In our Gospel reading today, we encounter Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem. He’s on the road with his disciples, headed to his death. Jesus knows what’s up- he knows he’s going to die and not only that, he knows he’s going to suffer in the process.
In the passage today it states: Jesus “set his face” for Jerusalem. In this context we can understand this phrase to mean, determined, Jesus is determined to go to Jerusalem; or, to put it in plain terms, based on what we already know about the story, Jesus is determined to meet the suffering and death that awaits him in Jerusalem. He is determined to fulfill his calling as the Son of God.
There’s a lot to be said about this determination in Jesus facing his death, but what’s remarkable to me about this passage is that his disciples seem a little clueless about what’s going to happen. When they reach the Samaritan village, where the locals refuse to host Jesus, the disciples ask, “Hey Jesus, do you want us to command fire to come down from Heaven and consume these guys?”
I picture Jesus exhausted, shaking his head, “No disciples. I don’t want you to command fire from Heaven to consume them.” Jesus, like a tired mother of children, rebukes this comment. “It’s what I’ve been trying to teach you: you can’t just send fire down on people who don’t like you or agree with you. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times….you can’t do these things. Don’t you see what’s about to happen? I’m about to suffer and die. I’m about to fulfill God’s promise that Love conquers hate…. and you want to kill these guys?”
Jesus, like a parent trying to bring their children up right, is worried. They don’t seem to get it and he’s about to die. Are the disciples really prepared for what’s about to happen? So, as Jesus often does, he finds a teachable moment in the conversation he has with his disciples.
One disciple says, “I will follow you wherever you go Jesus.” Another says, “I’ll follow you but first, I need to take care of some personal business.” Another says, “Sure, I’ll come, but I need to say goodbye to everyone I know first.”
Jesus’ response goes something like this: “Are you prepared? Like, really prepared? Because where I am calling you to go is not going to be easy. I am calling you to a lifetime of following me, despite adversity. A call that will be met with hardship, maybe even pain, probably some suffering. People might not like you or what you have to say about God’s kingdom. You may not have a place to rest or be comfortable. This, what I’m asking you to do, it’s important and you can’t look back or stop…because I’ll be gone. I’m about to fulfill God’s purpose, in a way you don’t fully understand yet, and I need to know, I really need to know I can count on you to keep this thing going.”
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary states that discipleship is defined as: “One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.”
This is not a helpful or full definition. It says nothing about suffering or how to carry on in the face of adversity and doubt. It doesn’t even describe the qualifications or the kinds of tools necessary to be a disciple. I’m the kind of person that wants details. So, we turn to Paul and his letter to the Galatians, which we heard today in our first reading. Paul discusses in his letter the meaning of Discipleship, more or less.
Paul reminds his followers of the Golden Rule, “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Okay, that’s tough, but I think I can understand what that looks like. But Paul goes further and names what he calls the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Wow Paul, that’s a huge list. Any one of these things might take me a lifetime to develop. And looking at today’s Gospel it’s clear that even the disciples, the dudes who were alive when Jesus walked this earth, had a hard time living into their discipleship. How am I supposed to do this?
What Webster’s definition is lacking, Paul makes up for in his discussion on the fruits of the spirit. But it’s daunting. How can one person be all those things? And further, how can one person live out the Golden Rule and be all those things Paul talks about, all in the face of hardship and adversity?
How can I love in the face of hate? How can I be patient with all the violence that is breaking out in the world around me? How can I be kind to those who condemn my LGBT brothers and sisters? How can I be joyful when the lives of refugees and children are taken by violence and hunger? How can I be peaceful when I’m angry and sad? How am I supposed to be generous or gentle? How am I supposed to have self-control when my mind and heart are being torn apart by the pain, suffering and fear that surrounds me?
A couple of weeks ago we marched in the Indy Pride Parade. Hundreds of us marched in the name of love and peace, and many more watched and celebrated with us. As we turned the corner for the home stretch at the end of our march, I noticed a rather small group of protesters standing there with their stern signs and grumpy faces. But they were actually kinda hard to see for they were blocked by the mass of smiling faces and the hundreds of happy waving and high-fiving hands that were there cheering us on.
That same night a mass shooting occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that took the lives of many innocent people. But the next day hundreds, thousands, may be even more came together. They held hands, lit candles, prayed and shared their love with one another. One person caused so much pain, but thousands of people responded in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity.…
Faced with adversity, what’s our response? As disciples, we come together. We love fiercely and cheer each other on. We claim that love of Christ and share it unapologetically and without shame. For where there is one person who hates there is an entire army of disciples who are sowing the seeds love, joy, peace….
Jesus didn’t call one disciple. Jesus didn’t single out one dude to follow him. Formally he called twelve and several women, we know, also followed him. Thousands of people followed him. Jesus didn’t intend for us to do this alone.
What are our tools then, for the work of discipleship? How do we prepare ourselves as disciples? The answer is simple: we do it together. Here at Good Samaritan we have been talking a lot about this work of discipleship and in our small groups, at our food pantry, at any one of our service projects and outreach events, we have been practicing it.
Where I may lack in one area, someone else picks up the slack. We cannot be all the things Paul describes, but when we all get together, serve, and live into what Jesus calls us to do, we can check off everything on that list of Paul’s and maybe even add to it.
So, Jesus asks his disciples: Are you prepared? I think the answer for this community is, truly, YES. What I’ve witnessed in the short time that I’ve been here is that ya’ll have figured out what it takes many a lifetime to understand: That the work of discipleship takes more than just one person to make this thing happen. It takes our entire community, each and every one of us and our stories, unique gifts and talents, our different perspectives and beliefs- together- to keep our faith alive and keep this work of Jesus going.
The question I leave with you today is: how can we develop what we already know to be true about the power of community and dive deeper into this truth we have discovered about discipleship?
Despite Jesus’ frustration with his disciples, he keeps them with him. He doesn’t say, “Oh nevermind, I’ll just do this by myself!” The disciples are kinda clueless at times, but he asks them to follow him anyway. Jesus believes they can do this. Jesus knows it’s hard but he also knows that they can take it. Jesus believes in them and loves them so fiercely that he entrusts this work to them.
We aren’t perfect, but we don’t have to be to do this work. We don’t have to have it all figured out, we don’t have to have all the answers (Thank God!) But when it matters, when we want to make a difference in our community, when we want to be all those things Paul talks about, we know exactly what to do. We come together, even when it’s hard and confusing, even when we have doubt and anxiety, even when we are afraid. Because we know, that when we all get together and do our best to follow Jesus: love conquers hate, death never has the last word, and God is truly with us, cheering us on.
Sermon preached by Erin Hougland, Director of Discipleship on 6/26/2016 @ Good Samaritan Episcopal Church Brownsburg, Indiana
Gospel: Luke 9:51-62 Epistle: Galatians 5:1, 13-25