Living as a Disciple in a Strange Land

(Mark 8:27-38)

Life as a disciple can sometimes seem like a fish out of water. We go through life and as we try to be more faithful to God, the more separated or isolated we can sometimes feel from our friends, neighbors, and the world in general. So as a result all too often we set aside our quest to be more like Jesus, choosing instead to be more like the world, because it's more comfortable. We succumb to the pressures of the world because quit frankly it's often times easier than fighting against them.

It's difficult to live differently from the world, to be, as Paul says, "a citizen of heaven," a disciple of another world. And when we choose a life of discipleship we can sometimes certainly feel like we're living in a strange land, or another world.

Have you ever gone to another country where you didn't speak or read the language, where customs are different, and people even drive on the other side of the road. How did you feel: out of place, strange, stressed out, overwhelmed? I remember in my days in the Navy we would visit countries where I felt totally lost, and out of place. One such place was a trip we took to Egypt.

The minute we set foot in that country I knew I was in a strange place. I didn't speak or read the language, I had no idea where anything was, or how I would get there. The money was different, the hours people kept were different, the food was different, the economy was different, nothing was familiar or comfortable. It was as if I entered the "twilight zone."

Well as a disciple we can feel the same way living and growing up in our own country, in this community, and even in a family of folks who don't hold the same beliefs, or value faith the way we do. We're different because we've made the decision to, as Jesus says in our Gospel reading this morning, "to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow him." We've decided to be set apart, not above or below, but set apart for Christ in a world that doesn't seem to value faith as it once did.

Today many folks who claim to be Christian only want the good things that come from being Christian, like salvation, while seeking and lusting after the things of this world. We want it all, we want it now, and by the way we don't want to work too hard to get it. My goodness some Christians today don't want to deny themselves anything, but they do want God's grace. They want Jesus to be their "Dr. Feelgood," but that's not the complete or true Jesus, at least not the Jesus in the Bible.

Several months ago an older woman called me and wanted to be baptized. I asked her why, and she told me so she could get to heaven. I asked her about her commitment to Christ and many other things you would think I would ask.

Her response was that she wasn't interested in any of that, she just wanted to make sure she got to heaven. Well sorry; baptism doesn't get you a "go to heaven coupon," only faith and a full commitment to Christ can accomplish that. In theological terms we call a request like this "cheap grace."

Cheap grace was a phrase coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian. It means the desire to receive and accept God's gifts without the corresponding response of repentance and obedience to him.

Bonhoeffer goes on to call cheap grace "the deadly enemy of the church," because cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, grace that we feel entitled to receive just because we call ourselves Christians. And the truth is this attitude of cheap grace has ruined the lives of more Christians than any violation of the commandments ever has.

You know being a "good" upstanding person that doesn't break the commandments really isn't all that hard to do, yet being a faithfully committed disciple is. Discipleship isn't about being a morally upright citizen, it's about faith in Christ Jesus.

The problem we have is recognizing that in order to faithfully follow Christ we need to accept that we're not of this world we just live in it, and we can't get all caught up in the glitz and glamour this world promises while pushing Christ aside.

As disciples what we must find is a balance between wisdom and vulnerability, truth and fiction, by picking up our cross to follow Jesus.

Now what in the world does all this mean?

Well denying ourselves and taking up our cross is not about demeaning ourselves or thinking poorly of ourselves, or being a slave to poverty, or serving as a door mat that others can walk over, or giving into oppression and injustice.

Mark, in recording these words of Jesus, is using this reference because his original audience was Roman, and to the Romans taking up ones cross was very familiar to them. It held a profound meaning for them.

Death on the cross was a form of execution used by Rome for dangerous criminals. A prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution; much like Jesus did, signifying submission to Rome's authority.

Jesus used the image of carrying a cross to illustrate the ultimate submission required of those who wanted to be his followers. Now Jesus isn't against pleasure and fun, nor was he saying we need to seek pain needlessly. Jesus was talking about the effort needed to follow him moment by moment day-to-day, to intentionally set aside self for the sake of him and others, even if the work may be difficult and the future looks uncertain.

