“Following takes Courage”

Luke 9:18-27, February 27th, 2022

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear now these words recorded in the gospel according to Luke, chapter nine, verses eighteen thru twenty-seven.”

Luke 9:18-27

18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” 21 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22 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.” 23 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. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

“Having heard these ancient words attributed to the teachings of Jesus, let us consider the courage it shall require to earnestly follow in Jesus’ footsteps.”

“Following takes Courage”

Over the years, I have had discussions with many non-believers, as well as believers regarding the divinity of Jesus. I have heard many references to who they say Jesus is – notably from the non-believers.  ‘A Prophet for sure,” said one.  Another, “Jesus’ teachings are worthy, and all ought to take heed of them.”  I hear the same words from believers, only they go a bit further to speak of the fullness of Jesus being the Son of God, the Christ child. As we consider who Jesus is we must consider all of what Jesus has said. Then ‘Jesus’ said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” /Luke 9:23/ This statement is a difficult one to contend with considering what Jesus has said in today’s scripture lesson. Jesus is calling upon his disciples that they too, must follow – in his footsteps. The scriptures tell us clearly that the early disciples of Christ did give their all as they followed him.  That takes courage, with or without the help of the Living Spirit of God to back them up!

Stephen Sapp, while at The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, in 2003, speaks to us of taking up the cross of Jesus.  “The discipleship of the cross recognizes that the cross Jesus Christ bids his followers to take up includes the ordinary, everyday sufferings of human life ‘including those associated with aging’ that are borne as Jesus bore his sufferings.Well, it is easier to begin or continue to follow when we know we must just deal with the ordinary! Our newest member today, can be reassured to know that we only expect the ordinary from her. I am wondering how the writer of Luke’s gospel would feel if we said we were interpreting his words as meaning we are only to suffer the ordinary stuff. However, we are the ones missing the point here. Back in the time of Jesus the Roman dictatorship routinely executed people for speaking out and their most brutal and common ‘ordinary’ way of suffering was on a cross! They conquered nations and spilt the blood of countless civilians, innocent victims subject to the wrath of brutal war lords and conquers. Praise God, Centuries have past, and this is no longer the case, as we have become more civilized!

Have we, as a people, become more civilized? Surely, after all that history has taught us, we will not repeat the mistakes of the past! It is hard to grasp the enormity of commitment which Jesus expected of his followers that day when he first said those words.  It is possible that the words Jesus was speaking may have been in Aramaic and the translation may have slightly altered the tone of his conversation. However, Jesus did want his disciples to begin considering the ‘enormity’ of the commitment to the ministry which he called them. Jesus’ followers, those who were willing to follow him were surely going to feel much of the same pain and persecution which he was to suffer. Here in the Twentieth-First Century people are still giving their lives for the sake of freedom, from tyranny and oppression. Yes, we are more educated and modernized with all our technologies, yet ancient norms of human nature still run rampant throughout the world. Sadly, we are seeing this again in current time. Let us pray for the innocent.

As we grapple with our current world realities, let us look to this word ‘ordinary’ which Stephen Sapp, while at Baylor University, back in 2003 spoke of. “Ordinary everyday sufferings of human life.” This is what Stephen Sapp has said. “The normal, commonplace, everyday process of life – can and does bring suffering.” Not what we wanted to hear – is it? No one who has experienced the harshness of disease, human loss or the pain of emotional turmoil of every imaginable type want it to be called ‘ordinary!  Bad enough to go through the pain of life, but please let us not make a ‘common routine’ of it! Stephen even goes on to finish the sentence with ‘including those associated with aging’! Really!? Is not anything sacred anymore!  Even back in 2003 ordinary suffering was-connected to aging. Nonetheless we all live here in Florida, where ‘growing old gracefully’ is-advertised as the ‘joyful pinnacle’ of retirement – because we can have fun in the sun!

