Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pentecost 5C

When we're trying to recruit new people into our church, how do we do it? What tactics do we use?

Do we say that we're a friendly, welcoming, bunch? Do we go out of our way to make sure that each new person who comes through our doors shakes at least three hands before making their way to the sanctuary?

Do we make sure that a newcomer finds an easily accessible seat? Do we assemble a bulletin that's easy to follow? Do we see to it that new people are invited downstairs for coffee and fellowship? Do we place in their hands a jar of dried soup mix (do we still do this?)?

Do we emphasize on how caring we are? Do we project ourselves as a place of healing? A family of believers where all are invited to the table? A community of loving Christians dedicated to making people feel valued and included?

I think the answer to all these questions is an unqualified "Yes!"

And you're probably wondering why I brought this up? After all, isn't that what we're supposed to do? Aren't we expected to be friendly, welcoming, and loving, by the very fact that we're Christians?

Maybe.

What would happen if we took Jesus' lead in welcoming new people?

Jesus' behaviour in today's gospel wouldn't win him any hospitality awards.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Imagine a church that had such demanding expectations; who set the bar for faithfulness so high that only a select few would manage to scale it. Imagine if I went around telling newcomers to abandon everything about their old life and put everything they had in Jesus' hands. Imagine if I put a sign out front that said, "Come die with us!" or "We have a cross that fits you perfectly!" Or "Looking for a reason to suffer? Have we got a saviour for you!"

Imagine if I told any of you that who ever leaves this church isn't fit for heaven, isn't worthy of God's love; wasn't really a Christian to begin with.

How long do you think I'd keep my job? I'd be labelled a cult leader, a religious fanatic, a self-aggrandizing megalomaniac. Our church would be looked at with suspicion by others. We'd lose the respect of our neighbours. Our community leaders wouldn't want anything to do with us. There would be letters to the editor, calls to the bishop, the "Black Bloc" might even set cars on fire out front of our church.

And maybe I'd be preaching to an empty church. Or I'd probably be shown the door before we lose all our members. Just for using Jesus' recruitment methods.

So, maybe I need to bring down the hammer, declare recess over, and move our church toward what Jesus' had in mind. Maybe I need raise expectations, decide who gets in and who stays out. Maybe I need to follow Jesus' example much more closely.

Or maybe not.

What I think was happening is that Luke was re-telling the story from 1 Kings where the prophet Elijah called his successor Elisha into ministry. Elisha, ever the dutiful son, asked to kiss his mother good-bye before following Elijah and taking over the job as prophet. Both Elijah and Elisha knew that it was a new beginning for the young apprentice prophet, and it only seemed reasonable that his say a proper good-bye to his mom, who he would never see again.

But Luke was saying that Jesus places higher demands on his disciples. Luke's Jesus won't even let his new recruits attend their father's funeral before following him. Jesus' anti-family attitude is astonishing, especially in a culture that valued family connections above all else, except for God.

Luke seems to be saying that being a follower of Jesus means that we will be in a conflict of loyalties, even perhaps among our families. Following Jesus is a commitment that affects all of our relationships. Even our closest family relations. Following Jesus means dying to an old self and old way of life, and rising to a new one - a self and way of life that lasts into eternity.

We have trouble reading this story this way because we're used to having the culture affirm and support us. Many of our culture's more sacred holidays are Christian Holy Days: Christmas and Easter. I'm old enough to remember when I began the school day with bible reading and the Lord's Prayer. And many Christians yearn for a return to those days when we allowed public schools to do the job of making Christians for us.

But Jesus splashes cold water on our spiritually lethargic faces; calling us to remember that, as Christians, we have a distinct voice, a specific way of living, a holy calling to be light in a dark world.

And such a life takes commitment. It's a sacred mandate for those of us who've been washed clean in the waters of baptism, joined to Jesus' death and resurrection, named and claimed as God's own people.

As Christians, we believe that God was in Jesus Christ, and that God calls us to a distinct life; a life of forgiveness, of mercy, or compassion, of grace. These aren't values most people have. But they're the values God has given us, written on our hearts, pasted on our foreheads, and placed on our lips. We have been recruited into God's resurrection vision for the world, where death is swallowed whole and God's reign of justice, joy, and newness flourishes.

Let the dead bury their own dead, because we're too busy finding life.

May this be so among us. Amen.

5 Comments:

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