By mtaylor | Monday, June 27, 2016 | 1:13 PM
“I Want Some of That”
June 26, 2016
Cary G. Speaker, D.Min.
Opposition to Jesus is not a surprise. If we read straight through Luke’s version of the Jesus story, we are not surprised when we come to today’s story that Jesus is rejected. There are plenty of folks who imagine that Jesus had only twelve followers. If I had received the same rejection Jesus did to my first sermon in my home church, I am not sure I would have continued down the path to ordination. So when the Samaritans oppose Jesus, we are not surprised. In fact, if we know the history of hostility between Jews and Samaritans, we are surprised that Jesus is taking the direct path to Jerusalem by going through Samaria.
When the Samaritans reject Jesus, most of us stand with the disciples. It makes perfect sense to us to give some payback to the rejecting Samaritans. “Let’s do what Elijah did and bring down fire from heaven on these heathens.” We are the good and faithful disciples. We have left everything to follow Jesus. Let’s give back the rejection others have given Jesus. That is what we are thinking. But Jesus rejects our proposed rejection.
Then the story gets even stranger. We, the disciples, are thinking, “This following Jesus stuff is not what we expected. This is not easy. No wonder there is only 12 of us.” So we are expecting Jesus to lighten up just a bit. Maybe the next batch of followers can have it a bit easier. The first volunteer steps up, unsolicited, saying, “I’ll follow you.” About the time he is signing the discipleship contract he says, “O, there is one thing I need to do first. My father’s funeral is tomorrow morning, so I will meet you tomorrow afternoon.” That seems reasonable. We are told in the Ten Commandments to honor our father and mother. What could be wrong about first attending my father’s funeral? Jesus says, “I’m sorry for your loss, but if you can’t let the dead bury the dead, you’re not worthy to be my disciple.”
In quick succession, two more would-be disciples step up and Jesus says about the same thing to them. At this point we are thinking, “Jesus has been rejected so much that it is about time he lowered the bar for disciple recruiting and takes anyone who shows up.” But he does the opposite. He raises the bar. Jesus says, “Reject home, family and all possessions in order to follow me.”
Do you remember the turning point scene in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?” The ice has just begun to crack and thaw, the snow is melting and several significant characters report that the hero, “Aslan is on the move.” Jesus has preached, taught and worked miracles. It is as though Jesus hears a call that redirects him. He turns toward Jerusalem. The rest of this Gospel describes that journey. Jesus is on the move.
At a recent song writers’ conference, the leader used the metaphor that life is a journey. Then he said that often songs are the bridges that get us from one point on the journey to the next. I am not a song writer. I am a listener and that is also true for me. We also go through faith transitions on our journey. In the early days of our faith development we are usually focused on learning the scriptures, begin connecting to church and learning what it means to be a child of God. When we discover that we are loved completely by a wonderful, caring Savior, we want to share that grace in the fellowship of the body of Christ, the church. As our faith matures we merge into the world. We realize that being a follower of Christ is not simply a private matter. In order for our faith to have true meaning, it must have integrity, it must be our identity. As mature Christians, we know that Jesus accepts our imperfections and together we walk the journey of faith with Christ, even when the choices are difficult.
I believe that one of the crucial mistakes the Presbyterian Church and most other main line denominations have made in the past fifty years is that we have made it too easy. We have made it too easy to be a church member. A great deal of what passes for Christianity today, is really American religion. It may look similar to Christianity, but deep down inside it is very different. One of the core differences is that most churches today do not make demands. One of the answers to the question, “Why are conservative churches growing?” is that they make demands. They have expectations. If you are not serious about bringing others to church to hear this Good News; if you are not willing to tithe 10% of your income – earned and unearned, net or gross – you are in the wrong place. I remember talking to a church member, a long time ago in another church, after the newsletter carried the definition of active church member. I thought the definition was about as easy as it could possibly be. You were expected to participate in some aspect of the church’s mission and ministry. You were not required to attend worship, just participate in something. Some may have only attended Sunday school. Others may have been faithful participants in a women’s circle or a mission project. That requirement was not the problem. We also expected active members to financially make a commitment to the church. That was why that woman called me. She was outraged that church expected her to make a commitment.
Maybe the church is to blame for that woman’s failure to understand discipleship and commitment. It is a common marketing practice in today’s churches to lure people inside. Think of the ads you have seen? Remember the signs in front of churches? “The church of friendly folks and warm hearts.” Or how about this one, “Hurting? Jesus cares. This is the place of healing.” “You’ve got questions. We’ve got the answers.” “Open hearted. Open minded.” Or my favorite, “Hard to find . . . but worth it.”
How many people would enter our front door if the sign out front said, “Come die with us.” Or, “We’ve got a cross that fits your back.” “Looking for a reason to suffer? Have we got a Savior for you.” That is not what sells.
What do we do? How do we compete? We tell the story. We tell our stories. Jesus’ way does lead to the cross. There are also great gifts from being a follower, just as there are rejections and renunciations. Jesus refuses to call down fire on his critics and those who reject him. Instead, Jesus calls down the fire of the Holy Spirit to give the church life and to empower us to walk with him. What have you renounced in order to follow Christ? How has Jesus disrupted your life in order to lead you to abundant, eternal life?
A long time ago, I was sitting on the stationary bike in the exercise room of the “Y”. I was peddling. It was the morning of Ash Wednesday. One of the priests who regularly exercised about the same time every morning came into the exercise room to begin his workout. He had already been to mass and had that black smudge of ashes on his forehead. One of the ladies that was always exercising when I came in, saw the priest. She pulled a piece of tissue from her sleeve and said, “Hon, you’ve got something on you.” The priest, obviously experienced with this sort of response, said, “It’s OK. They are ashes. They are supposed to be there.” The puzzled, silent look on her face shouted that she had no idea what he was talking about. The priest quietly talked about the meaning of Ash Wednesday. I over heard him say things about God being with us when we are weak and vulnerable. He said that we are dust, ashes and that on this day we remember that God is taking us toward Easter, even when life is broken and tragic. He smiled at the woman. She was silent for a few moments and then she said, “I think I want some of that.” The priest reached up and with his thumb borrowed some of the ashes from his forehead and on her forehead made the sign of the cross.
I want some of that. I will follow you. I will take up my cross. I hope and pray our response is like that when Jesus calls us.