It will help our process of grasping what Jesus was saying to his disciples, and what implications his words have upon us today, if we reflect-back to conditions at that time in history. Jesus and all his family, friends, and those he was trying to teach and speak to, including those who would ultimately-cause his execution, were an oppressed conquered people. They were living under the rule of law imposed by the oppressive rulers of the Roman empire. They were a people who knew what suffering was. They understood the lack of recognition at the levels of those who ruled them. They had grown accustomed to the corruption of their own leadership, which was composed of the Chief Priests, the Elders, the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. Suffering had become normal and ordinary. When we read the accounts of Jesus’ mock trail and the whipping he endured before his cruel walk to the place of his execution upon a wooden cross… and we are – appalled. The people, the crowds who followed Jesus had hope, believing they were about to be-freed and saved from all that afflicted them. Jesus’ execution destroyed all semblance of Hope! Jesus was saying to them, “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.” /Luke 9:22/ They did not grasp his meaning.    

Do we now grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words to the gathered that day? Do we understand the scope of Jesus’ words to us today? Do we comprehend why a scholar back in the year 2003 would speak to us of ordinary, everyday suffering? Do we sense the leap of faith one must take to fully commit to being a follower of the man Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah himself? It is no accident that we are bringing in new members today. Today, as we prepare our hearts and our minds to face the journey of Lent. As we prepare to begin our walk toward the Easter event. An event to which too many equate with candy and new holiday bonnets and such. Not that these things do not have their place, they do.  Yet, there is so, so much more to grapple with, especially during the journey of Lent.  A time when we remember the forty long days and nights in which Jesus was compelled by the Spirit of God Himself, to endure. Thereby affirming his firsthand understanding of the human condition. Jesus’ ‘call’ to ministry, which included his birth, his life, and his death, which God fully grasped and declared to humankind, through the fullness of our Creator’s passion for humanity and Jesus’ willingness to fulfill ‘all’ that his Father in heaven asked of him. The ritual of joining a Christian church, begins with our baptism and our education in the teachings of Christ.  It also presumes, those joining, will joyfully embrace the mission of ministry within the context of the church they have joined. Jesus’ team of disciples was a small group who knew nothing of building or even sustaining a church, yet they took the risk and dropped everything to follow him. We are a small church, yet even now we have more steadfast disciples here at hand, this very day, then Jesus had. But it still takes courage to stand up and say, “I want to be a part of this ministry.” Following in the teachings of one such as the man Jesus of Nazareth, born of the virgin Mary, takes courage. When one does so, and joins with those, especially with those of us here who are already members of this community, it takes courage. Together, we shall do the ordinary, everyday things of being a church. Believing our commitment to serve God, through this venue, will be effective for the greater good which God calls us to. It is a great deal to ask, and it is a courageous act to accept this challenge. And, like Christ, we shall suffer at various levels as we embrace the pain, the hurt, and the struggles of those we work with and those we seek to serve.   

‘Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”’ /Luke 9:18/ The scripture tells us what they said, “John the Baptist, Alijah or any one of the other prophets.” /Luke 9:19/ Then Jesus asked them personally, He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” /Luke9:20/ If Jesus were standing before us now, “who would you say he is?”

My first personal encounter with the Living God, that first conversation I had with Jesus, came through the television screen I was staring at. Yet, as the Spirit of God went through my body that day, I knew I was in the presence of The Holy. Others have said to me, that as they studied the scriptures and worked to serve the people of God, through their joint journeys of faith, they came to know that God was with them.

The older we get the closer to God we shall seek to be. As we walk through the ordinary aging process… will we still seek to know and be closer to the ‘One’ who shall one day call us home? Following – takes courage! Always has – and it always shall.

During these past eight plus years, as I have served as the Pastor of this church, I have witnessed ‘more than one’ of our members display the courage, and the willingness to follow God, trusting God in all areas of their lives, all the way till their journeys here with us – had ended. Let us ask for the courage to follow them, as we face a new, ‘ordinary day’ in our journeys of faith.

Amen.      

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