Tag Archives: discipleship

There is no greatest nor least

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Read the whole passage)

We are well into this second part of the the long season of green… We have been winding our way through Mark’s gospel since May and the deeper we get, the more frustrating the disciples become. Today, they come off looking rather petty, like kids in the school yard at recess fighting over who is the king of the playground castle.

Of course we know that this isn’t just a play ground debate, we also recognize this debate about who is the greatest from the nightly news… especially as election season is upon us and one particular unavoidable politician who cannot help but tell us how tremendously great he is, unbelievably great.

But for people of faith, the scene between Jesus and the disciples today is about deeper things than self-aggrandizement and we know it. We know that this uncomfortable exchange between the disciples and Jesus has something to say about us too and about what it means for us to follow Jesus… or at least we are going to find that out.

The debate over who is the greatest is the memorable moment of the story today, but it is something that is repeated from last week which sets everything off. Jesus is talking about dying again. Last week Peter couldn’t abide it and took Jesus aside to rebuke him. This angered Jesus who the called Peter ‘Satan.’ This week, Jesus is talking about dying again but the disciples do not understand and are afraid to ask.

This point is important to keep in mind during the rest of the story. Because the disciples cannot understand what Jesus means when he says he will die and be raised three days later, they begin to focus on something trivial and manageable… they start arguing over who is the greatest. They are arguing over something they feel can control, something that seems to be quantifiable, a topic they think they can contribute to… all to distract from the fact that they didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about before and they were afraid to ask – remember what happened to Peter last week when he spoke up.

The question of who is the greatest among them is an idea they can manage… unlike the notion that Jesus has come into this world to be betrayed and die, only to rise again in 3 days. The little trivial matter is easier to talk about when the big issue, the big question makes them feel scared and powerless and insignificant.

And so they argue, they debate, they make passionate cases for who among them is the greatest… and probably they feel like they are achieving something as they travelled down the road to Capernaum. That is until Jesus hears them and sits them down for a talking to.

The disciples are doing something that we know well as human beings and especially as church folk. We know how to focus on the small trivial matters in order to avoid the big questions and bigger issues just like the disciples do.

Many of us have been to that church council meeting where the minute details of fixing a leaky sink or buying hot dog buns for the church barbecue or haggling over $10 item lines in a budget of 10s of thousands take up the bulk of time and energy….while questions of what it means to be disciples or how to follow Jesus in our community or how to encourage members growing in faith are met with silence and blank stares.

We naturally grab onto the small things, the things that feel manageable, the things that we can argue and debate and discuss… because the big questions of faith and mission and life… they sit like weights on our chests making our heats beat with anxiety when we think about them too much, let alone when we talk about them.

And so we end up sounding like the disciples, we end up arguing about who is the greatest because we are too afraid to ask about what it means for us that Jesus is betrayed, killed and raised three days later.

And we end up debating the little things like the annoyance of Sunday sports and shopping, grumbling about those who have drifted away and left us with the work, arguing over who is the blame for the decline of congregational resources and attendance… because we are too afraid to ask what it means for us that we are in this state, and what is God saying to us about being the church in this time of struggle.

So as we grumble along the way, on the road from where we were to where we are going… Jesus finally overhears us, stops us and sits us down – just as he did with the disciples.

To the disciples he says, whoever wants to be first must be last. Or in other words, all this stuff you are arguing about doesn’t mean a thing…it doesn’t mean a thing in the Kingdom of God.

And then as Jesus picks up a child and sets them in his lap, he says, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

But it isn’t some kind of moral lesson to the disciples… Jesus is in fact making a point about all that stuff he first said about dying and rising.

Because who is doing the welcoming? Who is holding the child in his lap? And who is it in baptism that declares to be children of God.

We aren’t the welcomers. We are the children.

God is the one welcoming us.

Jesus is reminding the disciples that they don’t need to be the greatest to understand what Jesus is up to in the world. Because in the Kingdom of God there is no first and last, no greatest and no least. We are all God’s children, and for us Jesus has come into the world. Jesus has come to die with us, to die with a dying creation. Yet, three days later Jesus shows us that death is not the end. And because Jesus rises from the tomb, we rise with the God of New Life on the third day.

