On our vacation, Jee Hei and I visited Acadia National Park in Maine. It was already our third time going there, but it was beautiful and refreshing as always. Every time we go up there, we see a special welcoming sign entering the border of Maine. It says, “Welcome to Maine, The Way Life Should Be.” Have you ever seen this before? I don’t know what kind of life they’re talking about, but it’s quite an attractive slogan. Isn’t it? The way life should be…the words always make me smile. And it takes me back to the beautiful coastlines and mountains of Maine and brings me the memories of great wild life, outdoor activities, lobsters, and so on.
This year, I also passed that sign again. And of course, I got very excited. As we were about an hour away from Acadia, Jee Hei and I stopped by our friend’s house for lunch. He’s a United Methodist pastor who started serving a church in Maine last year and recently had twins. So it was really great to see him and his family. While catching up, he talked about many things… you know, things good and bad, happy and sad. He also shared some hardships he had gone through there. One of them was the winter season of Maine. He said it was the longest and coldest winter he had ever experienced. He even got a little depression so decided to go to a gym for some physical activities. And it wasn’t easy for him to live in a small rural town with no close friends, no other family members living near him. But he had endured them all for his ministry.
Listening to him, I felt like I got a reality check. Maine can be a wonderful place for people like me who visit there for a vacation, but it’s not always refreshing and beautiful for those who actually live there and make their living. Yes, we all know, life ain’t all sunshine and rainbow, not like a vacation. “Welcome to Maine, The Way Life Should Be,” the slogan proudly told me, “life in Maine is great. You will love it.” And it totally got me for a while and made me only see nice things about Maine. But leaving my friend’s house, the slogan began to sound a little different to me. How should our life be anyway?
Through his ministry, one of the main missions Jesus carried out was to show people the way life should be. Many people got fascinated by Jesus. They witnessed amazing miracles and wonders. They saw Jesus silence religious leaders and cast out demons with divine authority. No wonder, large crowds traveled along with Jesus wherever he went as today’s Gospel reading says (Luke 14:25). The crowds believe that Jesus is the true savior, the king, the Messiah. With him, their days of suffering and pain are over and they are going to walk a rosy and shiny way of glory. Yes, with Jesus, that’s the way life should be. They are quite sure about this, but indeed, they misunderstand Jesus a big time.
So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus looks like giving the crowd a moment of reality check and clarifying the way of life he’s been talking about. So, what kind of solution is offered for this reality check? One thing for sure, Jesus’ solution is not a pep talk, not even close. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” Jesus tells the large crowds. “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (14:26-27). If these two warnings are not frightful or bold enough, then here comes the third one: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (14:33).
Isn’t it strange? Here, Jesus looks like trying so hard to not only disillusion the crowds but also scare them away. We understand, Jesus wants not fans or spectators but disciples. And we know, Jesus wants followers who understand the cost of discipleship—its commitment and its cross. But his words are unnecessarily strong. Needless to say, those hyperboles of Jesus must have frustrated the crowds and scattered them away. No doubt, most of them must have returned home. But then, what happened in reality?
I don’t know whether the solution of Jesus was successful or not, but one thing I can tell you is that although the large crowds disappeared, the disciples still followed Jesus. It seems nothing special. But the disciples still followed Jesus. After the shocking reality check, they must have been also confused and overwhelmed like the crowds. Nevertheless, they kept on following Jesus. We know, Jesus’ disciples were not noble people. They were a group of people including even a rebel, a tax collector, and some Galilean fishermen. Nevertheless, they simply accepted, Jesus is the way. And they followed him as disciples, because they believed, that’s the way their life should be. The disciples failed Jesus many times; they still didn’t fully understand Jesus’s mission; they often argued with one another who’s better. Nevertheless, they followed Jesus. And they took part in Jesus’ ministry and eventually, prepared the way of the Lord—the way of the cross.
Listening to Jesus’s scary warning today, we may get disappointed too. We may feel like it’s truly hard to be a disciple… almost impossible. But let us think about these disciples of Jesus one more time. To be a disciple… perhaps, it all begin with simply not leaving Jesus after the large crowds went away. Perhaps it all begin with simple decision to follow Jesus from where we are now. Who are you today coming all the way from home and joining this worship service to reflect on your life and faith? Who are you today burdened and distressed yet wanting to find God’s peace and grace? Who are you today waking up early on a Sunday morning and bringing your family to this church? Who are you today facing all the challenges in life yet trying hard not to be away from Jesus? Who are you? Are you the disciples? Yes. You. Are.
Although our life is not all sunshine and rainbow, not always like a vacation, although our life is more like a race that requires our commitment, sacrifice, struggle, and fight, can we still follow Jesus? Faithful friends in Christ, let us keep on following Jesus and walking with him the way of cross. Keep on loving. Keep on serving. Keep on believing. Keep on forgiving. Keep on gathering. Keep on encouraging. Keep on struggling. Keep on hoping. Keep on praying. Keep on running the faithful race no matter where we are. Then, by God’s grace, I believe, our life becomes the life in the kingdom of peace and justice, the life in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the life in the power of Jesus Christ our Lord who always leads our life into hopes and wonders, forgiveness and liberation, joy and thanksgiving. Let us follow Jesus. It is the way disciples’ life should be. Amen.