September 4, 2016
Luke 14:25-33, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
“The Discipleship Syllabus”
Psalm 139 gives us a powerful vision of a God who will not give up on us. This God has cared for us before we took our first breath. It is good to steep ourselves in this text. It is a beautiful prayer to begin each day because it gives us confidence that God is relentless and will be present in every moment of our lives. Then we hear from Luke. Jesus is telling his followers what it looks like to be a disciple. It’s pretty simple really – hate your family, carry the cross, and give up all of your possessions. Maybe Jesus has been reading about growing churches. Believe it or not, churches don’t grow when people are told nothing is required of them. They grow when people are really involved and offering their best selves. It makes sense. If people are not invested, they can easily walk away. But here Jesus is asking for everything. It’s way more than a commitment he’s talking about, he’s asking for our whole lives. This is the place where the two scriptures come together: God is 100% invested in us and Jesus calls us to invest our lives in him.
We cannot ignore the lines about hating family, but we need to understand what they mean and the context from which they come. The word for hate in Aramaic means to “love much less than”. In other words, hate here is about how we set our priorities. When conflicts arise (and they will arise), Jesus says we must choose discipleship over human relationships. It isn’t really about hating, but it is about prioritizing. Jesus was moving toward death. Following him was dangerous. By the time Luke wrote this gospel, Romans were after Jesus’ followers. They would even arrest family members of disciples. Turning toward Jesus literally meant turning away from family.
Jesus turns to the crowds who had been following him and says up front that it will cost them. He says that they are better off if they stop and count the cost. He’s not interested in a half-hearted yes. If we are going to follow him, he wants us to be sure we are up for whatever lies ahead. Jesus loves us enough to tell us the truth. He doesn’t try to cloak it in something that is palatable. It sounds a bit like that syllabus you receive on the first day of class. If you are going to do well in this class, you will do the following assignments regularly, you will add these special projects and here are the dates of the tests. You decide how this will go, but these are the expectations for this class. It is almost as if Jesus is giving us the discipleship syllabus.
Have you ever been asked to serve without being given the full understanding of what you were saying yes to? Someone from the conference called me a year ago and asked if I would serve on the Commission on Church and Ministry. I was told it was a quarterly meeting. I thought that sounded most reasonable so I agreed. When I got to the first meeting, I learned that we were supposed to visit all the churches in the conference. As the only member from New Mexico, that meant I would be visiting all the churches in New Mexico and El Paso. There aren’t that many churches, BUT a trip to Angel Fire or Silver City or El Paso is a commitment.
Jesus uses the language of building a tower, but he isn’t talking about building a tower. He is talking about building a life. I’ve been thinking this week about building a life and how I prioritize my commitments. It made me think about how often I bounce from one thing to the next. We are working on that as a congregation. Our master plan team is helping us prioritize around issues of building and space. We are doing that by trying to look at the whole, not just a few pet projects so that we can move forward with vision rather than simply knee jerk reactions.
I’m not suggesting that we live our lives like a business plan, but it does seem to help to know what we are grounded in and where our hearts are as we encounter life. Life happens to us and we choose how we will respond. That is a bit easier to do when we know what our priorities are. As a church, our priorities are living God’s love, justice, and inclusion. There are many things we can be doing at any given time, but our goal is to do what takes us deeper into relationship with God and our neighbor. God holds us in all things and does not give up on us.
Listen to these words from the Psalm: “O God, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.” (Psalm 139:1-3) Imagine hearing them from your hospital bed, your prison cell, as you are driving home from a difficult meeting, as you are considering a move, or as you are trying to make sense of Jesus’ words in the gospel today. Does it change anything for you to know that God is always with you?
Does Jesus’ honesty make you want to be more honest with yourself? My priority for our congregation is that we do this discipleship thing together knowing it will be difficult and the cost will be great. I believe that we are better together and when we can honestly share our journeys together, we are stronger. It requires a level of vulnerability. No one was more vulnerable than Jesus. He is the one we follow. He doesn’t ask us to show up in our perfection, but in our humanness. He asks that we give him everything, our whole lives. He spoke truthfully to his followers and asks that we speak our truth to one another.
We are doing that in groups that talk about being mortal, learning to fall, white privilege and we discover that we have more in common than we ever knew. It means being open to one another, but I think there is some desire for openness that brings us here in the first place.
Glennon Doyle Melton is an author who is profoundly impacting many people as she tells the whole messy truth of her life. She tells her story and opens the door for ours. In a TED talk called ALL I EVER NEEDED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN THE MENTAL HOSPITAL, she says, “The world doesn’t need more “strong” superheroes hiding the truth of who they really are beneath capes of perfection, shame, cruelty, snark, addiction, or apathy. We need more plain old “weak” people who are brave enough to come out of hiding. We need more messy, honest, fully human beings who will volunteer to tell the truth about who they are – who will live shamelessly out in the scary, messy world…It’s braver to be Clark Kent than it is to be Superman.”
So here is Jesus not asking us to be superheroes, but to be real human beings. He is calling us to shamelessly be Clark Kent. He says it will be so hard, but it is possible to follow him because we know God has our back. He calls us to commit with all of our lives. He shows us with his own life that discipleship means loving enough to tell the truth and the willingness to make hard choices. Following Jesus will cost us our lives and it will land us in the arms of God.