The disciples don’t need to understand what it all means for Jesus to be betrayed, to die and to rise again… that isn’t their job. Rather Jesus tells them that he has come to bring them into the Kingdom, he comes to walk along side them, to let them see, hear and feel the Word of God among them… the Word made flesh.

And for all the things that we grab hold of to distract from the bigger issues of faith and life… they don’t matter in the Kingdom either. Because God will continue doing what God has always done for us. Whether it be when we thought we knew what God was up to with full churches and strong attendance and budgets we could meet or whether it is now when none of those things seem to be the case.

God continues to give us the Word of forgiveness and mercy week after week.

God continues to welcome us as God’s own as we are washed and renamed beloved.

God continues to gives us bread to eat and fill our hearts, so that we might become the bread that God uses to feed the world.

It has never been up to us to understand how the Kingdom works, or to have all the answers or to be saviours.

It is up to God.

And God is coming to us, coming to little ones such as these,

in the person of Jesus who dies and rises again,

coming to us again and again in Word and Sacrament,

signs of God welcome for us, signs that remind us that we are neither the greatest nor the least in the Kingdom, we are God’s beloved children.

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Rebuking Peter – Giving Up Humanity

Mark 8:27-38

…Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!… (read the whole passage)

 

This is the halfway point of Mark’s gospel. The end of chapter 8 with 8 more chapters to go… and Jesus is taking a moment to see what his disciples have actually learned so far. And as we continue through Mark’s Gospel it won’t get any easier. Not that Mark is ever really easy on us during this long season of Green… yet as we head into the home stretch of the season, the challenge to what it means to be disciple will only get more pointed with Mark as he asks what it means to give up our lives for the sake of the gospel.

Jesus ask his disciples a question that is both normal and odd. Normal because we all want to know what others think of us. Odd because it should be obvious given what we have heard about Jesus so far. What are people saying about me? Who do they say that I am?

And Peter steps up, as usual, to speak for the group. He knows what people have been saying, “Elijah, John the Baptist or a prophet.”

Then the real question comes, who do you say that I am?

“You are the Messiah” Peter says, sounding like he passes the test. 

But within moments, Jesus is calling Peter “Satan”, and telling Peter to leave the circle of disciples.

What happened?

Peter doesn’t actually get it, even though it seems he passed the test just moments before.

Peter is living in a crisis… a crisis of identity and purpose. He didn’t really pass the test and he doesn’t really know who Jesus really is or what Jesus is doing in the world. You see, when Jesus asks the question, Peter knows all the answers, he knows what all the people out there are saying, which means he has been listening and trying to figure out Jesus is for himself. And when Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, it is hardly a specific answer. The people of Israel have many different and varied understandings of who the Messiah actually was. The judges who were the first protestors of Israel followed by Kings. But then also foreign conquering kings had been called Messiahs, and prophets like Elijah, but also the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy, and of course recently John the Baptist. Peter doesn’t give a conclusive answer to Jesus’ question. 

Yet, the fact that Peter (and the other disciples) don’t have a specific answer really points to the fact that they don’t really know what is coming next for Jesus and them. So when Jesus tells them what comes next – that Jesus is going to suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and elders – Peter doesn’t like that idea at all. He might not have a specific idea about who the Messiah is, but knows Jesus’ idea isn’t his vision of following the Messiah. 

And so when Peter rebukes Jesus for his silly ideas about dying, Jesus turns his back on Peter… sends him out of the group, away from the community. Now, Peter is back and part of the group only two verses later… so what is Jesus really banishing from the circle? Peter’s self-concern and vision of discipleship. Peter doesn’t want Jesus to talk about dying… Peter is thinking about himself, how he can continue up the mountain towards the goal as Jesus’ disciple. 

In fact, it is up a real mountain, the mountain of Transfiguration, that Jesus and Peter are about to go, where Peter will want to build an altar and stay believing he has finally arrived at the pinnacle of discipleship. And again Peter will miss the point and not fully understanding what comes next. 

