August 30, 2017
By Robert LaRochelle.
Scripture: Matthew 16:21-28 (NRSV)
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
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.’
There are many tensions within Christianity and these are reflected both in our personal lives and in the life of the churches of which we may be a part. One of the most striking is that which I will call the conflict between comfort and cost. Let me try to explain:
One of the appeals of Christian faith is that it gives us COMFORT. For many people, churches are seen as ‘places’ where people find themselves connected to others. Local churches love to talk about ‘fellowship’ or being a ‘community’ or ‘family’. You could argue persuasively that the disciples of Jesus DID find a certain level of comfort in how they saw themselves and their lives in relationship to him, especially given the nature of the tumultuous times in which they lived.
Yet, what is INESCAPABLE for us who bear the name Christian is that, in words of Bonhoeffer’s classic work, there is a COST to our discipleship and that it is very possible that being a Christian, however it may provide peace and solace way down deep, might also cause us to pay a price that is far more demanding than upping the pledge we make at church!
Each period in history, as I see it, requires those of us who follow Jesus to consider the cost of discipleship. This start of a new program year in churches with Confirmation classes, Adult Education, Sunday School and Youth Ministry starting up in earnest can become for those of us connected to Christian churches to raise questions about what it means to pay the price! Dare I say, these times, filled as they are with injustice and venom directed toward those who are perceived as ‘different’, really require it!
May we draw on the inspiration of those who have ‘paid the price.’ May we look to those in the Christian tradition like Cesar Chavez, Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero, as well as for those not so publicly known, but known to us as exemplars of the message of Jesus in action. May we find in our quest to ‘follow’ Jesus both restful comfort and necessary challenge!
Precious God, we turn to Jesus, and in our turning, we give thanks for the joy and comfort you give through His presence in our lives. Even when we resist, open our eyes and our hearts to understand and embrace the cost of discipleship, drawing inspiration from those, publicly admired or privately known, who have sought to put into real life action what it means to take up the cross. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen
Rev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Connecticut Conference. He has served as a pastor in UCC churches in Union and Manchester and most recently served as pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Windsor. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released Christian Faith for Adolescents ( Energion Publications, 2017)
August 30, 2017