July 1, 2001
Proper 8
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

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A Sermon on the Epistle Reading


"Understanding Discipleship"
Luke 9:51-62

There is an old Peanuts comic strip where Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she would make a good evangelist. "And why do you think that?" Charlie Brown asks. "Well," says Lucy, "I convinced the boy who sits behind me in school that my religion is better than his religion."  Charlie Brown wants to know, "How did you do that?" To which Lucy replies, "I hit him over the head with my lunch box!"

Her approach is not unlike the approach of James and John in our gospel lesson today. It is a good things these two followers of Jesus did not have access to flame throwers or napalm.

Jesus was preparing to make his last journey to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. He sent messengers ahead of his into a Samaritan village to make preparations for a short stay on his journey. The people of the village wanted nothing to do with Jesus, however. One reason was simply that Jews were not hospitable to Samaritans and this was simply response in kind. A more compelling reason for the Samaritans was that they wanted nothing to do with Jesus because he was going to the Jewish holy city which they did not recognize as a legitimate center of worship.

James and John react angrily. "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" they exclaim. They were from the "hit you over the head with a lunch box" school of evangelism. If they smoked a Samaritan village because they would not receive Christ -- well you can be sure that their appearance anywhere in Samaria would have resulted in lots of people "receiving" Christ -- don't you think?

Jesus saw this spirit within them from early on. At the very beginning, when Jesus called people to follow him, the gospel of Mark says Jesus gave James and John the name "Sons of Thunder." [Mark 3:17] They may have had in mind the unfortunate fate of King Ahaziah's commander and squad of men who went to arrest Elijah and take him back to the King. The ungodliness of Ahaziah and his men was such that heavenly fire fell and consumed the squad! [2 Kings 1:12]

Lunch box evangelism you might call it!

And it worked. Unmoved by the misfortune of his men, Ahaziah sent another contingent of fifty. This time the captain of the group fell on his knees before Elijah told him that he knew of the fate of his predecessor and begged for his life and the life of his men.

This "overpower them" method of evangelism calls to mind the very rapid growth of the church in the years following Constantine's conversion. Think about it. "The Emperor and his Generals would like it very much if you would convert to Christianity," the message spread. And lots of people were anxious to have the Emperor and his Generals happy.

Lunch box evangelism produces converts, but it is highly ineffective in producing Christians -- that is authentic followers of Jesus Christ. 

***

Yet, Jesus did commission his followers to go and make disciples (that is students or learners) of all nations. Jews, Samaritans, gentiles and all who would become his followers. And those followers were to be taught what it means to know Christ and follow his teachings. Remember the words?

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." [Matthew 28:18-20]

No Emperor can mandate conversion to Christianity in our culture today. In fact talk of  teaching people to obey Christ sounds a bit foreign to modern ears. It calls to mind a generation that lived at least a hundred years ago. When my oldest son was about six years old, he asked, "Dad, is it true that people had to go to church in the olden days?" 

Our generation of "church folk" have not been raised on a very strong diet of discipleship. Attendance at worship and engagement with the great theological issues of the faith have become electives instead of required content in the curriculum of Christian living.

This is not entirely a new thing at all. Jesus discovered that at the opposite extreme from James and John there was another approach to discipleship. This was discipleship based on the desires of the disciple rather than on the dictates of the Master.

***

As Jesus is on the move toward Jerusalem, crowds attend they way. His ministry has drawn attention from religious officials and from the ordinary people who came to him in droves for hope and healing. Now as the outlines of his final confrontation with the priest, scribes and Pharisees begin to emerge from the background, a sense of urgency slowly begins to build.

Whether caught up in the excitement of the moment or motivated by deep seated convictions, we do not know, but three individuals encounter Jesus. Two say they want to follow Jesus and another is called. All three are strongly cautioned that following him - discipleship - is a costly thing.

