The Cost, Challenges, and Outcome

Minoo W. Kim
8 min readJan 31, 2023

January 29, 2023
St. Stephen’s UMC, Burke, VA
Luke 14:25–33 (NRSV)

During one of my first sermons here at St. Stephen’s, I shared how much I love describing our Christian discipleship as a journey. Being a Christian, or as we call a disciple, means being on a lifelong journey from Point A to Point B, a journey from darkness to light, a journey from old life to new life, a journey from captivities to freedom, a journey from brokenness to wholeness, a journey from sinfulness to holiness, a journey from loneliness to communion, a journey from damnation to salvation, and so on.

Being on a journey, in general, means we are constantly on the move. People on the move are called travelers, pilgrims, and adventurers. And you would know well if you have traveled at least once in life: being on a journey means throwing ourselves into the unknown — anticipating and embracing all the surprises of ups and downs. In some sense, being on a journey means leaving our comfort zone. And leaving our comfort zone is often uncomfortable and exhausting.

When I was in my early 20s, my parents planned a family vacation at Banff National Park in Canada. When they planned it for my sister and I, their itinerary was influenced by three presuppositions. First, we didn’t know when we would have a family trip like this next. Second, we didn’t know whether we would or could visit Banff again in our lifetime. Third, everything there will be expensive and overpriced. So, they planned this trip that started from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., visiting all the popular sights, landmarks, attractions, and trails in the span of five days in the most frugal way possible. And to me, each day felt like a boot camp, and it was harder than any other training camp I ever participated in as a student-athlete. So, guess what I did? I did what every child and adult child would do. “Ugh, I want to go home,” I complained, I grumbled, and I resisted, which of course angered my parents.

In hindsight, how childish was I to complain when the breathtaking sight of nature was all around me. But that’s what we do as humans when we leave our comfort zone and travel into the unknown. We miss our home, we want to go back to our place of familiarity where we feel secure and certain, we want to return to our good old days. Like the Israelites who traveled with Moses from Egypt to the Promised Land, they complained, grumbled, and resisted, “Ugh, I’d rather go back to Egypt” (Exodus 14:12). Even if their comfort zone was a place of captivity, the Israelites wanted to go back to a place of familiarity which gave off the sense of security and certainty. This is what we humans often do.

Similarly, our Christian discipleship is a journey because we are called to follow Jesus Christ from Point A to Point B, from the wilderness to the kingdom of God. The action verb “following” reinforces this idea of us being people on the move. We are travelers, pilgrims, and adventurers. We constantly thrust ourselves into the unknown. Why is that? Because following Jesus means following the will of God who is beyond our understanding. Because following Jesus means entering the kingdom of God which is beyond our wildest imaginations.

In today’s scripture from Luke, Jesus too was on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. And all the crowds and disciples followed him to Jerusalem thinking this was a parade to witness Jesus overthrowing its government to establish his kingdom. But as we all know, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was more of a funeral procession — he was on his way to suffer and die on the cross.

So, there was this great disconnect between what people were expecting from their journey and where Jesus was actually heading — what people anticipated was the journey toward security when Jesus was in fact leading them toward the unknown.

Maybe that’s why Jesus said what he said in today’s scripture to the crowds, which I paraphrase as:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

First, Jesus said in verse 26, “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.” Every scholar agrees that the word “hate” here is hyperbole and should be understood in a comparative sense. To “hate” here is to love less, to value infinitely less, to turn away from, or to detach ourselves from.

This verse is often understood as how we should put Jesus first before our family. But this can also be understood as how we are expected to turn away from our comfort zone, which our family often is, whether healthy or toxic. To be Jesus’ disciples means detaching ourselves from whatever holds us in our comfort zone, whether it is loyalty to our family, our patterns of life, or even our possessions as Jesus notes later in verse 33. To be Jesus’ disciples, in other words, means being able to launch ourselves to the unknown, wherever Jesus leads us to go.

