Follow Me: Discipleship is No Picnic
Rev. Loren McGrail
Irondequoit United Church of Christ
June 30, 2019
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. This week’s Gospel lesson is one of the most challenging in Scripture for it outlines what the cost will be to follow Jesus. He won’t sugar coat or try to hide the truth of what he is asking of his disciples. The Way, the truth, and the life of discipleship is one that must embrace pain, suffering, and maybe even death as part of God’s redemptive plan.
To follow Jesus means to be ready for all of this and more.
Luke records four interactions between Jesus and his would -be followers. Each interaction offers a challenge or a requirement.
The first interaction involves saying no to anger and violence. Jesus’ journey begins by passing through Samaria, the region between the Galilee and Judea. The Samaritans did not welcome sojourners headed for Jerusalem. The tension goes back at least ten centuries. The current Jerusalem elite treated their former sisters and brothers as foreigners and thus, excluded them from their community. As a result of this inherited animosity, the Samaritans refused to provide hospitality to Jesus’ Jerusalem bound disciples.
In response to the rebuff, James and John want to burn the offending village to the ground like Elijah did. Jesus’ rebuke is significant because he is marking a distinction between himself and the famous prophet and setting a new standard which is to bring life, not death, even to those who reject and insult us.
The first call of discipleship then, is to practice forgiveness and forbearance, never retribution and revenge. Now I know that none of us are in danger of burning down villages but are we all not sometimes in danger of leading with anger rather than love when people disagree with us? Are we all not sometimes in danger of leading with resentment instead of kindness when our feelings get hurt or our egos get bruised?
Plus, rejection seems to be a given on this road to Jerusalem. What matters is how we respond, whether love or hatred governs our heart.
I invite you this morning, to do an inventory of your heart to see what hurts or anger are governing you this morning? And when you find them, see if you can let them go even if it is just for today.
As Jesus continues his journey, a passerby calls out to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus says to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In Luke’s Gospel we are reminded that Jesus was born in a borrowed manger and buried in a borrowed tomb, and his last meal was in a borrowed house.
In other words, are you up for a life of homelessness where you are asked to surrender your most prized possessions and open yourselves up to the goodwill and generosity of others?
I would like to speak about this requirement to follow from a personal perspective.
As some of you know, I gave up my home and worldly possessions to accept the call to become your missionary, your mission co-worker, in Israel and Palestine for three terms or five years. I put my household and my books in a storage unit in Chicago and left my country to serve God and our church. Those things remained there until this April, when with your help, I shipped them here so I could make my temporary home now with you. There is a long sad story about how many of my things were broken, lost, or stolen by the movers. It has forced me to evaluate what is important and what is not.
In addition, before arriving here, I spent almost a year traveling across the country as an itinerant preacher moving from house to house, church to church, state to state. I have had the unique experience of not only visiting hundreds of UCC churches but also the experience of being a guest in many people’s homes. I have gotten to experience the gift of welcome and hospitality in its many shapes and forms. I have many wonderful experiences but there is one that I wish to lift up because the call of discipleship is not just to let go of your stuff and become homeless like Jesus, but to allow yourself to be loved and ministered to in people’s every- day lives.
I’d like to share one story that stands out. I started my itineration in Ohio last August. I was sent all over the state including farm communities.
I spent two days as the guest of a lovely lesbian couple. They, who lived on minimum wage salaries, offered to shelter me because nobody else in the church would. One night I saw one of the women adding sugar to the spaghetti sauce. I asked her why she was adding sugar as I had never heard of this. She said simply, “It makes the sauce stretch. You can feed more people.” I was the extra mouth. Later, they told me that the church refused to marry them. When I asked them how they could still attend a place that refused to honor their union they said, “We forgive them because our love is stronger than that.” So, you see I would never know about this level of deep faith and generosity if I had never left home, if I hadn’t allowed myself to be open to their hospitality.
So dear ones, you don’t necessarily have to give up your worldly possessions or home, but it is necessary for you to remember to whose household you belong, and that it is as important to receive as it is to give. I invite you to find a way to practice this.
The last command to follow is the hardest. Jesus refused to let a man go bury his father. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, as for you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
I won’t mince words. I don’t like this Jesus. So insensitive. Why is he against funerals, allowing a son to bury his father? Really? How mean spirited.
However, another way to read this is that Christian discipleship requires that we learn how to detach from everything and place Jesus first. I think what Jesus is saying is that there will be times when our faith will require us to violate cultural norms, or move against the grain, even our family loyalties. True discipleship will disorient and disrupt us.
Are you able to do this? Have you ever stood up for something or someone because it was the right thing to do and it got you in trouble with your family or even your church family?
Our UCC Statement of faith echoes this command and the words of the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in calling us to accept “the cost and joy of discipleship” by resisting the powers of evil. According to Bonhoeffer, “Cheap grace is grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” In contrast costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It is costly because it compels us to submit everything to the yoke of Christ, even our very lives.
I invite you to reflect on this concept of costly discipleship as a church. What are you willingly to risk? For example, our sign out front this Sunday says, “Got Pride. You are beautifully made.” It is a clear statement of our open and affirming position towards the LGBTQ community. We have risked the ire and disapproval of others who may not be pleased with our loving solidarity.
Finally, we are urged to keep our hands on the plow and move forward and not look back. Once one chooses to be part of and work for God’s Beloved Community, looking back only reawakens temptations to stay put or accept the status quo.
So dear ones, let us celebrate this call to follow Jesus, to become his disciples knowing it will cost us everything. Let us give him our all.
If there is anything that the gospel of Jesus Christ makes clear to me, it is that the way, the truth, and the life of discipleship is one that must embrace pain, suffering, and death as part of God's redemptive will. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us just before he was martyred, God does not offer us cheap grace, but costly grace. This costly grace fills us with joy and courage, sends us out into the world to identify with and minister to those who are struggling and oppressed, and empowers us to non-violently resist that which is unjust or evil. We must go further than this statement as it is presently worded, however. Our call is to be servants, not merely in the service of the whole human family, but in the service of the entire body of life, both its human and non-human expressions.
In the Twenty-First Century and beyond, if we are to truly "proclaim the gospel, resist the powers of evil, share in Christ's baptism, eat at his table, and join him in his passion and victory," then we will increasingly embody the great news of The Great Story and acknowledge that Creation as a whole has been in a process of becoming ever more cooperative, interdependent, aware, and compassionate over time, and that our destiny is to continue this process to the glory of God.
Our preaching, teaching, hymns, and worship, over the next few decades, will gradually come to reflect this more inclusive, inspiring vision of our collective destiny: that of human beings living in a symbiotic, mutually enhancing relationship with both nature and our technologies and social systems. As Fr. Thomas Berry states, "The human community and the natural world will go together into the future as a single sacred community, or we will both perish in the desert."