Faithful Discipleship: The Struggle is Real

A sermon, based on Luke 9.51-62, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 30, 2019

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We, now, are in the Season after the Day of Pentecost. As I have shared many times, annually, we spend half a calendar year retelling our Christian story. Beginning in Advent, anticipating the birth of Jesus, then Christmas, celebrating his birth, then Epiphany, proclaiming that he is Messiah for all the world, then Lent, following him to Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny of death on a cross, then Easter, celebrating his resurrection, then the Day of Pentecost, commemorating the coming of his promised Holy Spirit, his abiding presence and power in the world, in his first disciples, in us.

This season after Pentecost, running the other half of the calendar year, offers the opportunity for us to reflect more deeply on our Christian story that it might take root and grow in us. Thus, no surprise, the primary color for this season is green.

Today, I focus on faithful discipleship…
Jesus Sets His Face to Go to Jerusalem, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Jesus “set his face,” with firmest resolve, “to go to Jerusalem.” He had been preaching and teaching in the Galilean countryside. Now, the time had come “for him to be taken up,” to fulfill his destiny. To go to the religious, political, social center of his people to proclaim God’s kingdom of love and justice for all. And to confront the religious leaders, calling them to account for abdicating their responsibility in not proclaiming God’s love and justice for all.

On the way, Jesus encountered three would-be followers.

One declared unconditional allegiance. “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” From the beginning of his life, Jesus, according to the Christmas carol, with “no crib for his bed” to lay “down his sweet head,”(1) had no permanent resting place. Thus, to follow Jesus meant living, being like him.

Another declared conditional allegiance. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury the dead.” An ironic statement, for the dead can’t do anything! “But,” this is the point, “you,” as only the living can, “go proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but,” therefore, nullifying the spontaneity of the commitment, “let me say farewell to my family.” Jesus answered, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” To plow, indeed, to go forward doing anything while looking back, like texting while driving, is to assure the loss of attention, if not also an accident!

In response to Jesus’ either-or call to discipleship, these three chose both-and, and, therefore, chose not.

Many are the moments in our lives when we desire clarity, certainty. But the call of Jesus, when laid out in these stark terms, begs the question: Who really lives or can live an either-or life?

Even Jesus struggled with being faithful to his call from God. A call that bore the possibility, the promise of death. If he didn’t struggle, then being faithful was easy.

But scripture is clear…

When Jesus, to prepare himself for his ministry, spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil to be unfaithful to God, he struggled.

When Jesus, during the course of his ministry, faced increasing opposition from folk who rejected him and his message, even some of his disciples,(2) he struggled.

When Jesus, on the night before his death, prayed, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup (of death) from me,” he struggled. Yet because of his struggle he could make his fateful, faithful decision, saying, “yet, not what I want, but what you want.”(3)

Jesus struggled. And that’s good news! For God knows and we know that we struggle with faithfulness. For Jesus’ call, “Follow me,” is always either-or, which necessitates our struggle. For sometimes we don’t want to do what we believe Jesus would have us do. And sometimes, in the concrete, complex and ambiguous circumstances of our daily living, in the light of our beliefs and values and the shadow of the real issues and problems we face, it isn’t always clear to us what Jesus would have us do.

Nevertheless, we are called to struggle daily and, in every situation, to discern, to come to know for ourselves what it means to follow Jesus, and then to decide to do it. And all knowing two things. We may not have it right and we are responsible for our choices. Yet, know this third thing: Struggling and, sometimes, getting it wrong and trying again is what faithful discipleship is.

 

 
Footnotes:
(1) From the traditional carol, Away in a manger (c. 19th century)
(2) See Matthew 16.21-23 and John 6.53-67; especially verses 60-61, 66-67.
(3) Mark 14.36

Illustration: Jesus Sets His Face to Go to Jerusalem, James Tissot (1836-1902)

2 thoughts on “Faithful Discipleship: The Struggle is Real

  1. Dear Paul,
    When I read your sermons, I typically read them first and then print them. When I saw the title of this one I printed it first and then read it. I feel as though I’ve struggled so much this year and it’s great to know that Jesus struggled too. I know what I am called to do by God, but how do you actually do the work when you yourself are struggling?? I decide each day to follow this path that I’m on, so I’m glad to see in writing that it’s the right thing!! I’ve gotten a LOT wrong this year too, BUT I venture on…. I’m so thankful for these words!!! It makes me feel like I’m going the right thing!!
    Much love!! and thanks!!!

    Like

  2. Loretta, when I read and reflect on your words: “I’ve struggled so much this year and it’s great to know that Jesus struggled too. I know what I am called to do by God, but how do you actually do the work when you yourself are struggling?”, I feel sad. I am sorry for your struggles and I wish I knew more about the contexts and contents of your wrestling, if only to pray for you with specificity. That said, know that I hold you, always and in all ways, in the heart of my prayers for all that is good and right and just.

    And, yes, as I know you, you are doing the right things and going in the right direction. For anyone, as you, who consciously, daily self-questions her motivations and actions, I believe, is assured to be fulfilling Jesus’ call to faithful discipleship.

    Love,
    Paul

    Like

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