As readers of Mark’s gospel today, we share in common a few things with the first readers of his gospel nearly 2000 years ago. Mark was writing to a community of Christians for whom their visions and hopes for what they would become were not realized. It had been about 30 years since the crucifixion and resurrection. The early church community eagerly awaited the return of Jesus, yet the first witnesses were beginning to die off. The ones who remembered Jesus first hand were getting to be fewer and fewer. The community was beginning to wonder, what comes next? If Jesus wasn’t going to return any day now, what were they to do?

We might not be waiting for return of Jesus any day, but we too are at a moment for Christians where we don’t know what to do next. Our hopes and dreams for the future have not been realized, and if this is where Jesus is taking us… we might want to rebuke him too. 

We surely don’t like the idea of giving up our lives for the sake of the gospel… we have been waiting for a return to the mountain top, for a seat back at the table of power, to be important and respected in the world again… taking up a cross and giving up our lives does not sound like what we have been waiting for as Christians in North America, Lutherans in Manitoba, a Shared Ministry in the Interlake. 

We are as confused and frustrated as Peter is about who Jesus is and what is means to be followers of his. And we just want know what comes next for us. 

Yet as Jesus banished Peter’s self-concern… Jesus is also stripping us of all the things we think are part of the vision of discipleship, numbers and power, in order to get us to see what is really coming next. 

Peter wants to hold on to vision of grandeur, discipleship that comes with perks… but Jesus is giving things up, giving everything up, giving up his very life for the mission. 

Because the thing is, Jesus has come to offer Peter so much more than a home on the mountain top or a place of power and influence or the adoration of the crowds. Jesus is coming to give Peter, the disciples, the people of Israel and all of creation new life. 

If only Peter could get over himself and his vision to see it. But he doesn’t. Peter gets rebuked by Jesus today, only to be rebuked again on the mountain of transfiguration and then again at the Last Supper and then even again after the resurrection. 

But it isn’t just Peter, no one gets it for the rest of the gospel of Mark. The Gospel ends with the women fleeing the empty tomb and telling no one because they were afraid. 

No one gets what Jesus is doing… and just maybe that is what Jesus is coming to understand. We aren’t able to let go of our visions for ourselves, we aren’t able to stop dreaming of the numbers and the power and then importance. We aren’t able to get out of our own way. We hold on to that stuff at all costs. 

And so Jesus gives it all up for us… Jesus gives up all power and importance for the sake of love, in order to come near to creation, in order to come close to us. And Jesus gives us up too. 

Jesus comes down to us in order to give us up. 

To give up our sin and suffering and death because we cannot. 

To give us up to new life. 

To give us up to God. 

To give up on our old sinful selves, in order to make us the new creations that God intended. 

For those who lose their lives for my sake… will save it. 

Jesus tries to send away Peter and his self-concern, his holding on to the wrong things. But Jesus can’t… because that is not who Jesus is… Jesus is THE Messiah, the one who has come to save… to save us by giving us up to God. 

And so when Peter doesn’t know what is coming next and doesn’t like what Jesus has in mind, and when we don’t know and don’t like what Jesus has in mind for us either…

Jesus goes ahead with us anyways. And Jesus  goes to the cross for us anyways… and Jesus transforms us anyways, from sinners into forgiven, and from dead into alive. 

Jesus doesn’t Peter twisting in the wind, even if Peter doesn’t like what is coming. And nor does Jesus leave us twisting in the wind, even if we don’t like where we are these days.

Because Jesus does know who he is and Jesus knows who we are. 

And Jesus does know what comes next for us…  New Life in the Kingdom of God. 

Church Membership vs. Carrying the Cross

Luke 14:25-33

“…So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Read the whole passage)

I remember when I was little and our family visited my grandparents. My grandparents living-room was always in perfect, pristine condition. Everything look new and unused, despite being dated with styles from decades before. Whenever we were in the living room, we had to be exceptionally careful not disrupt anything. No throw pillows could be moved, no dirt could be tracked, no signs of anyone actually being in the living room were allowed. Even as young child, I didn’t understand what the fuss was about – why was it called a living room, if there was no living allowed in it.

Now, as an adult, I understand only a slight bit more the desire to keep one’s possessions in good condition. And I also understand that nice things and children don’t really mix.

Yet, Jesus’s conditions on discipleship today, certainly poke at our materialism. We like our stuff, and Jesus knows it.

