Word of the Week

Want to Follow Jesus? Count the Cost

A sermon from: Mark 1:40-45

There are a lot of popular beliefs about what it means to follow Jesus.

Some would say that following Jesus means joining a religion.

Some would say that following Jesus is accepting his baptism or remembering his death through communion.

Some would say that following Jesus is about trying to live out his teachings of love and forgiveness.

All of these answers have value. But this morning I want to dig a little deeper. What does it really mean?

If we say we are following Jesus or we want to follow Jesus him more, then, will there be any cost?

When I was a young girl, I only dreamed of becoming one thing when I grew older: a teacher.

According to my mother, I’d line my dolls up as a preschooler and explain to them the differences in colors.

By 8 or 9, I frequently gathered all the books in our house and organized a classroom library in my room complete with a check out station with a due date stamp.

And, then by 15, I’d assembled bin after bin the attic of teaching supplies. I wanted to be more than equipped when my first job came!

So in 2002, when I graduated with my education degree and a teaching certification to go along with it, an assignment with my name on it came! But as most college graduates soon learn, you don’t exactly get the first job you apply for right away.

My 5th grade class sat in the middle of the city of Birmingham, AL. A place where segregation still felt as thick in the air as it did in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. 95% of my students were on free and reduced lunch and I got no more than chalk for the chalkboard by way of supplies. You needed to be BFFs with the Vice Principal to use the one copier in the building.

So, needless to say, South Hampton Elementary was a rude awakening to this fantasy life I’d constructed in my head. And even though I arrived prepared with my books, flash cards and brought my own paper from home, teaching was much tougher than I thought.

The cost of living into what I thought was my dream job felt like endless stacks of papers to grade, lesson plans to write constantly and loosing my voice from talking to loudly to the children more days than I could count. I got little to no support from the administration. So, when the calling came on strong to begin seminary the next year, I shed no tears in packing up those bins and giving all those supplies to someone else!

Though a wonderful career for some people (and I know that was many of you at one time or another), elementary school teaching I decided had a cost that I could not take on.

Our gospel lesson for this morning provides us an opportunity to see Jesus on a similar journey: a journey where the cost of his path would be counted.

Ok, so remember last week, things were going strong for Jesus. He was healing and casting out demons at a record pace. Then, he takes a break, going to a quiet place to find strength. Then, he charges on forward accepting the fact so many more people needed to experience the love and healing power of God.

And the next significant person we are told Jesus meets is a leper.

It’s good to remember that being a leper in the time of Jesus was the great untouchable skin decease. Lepers weren’t allowed in the city walls. In fact, Old Testament cleanliness laws in fact dictate who can and can’t be around these folks within religious life. Lepers didn’t attend religious services in the temples. They weren’t included in any town events.

So, beyond being physically painful, a leprosy diagnoses came with emotional and spiritual pain.

And this is the kind of person we are told in verse 40 comes to Jesus.

He comes begging Jesus and kneels before him saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

This man is asking not only for physical healing from his skin aliment but also for healing from his perpetual state of isolation.

And it’s an interesting choice of words, “If you choose.”

The man shows his faith by believing that Jesus can give him what he most wants, while also knowing that it might not be want Jesus will actually do.

And scripture tells us that “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him" (HUGE deal by the way!) and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

Jesus then instructs the man to not tell anyone about what happened to him except the priest. For the priest’s blessing would return him to communal life and worship—so his spirit may be healed as well.

Yet, if we stop for a moment, I think what is most interesting about the healing exchange between Jesus and the man with leprosy is the parallel language.

The man says, Jesus “if you choose, heal me.” And Jesus replies back, “I do choose.”

What’s all the choice business really about?

The deeper story is this: as the man is healed from leprosy, his whole posture in the world will soon change. He could move around freely in a crowd. He could invite family members over for dinner on an average Sunday night. He could basically do whatever he wants again, something his disease has not given him the privilege of in most likely many years!

While the man gets exactly what he wants, his healing comes with a cost. His life will be lived in a different world.

