A few years back, I decided to expand my culinary expertise. And by that, I mean learn how to cook something more exotic than mac & cheese. So, I learned how to make a pot roast. I kinda followed a recipe, loosely, sort of, but what I created was awesome! The problem was; however, I could never reproduce it. I always used the same ingredients, but it was never the same dish twice.
Discipleship is kind of like that. Today’s text gives us the ingredients necessary to be people of faith, but the end result may vary. But here’s the thing. Unlike cooking this is a good thing. It’s a goo thing because each of us brings something to the mix. We all have unique experiences and perspectives; we all bring the pain and suffering we’ve endured along with our joys and triumphs; and when we take the ingredients Jesus has given us and add it to our uniqueness, we get a wonderful, diverse, person of faith, a person created in the image of the Living God, loved, and ready to share that love.
This past week I attended our UCC General Synod, a gathering of delegates and leaders from across the spectrum of the United Church of Christ. And the consistent theme across all the sermons, across all the business of the national church, within the work of my committee and implicant in our final resolution, and, I would say, even when we marched on and temporally shut down the ICE office in downtown Milwaukee to protest of caging of children and the mistreatment immigrant families seeking asylum in our nation; the consistent theme was, you guessed it! Discipleship! All of these ingredients when combined with our live experiences, constitutes what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in 2019.
And this is where our lives intersect with the life of Jesus. Luke shares a story with us today about Jesus and his disciples as they continue on their journey. A journey of discovery, a journey of faith, a journey that challenged Jesus followers to consider what it means to be a disciple. In the narrative, Jesus invited someone, who had come alongside them, to join their movement. But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” To which Jesus responded, “Let the dead bury the dead. But instead of that, go and spread the Good News of God’s Reign.” Someone else said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say good-bye to those in my household.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for this kind of work.”
Let’s stop here for a moment and think about the implications of these exchanges. Does this seem kinda harsh to anyone else? What in the world is the matter with suspending your journey for a brief moment of mourning for your dead father or to properly say goodbye to your loved ones? These seem like reasonable requests. Right?
But, (you know there’s always a but) But… if we focus our attention on the surface of story, then we are missing the deeper meaning of this passage. Folks, Jesus isn’t some kinda of “meany” here, he isn’t disrespecting grief or family; the deeper point is one of urgency. The need is immediate. Jesus’ earthly existence is nearing its end and he can read the writing on the wall. So, his call to discipleship is immediate, imperative… it’s urgent. And because this is an urgent call to action, Jesus was inviting his closest followers to bring their whole selves to this calling.And the same is true in our context. Our invitation to discipleship is also urgent and we have been invited to bring our whole selves into the mix as well. We have been invited to continue to be and become on an even deeper level, disciples of Jesus.
Wow. You might be saying right now, that’s a little scary. What if I can’t do it? What if my skills aren’t enough? What if I’m not enough? All valid questions, but unnecessary. My friends, we’ve been given the all ingredients we need for success. And like my pot roast, that success will not be the same for all of us. Each of us will pick up the mantle of God’s call to action in a different way, serving God as best we can in our own unique way. That’s what Jesus means by discipleship!
But while your call to discipleship might look different from mine, its’ important to remember that both are valid, both are equal, and both are urgent! Here’s what I mean. Your call to discipleship might not be to preach, but you might excel at sharing the good news through active listening. Your call to discipleship might not be to visit those in prison, but you might liberate your neighbor by driving them to the doctor or to church. Your call to discipleship might not be to march in a protest rally, but you stand against injustice when you provide a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Your call to discipleship might not be to serve as a missionary in a foreign land, but you are the hands and feet of Christ as you serve in the food pantry, (or work at the Second Chance Sale), or when you give of your time and talent and treasure to the myriad of social justice causes we support and act upon. Your call to discipleship might not take you to the cross, but you take up your cross every day as you stand up for those on the outside looking in, the marginalized, the oppressed no matter how unpopular that position might be.
Do you see what I’m driving at here? These things that you already do and the as-of-yet unknown things that you’re going to take on in the future, are possible because of the ingredients that God has already provided. In a nutshell, those ingredients are what the United Church of Christ has identified as the Three Great Loves: Love of Neighbor, Love of Creation, and Love of Children. And when we bring our whole selves to the mix, when we pick up the mantle of God’s love by loving our neighbor, God’s creation, and our children, it’s then, …it’s then, that we begin to create a “Just World for All.”
One final thought this morning. Back in our text, when some Samaritan villagers refused to welcome Jesus into their midst, James and John wanted “to call fire down from heaven to consume them.” Now, first of all, like that was an option! I don’t know, maybe it was, but it seems like they were getting a little pyro happy to me. And Jesus appears to agree. The text says that he “turned and spoke sternly to them.”
Isn’t it interesting. When the disciples wanted to punish people for not welcoming Jesus, he scolded them. I believe he did this because Jesus understood that hate only begets more hate. So, as we go about co-creating this “just world for all” that we are dreaming of, there might be some push-back. Not everyone’s in the same place. But the lesson here is to respond to push-back with grace, respond to negativity with positive energy, respond to hate-filled words with tones of love and compassion and faith. My friends, creating a just world for all means just that: a just world for all people, even those who disagree with us. It won’t be easy, nor will it be quick. But, if we are willing to mix the ingredients that God has provided; if we are able to pick up the mantle of justice; then we will continue to be and become to an even greater extent, disciples of the Living, Loving God. And that, my friends, is the best tasting pot roast you’ll ever eat! Amen and the people of God said, Amen.