For a few weeks now, Jesus has been giving us the gears. Last week Jesus reminded us that we like to sit in the places of honour and send others down the table. Jesus continues the theme of pointing our faults, with his words on discipleship and possessions.

Today’s Gospel lesson has an unusual setting. Normally we pick up with Jesus in the gospels after he has traveled to a new place. But today, Jesus is still on the road. He is somewhere between destinations, with a crowd of people following him. You can almost picture it… Jesus and the disciples, on to their next village or town to preach in. And a large crowd following a short distance behind. From Jesus’s words to the crowds, we can guess that they were complaining. Kind of like the Israelites following Moses through the desert, the crowd is complaining about the journey. “Where are we going?” “When we will get there?” “What can we expect?” “What will we get out of it?” It sounds like the crowds are wondering whether following Jesus was a good idea, they are looking for something out of the deal. They want the benefits of being followers, but so far all they have found is a walk through the desert.

And so after hearing enough complaining, Jesus stops, turns and lays into the whiny followers behind him,

“Look, I didn’t say this would be easy. In fact, I told you that you would have to give up everything. Your homes, your families, your jobs, everything about your lives. If you are going to follow me, that means carrying MY cross.

You say you want to know what the plan is?!?! Yet, how many builders sit down and plan a whole project before beginning to build a tower? None.

You say you want assurances that we are going somewhere worth going to? Yet, how many Kings sit down with an enemy army across the field and say, “Well, looks like we won’t win. Let’s send out the white flag.” None.

If you want to be my followers, you are going to have to give up all the things tying you to your life before now.”

Jesus lays it out plainly for the crowds. They cannot hold on to their lives before and follow Jesus. Jesus knows that no builder can plan a whole project before its started. Think of all those contractors on HGTV who say things like, “Well, you don’t know how much the reno will cost before you open up the walls.” And yet the walls come down in search of show home living rooms and chef’s kitchens and dream master bedrooms. Jesus is calling out those who are grasping for the next new and shiny thing.

Think of all the wars being fought around the world for the sake of money and power. For the soldiers and civilians dying at the hands of kings and rulers who are trying to get or hold on to power. Jesus is calling out those who are clutching with all their might, and at any cost, on to power and control.

And now think of the church, and how we are like those crowds, looking for the things, the possessions that we can hold onto as well. Things like membership, with benefits like a reserved pew, or a key to the building, or eternal salvation.

But here is the thing about possessions. About the stuff we hold on to. The more we try to hold on, the more the stuff holds on to us. The more people want the next new and shiny thing, the more they become slaves to keeping up with the jones, to standing in line for that new iPhone coming out next week, or getting that new car, or having that kitchen renovated again. The more people try to hold on to power, to be in control, to call the shots,the more they must descend into darkness in order to keep power.

And here in the church, the more we see membership, faith and even God as something we have have, that we can own, that we can hold on to… the more it demands. The more weeks we have to keep making appearances to be in good standing. The more time we have to devote to keeping everything going, the traditions and duties and tasks. The more money we have to shovel into a hole that never seems to fill up. When membership and faith and God become possessions, they soon begin to own us, trapping us in a never ending cycle of keep it all afloat.

Jesus says, if you want to be a disciple, you need to give up your possession, give up all the things you are holding on to, because they will ultimately hold on to you and drag you under.

Jesus says, the thing you need to hold on to is the cross. Not your own cross, but his cross.

THE. CROSS.

And again, here is the thing about the cross.

We know that story. We know that Jesus carried the cross to Golgatha. We know that he hauled it up that mountain on Good Friday. But we also know that he stopped carrying the cross, because once he was on the mountain, the cross carried him. The cross held on to him. The cross trapped Jesus, just like all the things that we hold on to eventually do to us.

That is until Easter morning.

And all of sudden the cross that held Jesus on Good Friday, became the cross that holds all of us on Easter morning.

Jesus calls the crowds and calls us to carry the cross, because Jesus knows that we can’t carry the cross, because the cross carries us.

In world full of possessions that will hold on to us and drag us down – power, control, membership, status, new kitchens, pristine living rooms, things.

In our world full of all that, the cross is the only thing that lifts us up.