Now denying ourselves, and taking up our crosses, and following Jesus seems to be a tall order in a world where self-realization and self-fulfillment, rather than self denial is all the rage. And in a world where people applaud strength and success, self-denial can be seen as weak, passive, and like someone is just giving up, so people just don't want to submit themselves to the ridicule and scorn following Christ might bring. But you know I've found that often times God's truth begins to present itself more clearly at the point of our disappointment or pain.

I know in my own life I seem to be better tuned into God when I'm going through a difficult time, more so than when things seem to be going well, and perhaps you've realized this as well. Now this isn't right, I should always be completely tuned into God, but through life's disappointments the light of Christ seems to shine all the brighter.

So actually God's blessing is that when we truly deny, or set at a lower priority, the things of this world, and perhaps as a result are looked down upon by others; God's truth becomes more visible and understandable to us.

As you know sin is the serving of self over and above God, over and above our neighbors, and over and above the environment we live in.

Well its faith's role to move through this sin and open the door toward God through prayer and worship, in service to our neighbor in love, and through the good stewardship of our environment. God uses these different channels to show us what it means to live an abundant life in Christ. This is an example of God's grace.

Now let me share with you a fantastic truth, a truth I hope you won't keep to yourself but rather will share with others.

Jesus in Mark 8:35-36 declares: "At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it."

Jesus commanded his disciples not to tell anyone about the miracle he preformed. He did this fully knowing the disciples would. Today we are called not to keep secrets about Jesus, but to share the wonders of Christ with all people.

You see the call to discipleship is actually a call to a life of helping people. Love, joy, and celebration are life's important ingredients, not mortality and having all the toys and stuff one can imagine. Stuff may provide a pleasurable life for a short period, but over time having stuff still leaves us with an empty hollow feeling. Now why is this?

It's because Jesus is the one calling and inviting. The Bible teaches "Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). He lived and died for the vision that God is a liberating God who shares his life with all persons who are weary and tired, he shares with those who are lost and are seeking purpose, he offers life to those who are not given a chance to shape their own destiny, and he shares with the masses who say, Jesus I'm yours.

God has taken Jesus' death and transfigured it into a new invitation of life by raising him from the dead. This invitation of new birth is for all people, an invitation that's recognized and celebrated at baptism.

Baptism is both God's gift of grace and our human response to that gift, which looks toward growth into the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). Jesus IS God's unconditional and liberating answer to a full life for us, not the stuff we can buy on the internet or at the local stores. Jesus is the only one that can fill the empty hollow feeling we experience. Many have learned the hard way, that stuff, drugs, sex, and the false religions we are tempted by do not, and never will, replace the need for Christ.

But as great as living a life in Christ and as his disciple is, there is a watch out. As I mentioned earlier striving to be a disciple is hard work and can lead to frustration and burnout if we're not careful, and if we get caught up in watching what others say and do.

I know several people who have worked hard in taking their faith in Christ seriously, eventually saying "the heck with it" because it was too stressful. Or some become disillusioned or cynical with a church that was more interested in providing comfort, convenience, and compromise, rather than truth, discipleship, and accountability.

And still some became disheartened when they experienced other Christians avoiding their commitment to Christ and his church, or were hypocritical in practicing their faith essentially leaving their faith at the front door to the church before leaving worship on Sunday morning. But with this said we must not give up, because the rewards greatly out weigh the potential frustration and pain. There is nothing more important than discovering and knowing the meaning of life. And it's faith that unlocks the door to the meaning of life.

Faith in Christ is intimately interrelated with 'freedom," "love," "joy," and what is called in the New Testament, paressia, meaning openness, courage, boldness, confidence, and fearlessness. The call to follow Jesus, to be a disciple, is a call to freedom and a call to demonstrate paressia.

To make it as disciples in a strange land: " we must grasp and claim the truth of God, " we must accept the fact that Jesus is the Son of God who came to this world to show us how to live, " and we must acknowledge the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The challenge of discipleship cannot be sustained by command, obligation, or one's own will. It's only by God's grace and his grace alone, that we can persevere in this world. And it's through the Holy Spirit that we have the power to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Jesus.

What determines where and how we live isn't our physical location, it's where our heart is. So what have we got to lose by taking up our cross and following Jesus, except the chains that keep us bound to an unfulfilled life.

So give it up for Jesus, proclaim "get behind me Satan," repent and be obedient to his will, and experience all that God's grace offers to you as one of his Son's disciples.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade