Read Jeremiah 18:1-11, Luke 14:25-33 here.
Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:33 MSG)
So…I have a confession to make. I know you’re going to find this really hard to believe, but I’ve never actually seen the musical A Chorus Line.(I know!) I’ve heard all the songs so much that I almost feel like I’ve seen it. One of those songs sounds a lot like the last verse in our scripture reading for today. In verse 33 Jesus says “if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” Kiss it good-bye. That’s almost exactly the first line of the song. (Sing it with me…)
Kiss today goodbye
The sweetness and the sorrow
Wish me luck, the same to you
But I can’t regret
What I did for love, what I did for love
The musical is about the lives and struggles of dancers auditioning for a production, and this song comes after one of the characters has fallen and hurt his knee. The rest of the dancers stop to realize just how very much they have sacrificed to follow their passion, and how much they are at risk because in an instant an injury could permanently end their careers. They’ve already come far enough in their journey that it would be tough to give up and walk away, but they pause to consider what’s required, to count the cost, and decide whether to give up and go home, or to recommit themselves to continuing forward and pursuing their dreams.
Jesus calls us to a similar commitment in our scripture reading today. Luke sets the scene for us by telling us that Jesus is talking not just to the disciples, but also to a crowd of people. We might expect Jesus to say what he says to the disciples. After all, they have already sacrificed to follow Jesus. They’ve left their jobs and their families behind. But some of the people in this crowd are looky loos, just there out of curiosity. Crowds draw people because people want to see what all the excitement is about. And Jesus wants them to know that this is not just fun and games. They’re on their way to Jerusalem where Jesus will be arrested and put on trial, beaten and crucified.
We may read the charge to “carry your cross and follow me” in a figurative sense, but Jesus knew as he was saying this that he would be doing this literally soon, carrying his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. And following him once he’d gone from being the big attraction to being treated like a criminal would not be easy. And this again reminds me of that song from A Chorus Line, because enduring the cross is exactly what Jesus “did for love.” We call this the passion of Christ for that very reason. His passion was not dancing—his passion was us and our need to be reconciled with God.
What he did for love was die for us so that we might know how deeply God loves us, and wants us to help others know this love, too. Knowing that Jesus was willing to sacrifice even to the point of death gives us better perspective from which to understand the difficult things Jesus says in this passage.
Jesus is inviting us along on an incredible adventure, a great expedition, to join him in his mission to tell the world about God’s love, to go and make disciples. It’s a big mission. His words are stark and demanding because the journey will be as well.
Jesus is giving us a bit of the job description for being disciples.
What do disciples do? Make tough choices and take risks.
For example, in verse 26 Jesus tells us, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple.” Continuing to follow Jesus beyond the lookie loo stage requires a commitment, much like the kind of commitment we make in marriage.
When we commit to one another in marriage, we are committing to focus on that one person above all other people. Everyone else in our lives becomes secondary to that one person.
Jesus is asking us for a similar level of commitment. The Bible uses this analogy of marriage in several places:
- Isaiah 51:5 – For your Maker is your husband
- Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Jesus is calling us to make him our top priority…to put him first in our lives.
The call to follow Jesus and put him first is not easy, and so is not to be taken lightly. That’s why Jesus tells us to count the cost, and consider the risk, using the example of building or going to war.
The more we follow Jesus, the more we grow to see things and people the way Jesus sees them, and we see that he calls us to be servants, to each other and to the world around us. That means we have to be willing to be and do whatever God needs us to be and do to serve his purposes. The Holy Spirit helps us as he lives in us and softens our hearts. Just like we read in the verses from Jeremiah today, we are clay in the hands of the potter.
I brought a bit of clay for each of you today. As we pass it out, let’s sing this song…”Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.”
This is plasticine, not real clay, so if you leave it out, it will dry. Real clay dries, too, and it hardens. But it needs to stay soft for the potter to be able to mold it, so a potter keeps water nearby, and frequently dips a hand in the water and brings that moisture back to the clay. God does that for us, too. Dips his hand in the water and brings us love, forgiveness, joy, patience, goodness.
When I opened the packages of clay, these tools fell out. They’re quite pointy, aren’t they? They’re for doing more intricate work, carving in the finer details, carving out the parts that aren’t needed, or the spots that got hard too quickly. Maybe God does something like this for us, too, carving out hate, bitterness, working in special, unique characteristics. Molding us into vessels that can be filled and used.