The cross is the place where the human need to hold on is met by God’s need to give up.

To give up wrath for love.

To give up judgement for mercy.

To give up sin for grace.

To give up death for life.

Jesus calls the crowds and us to give up our possessions, and not to literally empty our bank account and give away all our stuff. But to recognize that the things we hold on, keep us from seeing just what, or just who, is truly carrying us.

Our world will may never give up the quest for what is new and shiny. Our rulers may always be willing to sacrifice people for power.

Yet, God just may be calling the church to give up holding onto membership as something we own, to let faith be something that carries us. To see that the church is not a bottomless trap for energy, time and money.

But rather a community of the faithful.

A community of people who are being carried by Jesus, whose identities are being transformed by being together, who are called to work together to let the world know about this good news of giving up and letting go.

As Jesus calls out these crowds today, Jesus is reminding us of just who is doing carrying. Jesus is reminding us that the cross carries us. That Jesus’ love for the world, Jesus’ grace for sinners, Jesus triumph over death, all found on the cross, are what can truly carry us and lift us up.

Jesus tells the crowds and us today, that it is God, who was the first to give up everything. And that being a disciple, is not about what we carry, but about God who carries us.

Do Not Be Afraid… of Discipleship

Luke 12:32-40

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.(Read the rest of the passage)


We are getting into those long summer days now, where finding a nice patio to sit on, or a shady tree to sit under with a cold drink, a good book and lots of sunlight and gentle summer breezes is about as good as life can get. As Canadians know, we like to put life on hold in the summer as much as we can, to enjoy the warm weather. School, sports, work, hobbies, and other activities are suspended as much as possible while we do whatever summery things we can fit in to life.

So when Jesus offers advice about being prepared and on guard… it is hard to get into the spirit. He gives us different images: Give away your possessions. Pull up your sleeves. Attend to your house for the coming of the Son of Man. Keep watch and wait… These aren’t normal summer activities. They don’t really fit our summer schedule of afternoon naps and long evening sunsets.

While we don’t read this today, Peter follows up Jesus’ commands with a question. He says out loud what many of us are thinking,  ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ Like a good Canadian in summer, Peter is hoping that these commands to be diligent are not specifically for him, but more of a general warning, a take it or leave it kind of idea.

Peter makes a good point. Are these commands really for us? Is it even possible to do fulfill all of these demands? Giving away all our possessions just isn’t realistic in today’s economy. Waiting up all night for the master to return from a wedding banquet… well that image is outdated because none of us are slaves. And protecting our house from the thief is what locks, guard dogs and alarm systems are for. It is like Peter is saying, “Come on Jesus, the Olympics are on. Can we we just give the discipleship talk a rest for a few days?”

Jesus throws so many images at us that its easy to get lost in them. They are overwhelming and sorting through the meaning of each one may or may not provide answers. To figure this out we need to step back, take a breath and consider what the big picture is.

When it comes to faith and sorting out how all this God stuff applies to us, we are quick to look for the tasks that we think we need to do to make God happy. What do we need to get out of the way, so that we can get on with life, so that we can get to the real business of summer? This is at the root of Peter’s, and our question. If all these demands really do apply to us, what is the fastest and easiest way we can get them finished. How many times do we need to come to church? How many prayers do we need to pray?  How much money should we give? What else do we need to do to make Jesus happy?

We hope that completing the assigned tasks will satisfy Jesus, but that isn’t really what he is getting at today. Its not about the details, is not about breaking down faith into tasks and to do lists. The impossible demands that Jesus lists are just that — impossible. Faith is not something that can be reduced to simple instructions that we follow. Rather, faith is that relationship that finds us and grabs on to us. Faith comes from our gracious God who claims us and marks us in baptism. God pulls out of the details and our need to just complete the tasks that make God happy, and God does it with the first words that Jesus speaks today.

Do not be afraid. Words that echo throughout the bible. Words that always come before the announcement of the good news.

Do not be afraid. And we are standing with Sarah and Abraham as God calls them to be the mother and father of a nation.

Do not be afraid. And we are standing with Daniel as God promises to be with him in a foreign land and even in a den of lions.

Do not be afraid. And we are standing with Mary as she is told that she is pregnant with the Messiah, and that he will be Emmanuel — God with us.