And Jesus continues in the very next verse: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (v. 27). Leaving our comfort zone equals carrying the cross and following Jesus. This “carrying the cross” foreshadows Jesus carrying the cross on his way to crucifixion. This is not just a call to sacrifice, but also a call to embrace a life full of unpredictable surprises. Who would have thought that the cross, an instrument of legal punishment and torture, would become the very symbol of God’s unconditional love? Who would have thought that what comes after death on the cross is resurrection and eternal life?

Leaving our comfort zone is entering a life full of surprises, both exciting and challenging. Leaving our comfort zone is entering into an abundant life God has prepared for us. Leaving our comfort zone is letting go of our absolute certainty and embracing the divine mystery of God’s kingdom. Walking this journey from Point A to Point B is what it means to be Jesus’ disciples.

Finally, Jesus offers two parables to the crowds. One is about a builder, how he should only begin his building project with an understanding of what it takes to build a whole tower. The other is about a king, how he should only wage war against another kingdom after considering what it takes to attain a victory. Whether you are a laborer or a royalty, one does not simply commit to a long-term project without considering the cost, (without considering) the challenges, and (without considering) the final outcome. And this applies to all of us. We should know what we are getting into before committing to this lifelong journey called discipleship.

Starting today, I’m beginning our Confirmation/Baptism class with nine students. And at the end of May, I am going to ask them the same question Jesus asked his crowds: Are you sure you want to do this?

These nine young students — whether they were baptized as infants or not — have walked their journey so far under their parents’ wings and under our congregation’s care. But now, through this 4-month class, we are giving them an opportunity to make the decision for themselves. And they would, I hope, consider the cost, the challenges, and the final outcome of this journey.

The cost is not their Sunday mornings. The cost is not their attendance at our church events. The cost is not their future tithings. This is not a commitment to a country club, or a self-help group, or even a subscription service. This is a commitment to a journey as a lifestyle. The cost is their promise to leave their comfort zone daily in order to follow their God-given calling, passion, mission, and commandment.

And in a world that idolizes certainty and security that comes with family, possessions, and wealth, this journey into divine mystery is not only countercultural but also subversive. This lifestyle not only creates tension with our desires and life choices but also with the status quo and evil forces (see Eph 6:12). This is what we are facing: whatever internal and external forces cling to us to hold us in our comfort zone.

And the final outcome is the kingdom of God. This discipleship is a journey full of surprises, both exciting and challenging, and what we are professing is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is with us every step of the way through the power of the Holy Spirit. Also, we are committing to sharing this good news with one another as church and walking this journey together as a community — inviting, equipping, serving, and loving one another as Jesus preached and exemplified. Not only is the destination of this communal journey the kingdom of God in heaven, but the very caravan of travelers becomes the kingdom of God on earth.

When the first disciples decided to follow Jesus upon invitation, they had no idea they would later start a church without Jesus, and they had no idea their church would consist of people both Jews and Gentiles. But they continued to pivot from their comfort zone and followed where the Spirit led them to go. And like these disciples, I want to say, so did we.

Think about the time when you made this decision for yourself as a student or as a grown-up to be baptized and confirmed. Like the first disciples, we had no idea what our discipleship would really be like. Hasn’t it been a wild adventure full of surprises both exciting and challenging? Hasn’t it shattered all the expectations and imaginations you first carried? Even reflecting on the past three years, our life circumstances and our society have changed dramatically, yet we pivoted, we improvised, and we persisted. The patterns of our prayer, worship, and service all have changed and evolved. And even despite our frequent complaints, grumblings, and resistance — even despite our Ugh, I want to go back — we continued to find ways to follow Christ, ultimately witnessing the grandeur of God’s amazing grace.

Again, discipleship is not a commitment to a set program, but a commitment to a journey. And this thing I call a journey, the Apostle Paul calls it a race. It is written in Hebrews 12:1–2,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

We have been running this race thanks to a great cloud of witnesses who came before us. And I encourage you, ask you, and plead with you to continue to run this race with perseverance, so that we too may serve as a great cloud of witnesses for the next generation, including our nine confirmands who start preparing for their journey today.

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Minoo Kim is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving in the Virginia Annual Conference. He will very much appreciate it if you like and follow his Medium profile. Peace!