Jesus might not be invited to be on very many evangelism or membership committees in our churches today. He sets the bar so high that not many would join. In the gospel of Mark, he turned a wealthy your man away. The man was a leader in town, in the synagogue and could probably have bankrolled the entire movement of Jesus and his followers. [Mark 10:17-22]

The first prospective disciple offers to follow Jesus absolutely and the second two say in effect, "I will follow you but..."  Jesus' responses indicate that the first prospect was not sufficiently aware of what he was promising to do. The second two were trying to make discipleship secondary to other issues in their lives. The two dynamics here are: [1] Count the cost, and [2] Make the commitment.

[1] Count the cost

"I will follow you," the first person says, "...wherever you go."

Someone is moved by what they see in Jesus and his disciples. "I'm with you!" They affirm ... "I will go with you wherever you go!"  But Jesus pushes their commitment level. There will be times he has no place to go and eventually he will go to Jerusalem, to Calvary and to death.

Peter once said to Jesus, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." [Mark 10:28]  Following Christ can be a risky thing. Jesus warned his disciples that they could encounter great hostility if they truly followed him. "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you." [John 15:18]

To understand discipleship is to understand that there is a cost to discipleship. When we say, "I will follow you wherever you go,"  - as we do in confirmation or in other forms of commitment to Christ - we may be somewhat like that person in the crowd who was excited to follow Jesus, but had not thought through the cost.

Discipleship means a renunciation of everything that is contrary to the will and the ways of Christ and an embracing of his message and ministry. You might ask yourself the question, "What is my Christian faith costing me?"  If the answer is, "Nothing," then we may be sure that whatever else we may be practicing - it is not discipleship in any New Testament sense.

[2] Make the commitment

The next two prospects for discipleship point to the commitment Jesus calls for. A commitment to follow Christ is made in light of a tremendous urgency. Here Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will shortly be executed. There is no time for those lengthy farewell parties with family and friends or even time to go through the lengthy funeral rites of the day.

The words may sound harsh, "Let the dead bury the dead," but the mission of Christ is a matter of life and death. Not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual realm, there is no life without the life God gives to us in Christ.

Combined with the issue of counting the cost of being a follower of Christ the sense of urgency has strong implications for our own time. Most of us operate as though we had all the time in the world to attend to the important issues of our lives. "When I have been able to get ahead at work, I will spend time with my family."  "When I get some time in my schedule, I plan to become involved in my community." "When things settle down, I want to give some time to my church."

There is no less urgency in following Christ today than there was in Jesus' day. The world is broken and can't fix itself. Hatred of one group of people for another is an urgent issue for the victims of ethnic cleansing. Malnutrition does not wait as it advances on the multitudes of children whose lives are wasting away in hunger. The empty values of the world around us have created a vacuum in the lives of many people we know.

Jesus calls, "Come and follow me..." to the crowds that attended his caravan into Jerusalem, and to you and to me in the crowds that fill the churches of our time. Understanding discipleship is to hear the call, count the cost and make the commitment. He needs disciples today, this very hour. Next week will be too late for some. Next year is as never for many.

Those of you who served in the armed forces know what it means when the drill sergeant calls out, "Fall in!" That means it is time to drop everything immediately, assemble and come to attention. That's what Jesus did when he set out for Jerusalem and the crowds were watching as though spectators. Jesus called out, "Fall in!" 


 

Reflection on the Texts

Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha, Jesus calls people to follow him and Galatians sets out the lifestyle of the one who follows the Master. Each text in its own way points to the fact that choosing the spiritual life means making major changes in our living. Faith which does not result in changed living is no faith at all.

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

This text comes on the heels of Elijah's flight to the desert from Jezebel and his subsequent encounter with God at Mt. Horeb. Elijah complains to God that he alone remained faithful to God in all of Israel. he was not, of course, the only faithful one - but he felt as though he was. A feeling not uncommon for folks who serve faithfully and wonder at the commitment level they see around them. Israel had gotten so far removed from God under Ahab and Jezebel that there was more than enough evidence to feed Elijah's sense of alienation and loneliness.