Do not be afraid. And we are standing with the disciples in the upper room hiding in fear, and Jesus appears among us bringing peace, showing the holes in his hands and the mark in his side.

Do not be afraid. And we are standing here, and Jesus is telling St. John, that it is the Father’s pleasure to give us the Kingdom of God.

Its easy to overlook these first few words at the beginning. Its easy to get stuck with the details, stuck with trying to figure what exactly it is that Jesus is telling us to do.

Do not be afraid, these words, always accompany God’s promise. Do not be afraid. They come to us in big moments, important moments of faith. Moments when God is going to change the world. When God turns everything we know on its head. Do not be afraid, God speaks these words to us in moments that are confusing and terrifying, moments that give hope in the darkness. Moments when all seems lost and destroyed. Moments of promise that remind us first and foremost that God is doing something amazing in our world. Do not be afraid.

With these words, Jesus’ impossible demands to give ALL we have to the poor, to be ALWAYS on guard and ALWAYS watching for the return of the master, and to be CONSTANTLY alert for the unexpected coming of the Son of Man… with these words, Do not be afraid, Jesus reminds us that all those instructions coming next have less to do us and more to do with God.

And even more we hear today in this place that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom… whether we are ready or not. God gives us a treasure more valuable than any and all possessions: Grace and forgiveness… whether we are diligent or not. God comes from the heavenly banquet to bless and serve us with water, with bread and wine… whether we are watchful or not. As the Son of Man, God is breaking into our world, into our lives… whether we are waiting or not.

God pulls us out from all these impossible details. And in the midst of sunny days and olympics, Jesus says yes, these words are for you. Do not be afraid, for it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom!

Amen. 

Lost in the Discipleship Details

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

Jesus is talking the dreaded “D” word again this week. Discipleship.

Last week Jesus had to come to terms with the quality of disciples he had to work with. Disciples who didn’t get it, who wanted to destroy those whom they were trying to reach as much as help them. Disciples who were not committed, who only had one toe in the water.

And so today, Jesus uses those disciples anyways, sending 70 of them out into the world to proclaim the good news, the kingdom of God has come near.

Now, this story of discipleship is one that many here will know well. It is one that during the past year, council and other groups read to one another each time we gathered for a meeting. And over that year, we unpacked this story as much as we could, we asked questions, we considered the words or phrases or ideas that struck us, and we kept coming up with new questions and new insights despite reading the same story for a whole year. And the intention of coming back to this particular story was to hopefully see ourselves and our call as disciples in the experience of this 70.

Yet, when the 70 return rejoicing and with excitement at for their efforts in ministry, it may be hard put ourselves in their shoes. In fact, we may feel the exact opposite – burnout and dread at keeping up with the ministry of being church. It gets tiring juggling all the parts of church and keeping all the balls in the air.

Still, the idea of Jesus sending 70 disciples out to proclaim the gospel seems relatively simple. Perhaps not easy, but it sounds simple to be sent out with little more than the shirt on our backs.

Yet, the directions that Jesus gives for ministry are not all the straightforward. Jesus has directions on what to bring on the journey, where to stay, who to stay with, how to be good guests, how to know when it is time move on.

In fact, it turns out that being disciples and preaching the gospel isn’t all that simple at all, even for the very first group of disciples sent out on the mission. And as most of us know, people who show up at the front doors of our homes, asking us if we have heard the good news are not usually all that welcome… Nor are the door knocking evangelists we have in our world all that effective.

Whether it is 1st century Israelite disciples being sent out on the road with nothing, or 21st century disciples with buildings and budgets, staff and volunteers, programs and committees to manage, it is not simple to just go out and preach the gospel.

In fact, it is the complexity that is draining. Managing all the different pieces of being church together can feel exhausting. Just for us to gather and worship on Sundays, as this community has been doing for over 60 years requires a lot of planning and work. Just this morning, someone needed to open the door, turn on the lights, put out the bulletins, put up the hymn numbers, greet worshippers and hand out the bulletins, light the candles, play the organ, collect the offering, count the offering, turn off the lights and lock doors. Someone needs to plan worship, make the bulletin, and write the sermon. Other Sundays people need to set up, serve and clean up communion. Others are needed to teach Sunday School, lead bible study, teach confirmation. And these are just tasks for a fairly typical Sunday morning. We won’t even get into maintaining the building, overseeing the large scope of year to year operations, fulling all due diligence legally and insurance wise.