Here’s an example of what this might look like. I have some friends who get together with their extended family at a timeshare resort every year. Their parents and siblings and children come from all around the country and they spend a week together relaxing and seeing the sights. But one year when they all got together it quickly became clear that their parents were not able to keep up like they had before, and instead of going out and doing all the fun things they usually did at this resort, my friends ended up spending most of their time staying back with their aging parents. They could have been resentful about that, and been upset that instead of having a relaxing vacation they actually ended up doing a lot of work. But around that time our church had been doing a Bible study together in which we were learning about how being servants is what Jesus has called us to do. And somewhere along the way in that week they realized that they were having an opportunity to put into practice exactly what we’d been learning about. Because of that, they were able to have Jesus’ perspective on the situation, and instead of complaining about missing the fun, they came home feeling thankful that they’d had an opportunity to serve and honor their parents. That week turned out to be quite a blessing for my friends, and I’m sure it was a blessing for their parents, as well, especially since they were joyful about serving and probably put their all into it as a result.
Putting our all into it is exactly what Jesus is saying we need to do. Be willing to put Jesus first, to leave everything behind if needed, to die—if not literally, then at least willing to let selfishness die and to say “not what I want, but what you want, Jesus.” Putting our all into it means to be passionate. Be passionate about what Jesus is passionate about—loving people. Showing and telling people about what Jesus has done and is doing because he loves us all.
Jesus calls us to be ALL IN.
That’s the motto that Coach Dabo Swinney uses to challenge the players on the Clemson University football team. Swinney chose this motto because when he first started as coach, the team had a chronic problem. They were holding back. They would frequently play well at the start of the game, but if they lost their momentum, their spirit was broken and they would basically give up. This was especially true the season they had a quarterback who had already been signed to play pro baseball the coming summer. That quarterback was afraid of getting hurt and losing his place on that baseball team, so he played it safe, and that’s just not a good way to win football games. To win, to be effective, in football as well as in life, you have to be willing to give it your all. You have to be all in. Heart, soul, mind and strength. You have to be willing to follow direction, and you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal, getting the ball across the goal line.
Our goal is to follow Jesus, and to help others to follow Jesus. To do this, we must be willing to be flexible and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The love of Christ compels us to learn to live and work together. A church Rob and I visited some years ago had learned this very well. They had adopted the custom of responding to challenges with the words, “Not a problem.” And one of the days we were there we saw this in action in a big way. We were singing with their 250-voice choir for a special event. There were 3000 people there for this conference, and they were running out of meeting space, so several times our rehearsals had to get moved to different rooms at the last minute. We were surprised, though, that nobody got upset about it. They just said, “Not a problem” and moved on to the new room. As we prepared for the event, the choir director had told us how the program was planned out, and where to go, and what we would sing.
But once we were actually in the sanctuary singing, things didn’t go quite like that. We didn’t sing all the songs we’d prepared, and we even sang a few songs we hadn’t prepared. Nobody got upset about it, though. They just kept smiling and singing and praising God. In church and in life things change. We can pretty much count on that, and the people at this church understood that, too. They expected changes and took them in stride. Change was “Not a problem” because although situations and circumstances are always changing, God doesn’t change, and his love and grace don’t change.
Jesus left us some big shoes to fill. Following Jesus is not something we can take lightly or do halfway. We have to be willing to be all in, to let God use every part of our lives, and to take risks in serving him. We have to be willing to be soft moldable clay in God’s hands.
God says, “Can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6)
And like the song from A Chorus Line, we can’t forget what he did for love.
In the musical, only the best dancers will make it through the auditions and into the cast of the show, but all of us can be disciples, and Jesus doesn’t leave us to walk in his shoes alone. He’s still walking with us, leading us, catching as we stumble, and surrounding us with grace.
And he’s put us together in this time and place to help each other along.
If we stay soft-hearted, as moldable clay, we will be vulnerable, and there will be tears, sometimes good ones, and sometimes bad ones,
but that’s the water coming out that God keeps dipping into
as he lovingly works on our hearts, making us more and more like Jesus.
Thanks be to God.
 Daniel Iverson, Worship & Rejoice #492, © 1935, 1963 Birdwing Music (ASCAP)