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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 Waiting up all night for the master to return from a wedding banquet… well that image is outdated because none of us are slaves.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!


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)


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.