It is a complicated endeavour to be a group of people called by Jesus to preach the gospel.

 

Yet, when 70 return they are excited. They are on fire. They are energized for the mission:

“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

But Jesus is not impressed:

“Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The disciples are guilty of doing the same thing that church people have been doing for 2000 years. They get wrapped up in the complexities, the potential for power and relevance and influence. Like Popes who would be Kings or committee chairs who enjoy having a little power for even just a couples of hours at a monthly meeting… the disciples get distracted by the details of Jesus’ mission.

So, Jesus calls them back to the main thing: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven”

Translation: Rejoice that God’s Kingdom has been made known in the world!

Jesus reminds the disciples and us that all the complexities of being sent out are about one thing. The mission. Preaching the Kingdom of God come near. Letting people know about God’s love.

But it goes even deeper. Jesus is reminding the disciples that God’s mission is about people. About people who need to hear good news. Jesus didn’t send them to find the right people, the chosen people, the good people. Jesus sent the disciples to preach to the ones who needed to hear. The peace they offered was for people who needed peace. The demons they exorcized was because people needed to be free from unclean spirits. Even the hospitality they received was so that the unlikeliest of people would be given the honour of being hosts to prophets and preachers.

All the instructions that Jesus gave, all the complexities. They were so that the disciples could reach the people that needed the gospel the most. So that God’s love would be shown to those who are normally excluded… the unclean, the marginalized, the unrighteous.

And all the complexities that tire us out, that fill us with burnout and dread?

They too are in service of the mission. They too are about the people that Jesus is reaching through us.

When we make this place ready for worship and welcome all who gather, God gathers us into the One Body of Christ, God ties us together to far and wide, into community of the faithful that can only exist here.

When we hand out bulletins and play musical instruments, God becomes known to us in worship and praise, in worship and praise that thins the gap between heaven and earth just enough that we might glimpse the heavenly chorus.

When someone stands up and reads the lessons, God’s very voice speaks to us with promises of forgiveness and new life, God speaks to heal our wounds, comfort our sorrows, and to give shape to our place God’s world.

When the table is set with bread and wine, God feeds the hungry with the only food that has a hope of satisfying the hunger in our souls. God feeds us with bread so that we become bread for the world. God gives us the Body Christ so that we become the Body of Christ for the world.

When ushers direct us forward and servers serve, God makes God’s table a place for each and everyone of us, a place for. God leads us into the holy of holies, into God’s Kingdom come near to us.

This is the thing about being sent as disciples in the world… it easy for us to lose sight of what all the complexities really mean. It is easy for the disciples to get wrapped up in casting out demons. It is easy for us to be burned out and tired by having to keep track of all the little details of being church here.

But Jesus never said it would be easy. Nor did Jesus say that being a disciple was about the results. In fact, Jesus kind of made it complicated right from the beginning.

Yet, what Jesus does remind the disciples of today is that everything we do is connected to the work of God’s kingdom, that God’s Kingdom of love, forgiveness, healing and hope is breaking into the world for us, and for those around us who need to hear some good news.

So yes, Jesus is talking about discipleship again today. Because it is through disciples, through us, that God is bringing the Kingdom near.

Amen.

The Frustration of Discipleship

Luke 9:51-62

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. (Read the Whole passage)

Sermon

Our Lutheran seminary in Saskatoon works in cooperation with an Anglican seminary and a United Church seminary. While I attended, students from the 3 schools started a hockey team to play in the University of Saskatchewan intramural league. One way that the 3 schools worked together was to regularly have shared chapel services, and one particular service there were a number of hockey team members in attendance. During the prayers of the people, the  worship leader opened up time for petitions from the congregation. One of the hockey players piously added a prayer for the hockey game that day,

“Dear Lord, bless our team and keep us from injury or harm. Give us strength and unity in our play. And finally, Lord, reign down a hellfire of pucks on our opponents.”

