SERMON Proper 7 – Iona Hope Episcopal Church, Fort Myers, FL 6/22/14
“It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.” During this season after Pentecost, the scripture readings focus on discipleship. Many of the readings over the next few weeks will challenge us, who follow the way of Jesus, the way of life loving neighbor, praying for enemies and persecutors, turning the other cheek, losing our life in order to find it, etc. Often we hear these readings so many times over a lifetime, they may begin to sound like sentimental ideals, which if we didn’t have such busy lives, we might be able to take a crack at them.
Discipleship demands more than sentimentality and more than romantic ideals of following the master. Discipleship requires that we actively participate in a life-transforming mission of love. Some folks see this Jesus mission as maybe even impossible for we humans. Maybe so, if it had not been perfectly accomplished by one of us (Jesus himself), and then, left for us to continue. It is not impossible to follow Jesus.
When I was growing up in East Tennessee, I loved watching re-runs of the CBS television show Mission: Impossible. Do remember the show, how it “chronicled the missions of a team of secret government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF).” 2 It was great drama with the lead agent at the beginning of every show, receiving his mission briefing on a recorded message which, after the details were communicated, it would self-destruct in a little fireball. Then, you heard that awesome theme music.
The great thing about this television show and later the movies, was that the mission these folks were assigned, always seemed to be just as the name implied, “IMPOSSIBLE.” The agents were up against insurmountable odds, overwhelming powerful foes, and they were always outnumbered, but they were able somehow to accomplish their mission. The agents seemed like “super hero, ninja, special forces, over-the-top intelligent, techno-genius types who were always qualified and over-equipped for the tasks. If you watched the series enough, you would discover that they were just average people like you and me.
Today’s gospel reading challenges the thinking of we average people about what it means to be a disciple. The challenges Jesus outlines for following the way of love, mercy, grace, self-giving, and peace, may seem like something that can be done only by a “super hero, ninja, special forces, over-the-top intelligent, techno-genius” Christians. Discipleship may seem like a “Mission Impossible,” but Jesus tells us that “it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.”
When we consider the life of our teacher, following him seems so much more likely for us. Jesus was born of peasant parents and later, he was baptized by his cousin. When he chose his followers, he didn’t select the “first round draft” picks, he chose “second string” players like you and me. He hand picked a bunch of fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and some other outcasts to help him lead the movement.
Jesus then began challenging the norms of society, telling people that the Kingdom of God was very different from how life was in that culture and in that day and time. He had the audacity to tell people to “Love your neighbor, pray for your enemies, sell all you have and follow me.” Can you imagine? Then, he went around healing the outcasts and untouchables, and was often found hanging out with the “wrong kind of people.”
When his movement took on momentum, he was suddenly persecuted, but took no retaliation. Rather, he withdrew, and continued the mission. He was rejected, beaten, spat on, and crucified, but he never walked away from the mission of love. Oh, and by the way, the best part of the story is that his love, which was the essence of his mission, overcame death and he was raised from the dead. Resurrection is not a mere sentimental notion my friends, but it has been the hope of many generations that have come before us. This story of death and resurrection in Christ is our hope, a generous hope, which assures us that love will overcome all. That was Jesus Mission, which was not only to “think” of the other with compassion, but to live life for the other. “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.”
Discipleship is not merely an individual endeavor because we engage in this mission as a community. Discipleship requires that the church constantly re-align her heart with God’s, so that we might be like him. Theologian James Bailey asserts, “Most people today, if they think of the church at all, view it as a building that they can enter or an institution they might join primarily to meet their own needs and those of their family. They do not understand church more expansively as consisting of assemblies of people called and gathered by God to be part of a movement.”3
We need to recognize that we are not merely consumers of religious commodities. We are participants in a movement of God’s love, begun in Christ and it continues in an ongoing narrative enacted in and through us. Our mission is to confess God’s act in Jesus, by having and acting upon a genuine concern for mission in the world.
There is a paraphrase of Matthew 5:14 that says it a little more clearly, “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” This is our mission and our marching orders.
God’s people need to avoid the trap of trying to do this mission from within our own power, and with our own resources. We need to trust God, who is in interested in our hearts. God desires us to love him with all that we are, and to love our neighbor. That loving neighbor part is critical because, “the church’s mission becomes credible only when the preaching of God’s mercy is accompanied by merciful deeds.”3
God’s people need to overcome the fear of what others might think, do, or say about us, and the mission we are on. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That last phrase may seem like a veiled threat, but it is not. Jesus was encouraging us to re-think and acknowledge that God is at the center of our very existence. I believe Jesus was saying that in the end, it is God to whom we must answer. It is really risky today to proclaim the faith, but remember, we are on a mission of love, a movement of reconciliation and restoration begun by God, the Redeemer who first loved us. This little tidbit of information should help us to not worry about what others might think, but embolden us get on with our mission.
God is the great lover. God is the faithful creator that cares for each and EVERY creature. The creator and redeemer are one in the same; God reconciling the world, inviting us to join the movement, because we all, by his love enacted in Christ, are already a part of it. “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.”
Thinking back to the CBS Mission Impossible drama, there is one little detail about the show that is often overlooked. The IMF agents were never coerced or forced to engage in any of those impossible missions. Remember that part on the mission-briefing recording, “Your mission, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE to accept it.” Deciding whether we will try and be like the teacher or not, is a decision we all must make. To change, to be transformed, to take a risk, to share with others what God has done for us, to love the other with great compassion, to live without fear, these are choices we must make as the Body of Christ. The question is, do we choose to truly trust in God’s promises or do we choose to live in fear. Discipleship is not impossible. It really is pretty simple that is, when we come to place where we can accept that when it comes to following Jesus, “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.”
3 Bailey, James L. “Church As Embodiment Of Jesus’ Mission (Matthew 9:36-10:39).” Currents In Theology And Mission 30.3 (2003): 189-196. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 21 June 2014.