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Admirer or Disciple?

Luke 9:23-25

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Do you know the name Irvin S. Cobb? You would, if you were keeping up with celebrities in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. He was called by those in the writing world “the Duke of Paducah,” and his stories were some of the first to be adapted into screenplays for movies. Several of Cobb's stories were adapted as silent movies.

Later he wrote the screen titles for other movies, including the Jackie Coogan movie, Peck's Bad Boy (1921). With the advent of sound, more of his stories were adapted for the screen, including The Woman Accused (1933), featuring young Cary Grant.

The famous director John Ford twice made movies based on Cobb's Judge Priest stories: Judge Priest (1934) featured Will Rogers in the title role. The Sun Shines Bright (1953) was based on his short stories "The Sun Shines Bright," "The Mob from Massac," and "The Lord Provides."

Irvin S. Cobb also had an acting career, acting in ten movies between 1932 and 1938. He won major roles in such movies as Pepper, Everybody's Old Man (1936), and Hawaii Calls (1938). He was also host of the 7th Academy Awards in 1935.

At one point The New York Post made him the most highly paid journalist in America. He was hugely successful and quite influential in his day.

When he was about to die, he wrote a lengthy letter containing some of his final thoughts. The letter is best known for its sharp criticism of the funeral practices of the Christian church at that time. I came across it as I prepared for my grandmother’s service. It is a fascinating treatise on one man’s view of the practices of the church and especially interesting thoughts on heaven and hell. I will include it as a P.S. for your reading enjoyment.

The part of the letter that interested me was the part where this influential man shared

his opinion of Jesus. Cobb shared that he thought Jesus Christ was “the greatest gentleman that ever lived.” He went on to say of Jesus’s followers (that would be you and me), “I might not have joined the folks, but certainly I’d have stood on the sidelines and cheered ....”

Well, Cobb was at least honest and shared this honesty the way a good journalist was expected to do. You see it is clear Cobb would vote for Jesus in a public opinion poll; indeed, it would be an admiring vote. But he would have “stood on the sidelines.” 1

However, that isn’t good enough for a disciple. All of the Synoptic Gospels remind us that we must take up our cross and follow Jesus if we are to be His disciple. Just cheering from the bleachers isn’t good enough.

In the coming days we are going to have lots of decisions to make about how we can be faithful in this time and place. While I do not have all the answers to the questions we will discuss, I do know this – Jesus has plenty of admirers; what He needs is committed disciples.


Above all I want no long faces and no show of grief at the burying ground. Kindly observe the final wishes of the undersigned and avoid reading the so-called Christian burial service which, in view of the language employed in it, I regard as one of the most cruel and paganish things inherited by our forebears from our remote pagan ancestors. In deference to the faith of our dear mother who was through her lifetime a loyal though never bigoted communicant of that congregation, perhaps the current pastor of the First Presbyterian Church would consent to read the Twenty-third Psalm, which was her favorite passage in the Scriptures and is mine since it contains no charnel words, no morbid mouthings about corruption and decay and, being mercifully without creed or dogma, carries no threat of eternal hell-fire for those parties we do not like, no direct promise of a heaven which, if one may judge by the people who are surest of going there, must be a powerfully dull place, populated to a considerable and uncomfortable degree by prigs, time-servers and unpleasantly aggressive individuals. Hell may have a worse climate but undoubtedly the company is sprightlier. The Catholics, with their genius for stage-management, handle this detail better. The officiating clergyman speaks in Latin and the parishioners, being unacquainted with that language are impressed by the majesty of the rolling, sonorous periods without being shocked by tressing allusions and harrowing references. 1

  1. (“Irwin S. Cobb Dies, Was 67,” Milwaukee Sentinel, March 11, 1944, 4.)

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