THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
Well, Peter – one week we read of your stepping out of the boat in faith, then we hear your courageous words in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”, and now this Sunday Jesus is yelling at you for your human side coming out- not wanting to think about the messiness, pain, difficulty of Jesus facing suffering and death as he shares with these followers what must come next. Do you, Peter, feel like saying, “Take this job and shove it!”? Do you feel, Peter, like saying that you were doing quite well as a fisherman in Capernaum and didn’t expect to be verbally cuffed for not wanting your leader to suffer and be killed? Do you feel like telling Jesus that this isn’t what you expected? Do you want to tell Jesus how your heart is breaking?
Following God is difficult. We’re always overwhelmed by discipleship. We fear being asked too much of, fear being asked to speak hard words, follow through with difficult tasks, stand up for something that goes against the popular grain of the day. We fear that we will have to suffer, go without; that we’ll be asked to give up too much. Following God is difficult. It’s difficult because we tend to focus on how much we will have to give rather than on what God has already given and continues to give. Discipleship is not about us, it’s about God. It’s about our figuring out who we are in Jesus Christ, in our baptism, in our being claimed by God as God’s child. It’s about God’s power rather than our own. What must be paid is a willingness to let go of our hunger for security, approval, and comfort; to take up our own cross of love and give ourselves away, to abandon our images of success and schemes of self-indulgence.
We live in an age when, by all cultural accounts, our faith is foolish. Our ritual and the vows we take at baptism, in our confirmation, in joining the church appear to be promises too difficult to keep; our sacraments are a nice touch to those looking in from the outside, but what power does three handfuls of water have? What good can come from eating a bit of bread and a sip of wine? By today’s standards, it’s appears too hard to expect a person to be faithful to one partner for a lifetime. The soap opera stars change partners like they change their wardrobe, and somehow we think this is the way ordinary life is. Those on the outside of the church’s walls view us with skepticism. We don’t seem to get along much better as a faith family than they do without faith. We have our disagreements and conflicts just as readily as those who don’t claim a religious up-bringing or have turned from any regular relationship with the church or with God. They view the church as only wanting money, power, and privileges; and actually some who hold membership in the church also see only this surface element of the church rather than the depth of faith and the call to be more than that. They don’t see the call to pursue justice, peace, healing and wholeness. And if those who claim to be followers of Christ think these are too hard, then who will oppose the forces of evil in our world?
To Peter’s credit, he does get behind Jesus. He gets behind and yet follows him to Jerusalem, even though he fears what’s coming. He follows to Gethsemane, even though he, in his humanity, falls asleep even as Jesus asks him to watch and pray. He follows to the Passion, even though he lies; he waits for Christ in the upper room, even though he is shamed by his own words of betrayal – “I do not know this Jesus.”
It indeed takes courage to keep those vows, keep our promises to come and worship, to give of ourselves, our resources, including our money. It takes an extra bit of “umpf” to pull ourselves out of bed and what seems to be the only morning we could sleep in and get ourselves ready for Sunday School and worship. It takes courage to follow this leader – more than a game, but a true life commitment.
Do you realize that we who fear terrorism in our land also has within our land the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, known in prior years as the School of the Americas, a military school in Fort Benning, Georgia that has trained Latin Americans in tactics of war, terrorism and torture. Shortly after I graduated from Wartburg Seminary, two sisters (biological and Franciscan sisters) Dorothy Marie and Gwen Hennessey, 89 and 69 at the time, were arrested and served six-month jail sentences for acts of civil disobedience in protesting the School of the Americas. When asked why they did this, they responded with stories of their brother who was a missionary priest in Guatemala and whose parishioners were brutally tortured and killed by people who had, no doubt, been trained by the School of the Americas. These sisters have seen and heard too much, and being silent about what they knew wasn’t an option. Both said too many people don’t know or don’t want to know what’s really happening in our world, so they became witnesses who couldn’t be silent; they were compelled as disciples to speak for justice, peace, healing and wholeness. I think now about Pastor Carrie Ballenger Smith and her husband, Rev. Dr. Robert Smith, and their family in Jerusalem, with Pastor Carrie serving a Lutheran church in Jerusalem and Robert is teaching professor for Notre Dame there with international students. I think about what it has meant to leave first Capron, and then Crystal Lake and move to Jerusalem, seemingly a world away from what they knew – all for following this radical Jesus. The transitions for their sons, and now their oldest son attending college in Germany, and the daily confrontation of a military zone and the realities of hatred literally exploding all around them, and daily persecution.
The way of the cross is the way of faith, claiming life and truth in the face of everything that tells us not to. Once Jesus has really come close to us, really touched our hearts, convicted our very souls, we find that the only truth in being called “Christian” is to keep on the path, the path to the cross where we lay our sins upon Jesus, who carries them to his own death, and who then grants us our salvation, and the grace and love to continue to boldly proclaim that he indeed is our Lord and Savior.
On this particular Sunday when we are especially aware of the pain of loss and suffering throughout the world from what seems like ceaseless wars, pain from someone dying or pain from disease, pain from storms that ravage and kill, pain from drought that causes wells to dry up, pain from earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, we also come together to claim God’s promises. God’s promises will act as a balm to our broken hearts. In our humanity, in our tears, in our celebrations, God promises to weep with us, to laugh and celebrate with us. Surely the presence of God is in our midst, surely it is Jesus Christ who has died for us, was raised from the dead, so that we might know the promise of eternal life. Surely Christ will come again to take us to himself, that where he is there we may be also. Surely Christ will be compassionate and stay with us in our fear, in our losses, and in our everyday journey. We need not be afraid to be followers of this Christ. He claims us as his own. Christ calls us to follow him, calls us by name, calls us in the midst of our own cross stories, and calls us to step up and out in faith. Lord, give us the courage to be who you have called, equipped, and empowered us to be. Help us to be faithful followers. Amen
Jeremiah 15: 15-21
Psalm 26: 1-8
Romans 12: 9-21
Matthew 16: 21-28