The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 4, 2016
At noon the first day of the new school year, first grade teacher Linda noticed that little Ryan, accustomed as he was from kindergarten to go home at twelve, was putting his things away in his backpack as if the day was about to end – when in fact he was about to head with the rest of the students to the cafeteria and then return to the classroom for some more learning.
When Linda told Ryan that, now that he was in first grade, he’d have a longer school day, eat lunch with all the other boys and girls, and then work some more until mid-afternoon, he stared at her with startled disbelieving eyes, hoping she was kidding. When she finally convinced him she was serious, Ryan put his hands on his hips and protested, “Who signed me up for this?”
As believers, it’s easy to feel like Ryan when we face the new and daunting challenges that come from following Jesus. We can scarcely believe that Jesus wants us to love Him with such devotion that it will make every other love look like hatred in comparison, that He asks us to turn over to His ownership all our wealth and material blessings, that He expects us to carry our cross and deny ourselves anything that might get in the way of our staying close to Him, that He looks to us to give away at least ten percent of our income, to sacrifice some of our free time to help others, and to never stop working on improving ourselves.
It’s enough to make us ask in surprise, “Who signed me up for this? Why didn’t someone warn me about the fine print before I signed on with Jesus?”
Actually, with Jesus there is no fine print. From the very start He made it clear how a friendship with Him was a high-cost venture as well as a high-reward one.
Jesus understands how, in every decision to which we give some thought, we make our choice on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. You chose to come to church today because you thought the benefits you’d receive – such as inspiration, support from others and/or the opportunity to support others – would exceed the costs – such as the loss of time, and/or the bother of getting up early, getting dressed and getting here.
In the same way, you chose your friends because you figured that – despite what you have to put up with from them: in their exasperating habits, their old and often-repeated jokes, and/or their sometimes urgent demands for your help – it is a net gain knowing them thanks to the blessings they bring – in their sense of humor, their generosity of spirit, and/or their insights and wisdom.
Jesus wants no one considering a friendship with Him to operate under the illusion there won’t be prices to pay. That’s why He was upfront about how a friendship with Him would always involve giving up the old life you are used to, persevering in a never-ending effort of self-development, and never letting yourself off the hook from caring about the needy. That’s why He urged would-be disciples to avoid being like builders who start construction before they have adequate material to finish the job or like kings who begin to wage war before they’ve recruited enough soldiers to win.
Jesus never flimflammed. He made the costs of following Him patently obvious. But He also made clear how sharing life with Him is worth every penny of the price. Consider just two of the payoffs!
The biggest payoff is getting to know Him. For Jesus is the most exhilarating and inspiring person you could ever meet, the most generous and life-enhancing supporter you could ever want, the deepest and best friend you could ever desire. Knowing Him more than compensates for any loss, sacrifice or pain following Him might involve.
When John Oros was a church planter and leader in Rumania during the time of Communist oppression, he would impress upon those who told him they’d decided to follow Jesus how terrible a price they’d have to pay. John would let them know that, if they did no more than share a little word of witness, there’d be informers who’d jot down their name and report them to the authorities; and that, the very next day, their troubles would begin. They might be demoted at work, or lose their job altogether. They might lose friends or family members. They might even lose their lives eventually. Yet, over and over again people, who were told that and believed it, would smile with confidence and anticipation, and exclaim, “If I lost everything, my having a personal relationship with Jesus would still be worth it.”
Having Jesus to love and to love us is worth any price. Having Him have our back, when life hits us hard, is worth it. Having Him be there for even at our worst moments when we’ve driven everyone else away, is worth it. Having Him fire us up with His own strength, when we’ve come to the end of ourselves, is worth it.
Jesus is worth any price. So too is the meaning and joy of joining Him in what He’s up to.
A Christian man named Rufus Kidd worked part-time on the loading dock of a trucking company. He’d just completed his associate’s degree in transportation, and was seeking a full-time career in the field. Since the company had an affirmative action program to promote minorities, Rufus, an African-American, interviewed for a position that would double his pay and open up many opportunities for advancement.
The company offered him the position; but Rufus decided not to take it. Why? Because the times he’d have to be on the job would prevent him from continuing his volunteer ministry with singles at his church. Rufus so loved being a partner with Jesus in uplifting young lives that for its sake he chose to turn down a brand-new career and endure still longer the back-breaking labor of those sweltering warehouses. Being a part of what Jesus was up to was worth that cost.
I could do a year’s worth of sermons on the benefits of walking with Jesus: the hope, the forgiveness, the peace, the fulfillment, the empowerment, the loving companionship, the empowerment, etc., etc. It is all so rewarding that it makes up for any sacrifice.
Those who lose their life for my sake, Jesus said, will gain life like no other. That’s not in fine print. That’s in print as bold as blood. Let us pray.