Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 27, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
Sermon: "The Call of Discipleship"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
The Call of Discipleship
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - June 27, 2004
I would like to tell you the stories of three people
The first young person became inflamed with the idea of following God. He had recently had an incredible religious experience and felt very close to Jesus Christ. As a result this young person investigated becoming a missionary. In the investigation this person found that they would be living in a one-room house. This house had no wood floor. The roof leaked. There was no air conditioning but there was a wood stove for heat. The nearest store was five miles away. Television and radio reception were poor. The people in the area were also very poor. Illness, alcoholism and various diseases plagued the community. In other words the going would be tough in the mountains of West Virginia. The young person decided not to follow this call. Life with God looked really hard.
The second person also wanted to follow Jesus. He had been raised in the church all of his life. This young man was married and had two children. He was a good man and faithful to his family. He, too, wanted to dedicate his life to following God. In his prayers, he told God so. Yet, the prayer went something like this. God, I am ready to follow you right now. I will do anything you ask. But I have a family. I have a wife and two children. Let me take care of them first. Let me set them up in a house and get them what they need to survive and then I'll follow you.
The third person is a woman. She too wants to follow Jesus. She has a strong desire to answer the call to be a disciple of the living Lord. Like the young man above she, too, prays to Jesus. Jesus, I'll follow you wherever you go. I'll do whatever you ask. First. Let me finish getting my career together. I've worked real hard to get this far. I'll finish this career and retire and then I'll follow you wherever you want me to go.
These three people are the modem versions of the three examples we have in the Gospel reading. In the reading we see an exuberant person wanting to follow Jesus. Yet, when Jesus tells him the way will be hard they fade away and are heard from no more. The second person wants to follow, but is concerned with family responsibilities. Specifically, they ask to bury their father. However, there is no indication that the father is dead, even ill, at the time. The third person also wants to follow Jesus but he wants to get the crop into the ground. Let him finish plowing and he will be happy to follow since his responsibilities will be complete.
Taken at first glance all of these people do not seem to have improper requests. After all, everyone is not cut out for missionary work in the mountains or in Africa or wherever. Family and career are important in this life. So, what is the problem? The problem is a misunderstanding of discipleship.
In the Gospel story, Jesus had completed his ministry in Galilee. He was now headed for Jerusalem. In the reading we are told he has turned his face towards Jerusalem. Then these three people approach him about becoming his disciples. In order for them to follow Jesus they would have to leave right then. They have no choice. He is on his way to the Holy City to complete his ministry. If they want to follow Jesus in his ministry they have to go with him right then. There is no other time. Nothing else can take precedence.
The story of the three people today is similar. They want to make a deal in order to be Jesus' disciples. They want to work for God but not give up creature comforts. They want to put family concerns before they begin any ministry with God. They want to finish their career and then do work for the kingdom. They have their priorities out of order and they do not understand ministry.
Our first priority is our relationship with God. We are called to love God with all our heart our soul and our mind. In other words trust God. If we trust in God first, then the other aspects of our lives fall into order as well. Family, work and ministry are these other aspects and that is the order. If we do not have the relationship with God first then we actually hurt our relationship with everything else. It is a domino effect. If the first one falls then the others will soon fall behind it.
Secondly, we have to understand the concept of ministry. We are called to be God's ministers every moment of every day of our lives. Does that sound daunting? If we believe we are all to become missionaries in some far off place it is. If we believe we are called right where we are then it is not. Ministry is done in the here and now. It is done one person to another and it is done with time, with talent and with treasure. If we really think about it we just defined the word discipleship. Discipleship is defined by how we live our lives where we are right now. Discipleship is the proper use of our time, talent and treasure insuring our growth in the knowledge and love of God. It is sharing God's love to everyone we meet in our daily
So, to help us look at our discipleship I have developed the following set of questions. How would you respond to these questions as I ask them? They could be a kind of barometer of our life of discipleship.
1. When was the last time we made a friend, invited them to our church and got them there?
2. When did we last help feed the poor, not with money, but hand to hand?
3. When have we listened to a friend and really heard about their struggles, successes, joys and concerns?
4. We all have talents to use to expand God's kingdom. When have we used them in the life of the church?
5. When was the last time we used our talents without expecting compensation or praise for God?
6. When did we last raise our pledge to the church? How close are we to meeting or exceeding the biblical tithe?
As I said earlier these questions are a barometer of our discipleship. They mean nothing if we don't love God first. If we attempt to love God first, then they can help us see how we are living into our life of discipleship. If we can answer each of these questions positively within the last few months then we could say our barometer is good. If we have a long gap with any single question then we would have to admit to ourselves the barometer shows us poor discipleship. The call to discipleship is always present. It is up to us how we respond. Will we respond like one of the three people we heard of earlier or will we simply say, Yes, Lord I will follow you and then follow through. The choice to be willing disciples is all up to us. AMEN