Elijah's ministry will come to an end and God asks him to anoint Elisha to the ministry. He throws his mantle on Elisha and continues on.  Elisha has to run after Elijah to ask for time to say farewell to his family. The prophet's mantel represents the call of God. What happens next is important. Elijah tells Elisha that he can return to his family as he chooses. "What have I done to you?" he says. It is, in fact, not Elijah, but God who issues the call. The response to that call is up to Elisha. He says farewell to his family and then becomes the servant of Elijah.

So with those who desire to follow Jesus in the gospel text. Discipleship is a choice and a commitment. 

 

Luke 9:51-62

The words of Jesus to the one who said he would follow him after he said goodbye to his family sound similar to the words of Elisha. This person, however, is told that one can not begin to do thee work of the kingdom and then turn back. On the surface this seems harsh, but Jesus did not tell the person they could not say their farewells. In fact, they are simply reminded that having said farewell, they must like Elisha leave home and become the servant of another Master.

One of the points of conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews was the location of the proper place of worship. Note the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well in the gospel of John (4:20,) "Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."  Ezra and Nehemiah detail the rift between Jews and Samaritans. Samaritans were viewed with contempt and the separation was permanent. Samaritans based their claim to legitimate worship on the fact that Moses had commanded the people to worship on Mount Ebal while Solomon's temple in Jerusalem was the center for Jewish worship. Jesus did point out to the Samaritan woman that the time would come when worship would be a matter of the "Spirit" and not a matter of geography. (Words that have some relevance for today)

The key issue in the gospel text is the cost of discipleship. There is a wonderful story about the cost of discipleship in the story of Alban which is told in one form >>> here

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

There is a sermon on Galatians 5:1, 13-25 >>> here 


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Adapted from on Psalm 16)

Leader: Let us say to the Lord,
People: You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.
Leader: Let us also keep the LORD always before us,
People: Because God stands with us, we shall not be moved.
Leader: Therefore our hearts are glad,
People:
In God's presence there is fullness of joy.   Amen!

 

A Prayer of Confession

O Lord of compassion and mercy, we confess that one of Your greatest gifts to us has so often been the source of our greatest trials. You have given us the gift of choice. We can choose between right and wrong, between love and hate. We can take the high road or the low road. We can reach out in your name or we can retreat in the name of selfishness. O Great God of grace, help us to choose with clarity, compassion and commitment. Cleanse us from every wrong and give us the joy of making choices that bring honor to the name of Christ. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.  The Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works.  The Lord is near to all that call upon Him in truth.  He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him; He will also hear their cry, and will save them.  Amen.

 

A Pastoral Prayer

The words of scripture hit hard today Lord.   It is so very clear that we
can not possibly be the followers Jesus calls us to be apart from the
intervention of your Holy Spirit in our lives.

Self is so strong is us.  Denying ourselves in this world doesn't work very
well when it comes to being successful.  We are no more anxious to
take up a cross than we would be to take up an electric chair or a lethal
injection.  The call of Jesus to follow him -- even if it means we must follow
all the way to death is just so out of sync with the values and goals of this
culture.

And yet, there are times when we have a sense that something is missing
in our lives and our spiritual fuel gage hovers near empty.  Our spirits hunger
for substance and we sometimes come close to recognizing our vulnerability
to cheap imitations of our faith.

O save us Lord, from all that diminishes the call of Christ or lessens the claim
of Christ in our lives.  Help us to lift our eyes from the passing glamour of this
world and gain a vision of the kingdom that will endure forever.  Give us grace
to grow up tall in Christ and courage to grow through the trials that will certainly
come our way.

Shape us and form us by the loving power of your Holy Spirit, so that one hundred
years from this day, we shall have gained the prize that lies beyond the pain...
the honor that lies beyond the humility and the crown that lies beyond the cross!

Amen

 

A Prayer of Dedication

O God of life and hope and joy, You have blessed us in ways that go way beyond our understanding. Were we to count Your gifts to us, we could number the stars of heaven. Please accept the gifts we bring to you as tokens of our love and seeds of blessing for the those who have yet to discover your love and grace. Amen.