And similarly for Jesus, as he heals this man, according to Mark’s fast paced account of Jesus’ life, this will be THE moment when Jesus’ place of being in the world will change too.He won’t be able to move freely in a crowd. He won’t be able to invite family over for dinner on an average Sunday night. He won’t be able to do whatever he wants anymore.

This is especially true because the healed man does not keep his mouth shut as Jesus asks him to do. For verse 45 tells us that “But [the man] went out and began to proclaim [the healing] freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly.”

For as Jesus heals, it costs him this: he donates his freedom to the other man.

And in all of this, it’s a moment for Jesus to set himself one step closer the cross. A cross that would in only a matter of time ask Jesus to give up everything. Absolutely everything so that you and I would know what true love is all about.

For though, we often think of Jesus’ big moment of sacrifice as the occasion that we celebrate on Good Friday—what a testimony this account is!

First of all, we can’t expect that following Jesus will come without cost.

And second, we can’t follow Jesus and not make small, everyday choices that lead our lives toward the cross too, just like him.

But this is NOT what cultural Christianity teaches us. In my experience:

We are taught that following Jesus is about feeling good no matter what if we have a Bible verse to hang on a problem.

We are taught that following Jesus is about the right things coming easily.

We are taught that following Jesus is about having hope that we know where we’ll go when we die.

And while some of these sentiments may be a part of the story, they aren’t the story.

One of the most prominent theologians to come out of the 20th century was a German by the name of Dietrich Bonheoffer.

One of his classic texts, still widely read today is called, The Cost of Discipleship. Within it, he challenges readers with the difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.”

"Cheap grace," Bonheoffer wrote, "is the grace we bestow on ourselves...grace without discipleship.... Costly grace is the gospel, which must be sought again and again.... It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life."

Bonheoffer practiced what he preached about the cost of following Jesus because at several junctures he made choices that did not come without a price.

As the Second World War began, Bonheoffer who had studied theology in the US had a choice. He could take a teaching job stateside at an Ivy League School. Or he could go home.  He chose to return to Europe, to his own country and be and teach the people who needed what he’d learned the most.

When congregating for religious study and practice was banded in Germany, Bonheoffer made the choice to lead an underground seminary where pastors and leaders could still be trained.

When the reports of the capture, torture and death of millions of Jews at the hands of Hitter grew more pronounced, Bonheoffer made the choice to assist with an assassination plot against Hitler.

This choice eventually cost him his life.

I’m not trying to be a downer. Or even say that all or any of us will be asked to die for our faith in Christ.

But what I am saying is this: it’s easy to believe in a cost-less discipleship way. It’s easy to believe in cheap grace. Or grace that cost us nothing.

But the stories of scriptures and stories of faithful ones throughout the ages teach us that these sentiments aren’t true.

The way of Jesus WILL cost us something. Or a lot of something as we journey our life through.

I have a dear friend in whom I talk about things of faith all the time. Several weeks ago, both of us shared our thoughts for the New Year. What were we hoping for in 2015?

And the word I found coming to my tongue was surrender.

I realized that in 2015, what God needed more from Elizabeth Hagan was letting go of control. Not being obsessed so much with what I wanted the outcome of my life to be, but whatever God had in mine.

My friend shared with me more about her word and then I shocked us both when I said: “You know what, this is what I think I’ve come to know about Jesus, the longer I follow him. If it aint hard, it aint Jesus.”

And I really believe such is true. There’s so much my friends that you can I can do perfectly good and well on our own. There are lots of good things that you and I can achieve seemingly without divine intervention.

But if we really want to follow Jesus, then the cost is going to be surrender.

It’s going to be loss.

It’s going to be costly.

Jesus healed the man with leprosy. And the cost was: he never again got away from the spotlight and cameras and people in his face.

And who are we to think we are that it will be any different for us?

My favorite description of such real living comes from a children’s book called the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. . . “

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Does the cost of discipleship hurt? Sometimes. But when you are following Jesus really following Jesus you don’t mind being so hurt. The path of the cross leads you to your truest home and into the arms of a Savior who says no matter what you go through love will follow you and life will be ok.