Suffice it to say, there were those among the other students and some professors who were not impressed.

When Jesus and the disciples enter into a Samaritan Village, and things don’t go as planned, the disciples pray a similar prayer to the seminary hockey player. They wonder if fire from heaven that will consume the Samaritans would be appropriate for the unreceptive villagers. And Jesus is not impressed.

The disciples just don’t seem to get it. They are supposed to be out working alongside Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God coming near. They are not supposed to be wanting to destroy people whom they think are their enemies. But as usual, the disciples end up frustrating Jesus.

But frustration doesn’t end there for Jesus. As Jesus comes along to potential disciples, he invites them follow. It isn’t a glamorous lifestyle and there are some drawbacks. But the disciples Jesus invites seem to have a commitment problem. The first says that he will only come once he has buried his father… and not that his father is already dead or anything. The second says that he will only come once he has said goodbye to his family, the group of people most likely prevent his leaving. These potential disciples are lukewarm at best.

Discipleship and following Jesus seems particularly frustrating for Jesus today. If the disciples aren’t getting the whole point completely wrong by wanting to punish and destroy the very people they are trying to reach, potential new recruits are are balking at jumping in with two feet.

These two experiences of disciples are something we know all too well. The disciples’ desire to destroy their enemies, or to the blame foreigners for their troubles sounds disturbingly like the motivation behind the violence in Orlando, like some of the reasons that Britons voted to leave the European Union, or like the words of a certain blustery presidential candidate.

But the disciple’s frustration with the Samaritan village for not receiving Jesus is also the same experience of churches who put time and energy into a new program or initiative only for the people they are trying to reach not to respond.

And this leads us to the half-hearted commitment of the potential disciples. It isn’t just that we all have things tying us down at home and at work, things that prevent us from spending all our time at church. But our hesitancy to jump in with two feet is just as much about uncertainty. We just don’t know where all this discipleship and faith stuff will take us. Jesus says follow, but he doesn’t alway give a clear picture of where. Jesus invites us to leave everything behind, but without much promise as to what we will earn in return. Like the non-committal recruits, we just don’t know where God is calling us to go and that scares us.

That is the thing about discipleship, it is messy, it is uncertain, we don’t know where it is taking us. Jesus doesn’t give us a roadmap, but just an invitation to follow. And like Jesus who is frustrated with the disciples and non-committal recruits, we can get frustrated with trying to follow Jesus without getting the results we expect. The fact is, discipleship is hard.

It it hard when the people we are trying to reach don’t respond the way we hope. It is hard when the disciples like us just aren’t in with two feet.

And maybe that is the heart of issue today.

As Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem before heading out with the disciples, it isn’t just a place. Jesus is setting himself towards the cross. Towards the empty tomb. And as we know the story before and after those things, that the disciples seemed just as confused about discipleship after Jesus rose from the dead as they were before.

So maybe the point isn’t the disciples and how good they are at discipleship.

Maybe the point isn’t us and how good we are at discipleship.

Maybe this is about God, and what God is doing in the world. Maybe this is about who God uses to accomplish God’s mission in the world. Maybe this is about God who is doing the saving and God who able to use us for God’s mission of saving all of creation.

In fact, Jesus’ frustration with discipleship is about exactly these things.

Today, isn’t about being better disciples.

Today, Jesus sees that the disciples that he has, the disciples that we are, are exactly who God needs for God’s mission.

Disciples who don’t get it, disciples who are only partially committed, disciples who find discipleship frustrating.

These are the disciples, we are the disciples, that God uses despite our flaws. We are the ones whom God uses to be God’s hand and feet in the world. We are the ones who are same before and after the crucifixion and resurrection, but who are still transformed to be the Body of Christ in the world.

And somehow, through us, God is saving and transforming, God bringing the Kingdom near.

Today, on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, after we have seen Jesus heal a sick slave, raise a dead son, forgive a forgotten woman, and cast out an unclean spirit… we see the people that God chooses to be disciples.

And those people are us. Imperfect, uncertain, confused, uncommitted us.

And somehow through us, even with all the frustrations and complications and uncertainty, God is bringing Good News to the world. God bringing Good News for us, with us and through us. And God is using exactly the people that God needs to save the world.

Amen