think about over the coming week.

The first thing that I think that we need to understand is what the word disciple means. In English this word isn’t very common in normal conversation, it isn’t used very much. When it is used in the Bible it means someone who is learning from someone else. The trouble is, when we talk about learning we often think of class rooms and books and learning facts, or how to do things. We think about training courses and degrees and exams. We think of school, and think that the time for learning is behind us now. But that isn’t really the kind of learning that a disciple does. Being a disciple is more about learning how to live. It is about learning patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. Those things are learnt by a disciple living in the company of their master, by watching what the master does, by being obedient to the master, by listening carefully, by talking with the master and with other disciples.

A disciple is a learner.

So, now that we’ve understood that, let’s look at the Bible passage that we heard read and think about what Jesus says about becoming his disciple.

The reading that we heard from Luke’s account of the good news of Jesus is in two sections. The two sections of the readings happen at different times, and in different places.

The first section contains a story that Jesus told at a dinner party that was given by a religious leader. Jesus had already upset the local important people and religious experts by healing a man on the Sabbath. Then he upset them by challenging the way in which guests were jostling for the best positions at the dinner table. Now he tells a story against them.

In this story a man has organised a party for his friends and neighbours, but they all give excuses for why they can’t come. So the man extends the invitation to the least likely, the poor and the humble, the street people and the travellers, the out cast and the homeless.

Jesus was saying to those people, and to us, that the banquet of the Kingdom of God is ready. To those who are ready to stop what they’re doing, to come and follow, to learn from the Teacher, the feast is ready. The trouble is that many people are too busy with their stuff and their comfortable lives to make time to come and enjoy the party. The excuses are weak as well, they are not good reasons for not turning up at a party you’ve already been told is going to happen. They are the excuses of people who are too caught up in their own lives, in their possessions and families to be bothered with even being polite to a friend who had invited them to a feast.

The invitation is for everybody. All are welcome. It’s not exclusive, there’s no qualification for entry, you don’t need a ticket. All you need to do is to be willing to turn up, to come. The invitation to become a disciple is given to everybody and it’s easy to answer, you just say you want to come and then turn up, the doors are open wide.

In fact more than that, the one giving the banquet desires people to come. He sends his servant out and about to convince people to come. He doesn’t just stick a few posters up, or do some mail shots, he sends his servant to personally invite people and convince them that they are wanted at the party, even though they will know that they are far from being regular banquet guests.

That’s the first section. Becoming a disciple is easy. You just have to say that you want to learn from Jesus, that you want to be a disciple, and you are one.

The second section of the reading is set at another time and place. Here Jesus is talking to a large crowd who have been following him. They have heard his wide invitation and answered, eager to learn. They want to know more about what’s involved. And what Jesus says comes as a bit of a shock.

In summary Jesus says that, to be a disciple:

1) You have to hate your family.
2) You have to willing to die a traitor’s death, tortured and executed.
3) You have to give up all your possessions.

As disciples we will learn to live by God’s generousity and provision for our needs. We will learn that God created everything and everything that we have came from God and is God’s. We have no claim on anything to call it ours. All is God’s. If we cling to our possessions learning to let go of them will be really painful.

We will learn that the path of new life and resurrection goes by the way of the cross. Jesus went that way first, and has taken for us the worst of the pain, but the reality of life forever is that first we have to die. We have to die to our own preferences, to our selfish desires, to our way of living.

We will learn that our first and highest loyalty is to God. Not to anything else. Not to our family or our job or our country, but to God. Our love of God will be so deep that all other loves will seem like hatred. If we have to choose between God and any thing else we will learn to choose God.

That’s the second section. Becoming a disciple is difficult. If you really want to learn from Jesus, to be a disciple, then it will mean living as he does. That is a very different way of life, one that may well be very costly.

So, how are we to understand this. In one section it seems like becoming a disciple is easy, we just need to say yes to the invitation. In the other section it seems like becoming a disciple involves learning some really difficult things, it sounds impossible. Which is true?

Of course, both are true.
It is as if I was thinking of learning Cantonese.

That would be easy, wouldn’t it? I could get study materials, I could arrange to meet with Chinese friends for conversation practice. It would be very easy for me to learn Cantonese.

But, it would also be difficult for me. I would have to decide to spend time on it. I would have to make an effort to learn a new way of speaking. Not just new words, but a whole new way of making sounds with my mouth. If I wanted to become fluent I would have to spend hours listening to people speaking Cantonese, speaking with them and being embarrassed about my mistakes. If I wanted to be really good, I would probably have to go and live in China. It would be very difficult for me to learn Cantonese.

It is always easy to begin to learn something, but if we are serious about wanting to learn well then we have to understand what is involved in learning that thing and decide whether we are willing to devote that time and energy to learning that thing.

Jesus makes it clear that the invitation to become a disciple, to begin to learn to live his way, is open to everyone, and he wants everyone to learn to live his way. It is so easy to become a disciple of Jesus. But he doesn’t want to mislead us. He wants us to know what will be involved in learning to live his way. It will be difficult, but it will be worth it, because living like Jesus is to live life in all its fullness, for ever.

When people have weighed up the cost and have decided that they want to follow Jesus, that they want to be his disciple, they are baptised. In the church that I am part of the baptism includes a set of questions that are asked of the person who is being baptised. They are designed to summarise the most important parts of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

The minister says,

“ To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him. Therefore I ask:

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
I come to Christ.”

There are two reasons that I wanted to share this with you.

The first is that if you would like to accept Jesus’ invitation to learn how to live from him, then this tells you what you need to do to begin. You need to turn away from the dark things of the world, and turn towards the light of Jesus. It would probably be helpful if you told someone else here this morning so that they can help you make the first steps of begin to learn how to live Jesus’ way.

The second reason is that it includes a question about something that I think is the most difficult thing about being a disciple. “Do you submit to Christ as Lord?”

You see, I am quite happy to sing songs about Jesus being Lord. I am very pleased that he is Lord of heaven. I will pray that his lordship will be real in Syria and Afghanistan and other places which need peace. I am, to be honest, much less happy about him being Lord of my life. This is because that would mean that I have to be obedient to him and do things that I may not want to do, or not do things that I do want to do. But, that is what discipleship is. It is learning to live in a new way, and that means stopping living in the old way.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church wrote a prayer of discipleship that I would like to finish with.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whoever you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by you or laid aside
for you,
Exalted for you or brought low by you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully yield all things to your
pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am yours. So be it.

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