September 8, 2019

The Courage to Commit

Passage: Philemon 1:1-21 and Luke 14:25-33

Discipleship is a commitment to follow the teachings of a master or teacher. What exactly the teachings are determines what the life of a disciple will encompass be it thoughts, words or actions. The call that Jesus put to those who became known as the twelve disciples is – in essence – no different from the call that each one of us has received that led us to confess our faith publicly to one another and commit ourselves to the support of one another in this community. The major difference is that those first disciples experienced the teachings of Jesus in person, hearing his voice and feeling his breath and the touch of his hand and his embrace. The words were matched by the actions and the disciples were able to witness firsthand the impact that Jesus’ words and actions had on the people whose faith enabled them to embrace the teaching of Jesus and the impact on those who rejected that teaching.

Choosing a teacher or a master is critical for it truly determines the path that each of us will take, the direction we will follow for our life, the wisdom that will inform our thoughts and guide our words and influence our actions as we live our lives in interaction with the world around us. Our choice of a master who will provide us with guidance is central to our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and will reveal to ourselves and others what we believe about our own humanity and how we choose to respond to those with whom we have contact.

But our choice of a master – while allowing us to find direction and wisdom – will not magically lead to a life without challenges or obstacles. Our very interpretation of how this life is to be lived and our determination to hold to that interpretation will no doubt bring us into conflict with others who have a chosen a totally different path but will also bring us into conflict with others who may be on a path similar to ours and yet with a different interpretation.

Jesus often found himself being challenged over his interpretation of the word of God as revealed to the prophets and the people of Israel. One such instance was over whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath day. The issue was that it was to be a day of rest with the understanding that people had six days on which to come and seek healing. To seek for healing on the Sabbath would have been interpreted as making someone have to work on what was supposed to be a day of rest. Now Jesus was not encouraging people to make light of the Sabbath – which we now take on Sunday as it is for us the first day of our week and a time to pause and remember what God has done for us through Jesus – but he was encouraging them to recognize that blindly following a law without considering the reasons behind the law made the law of no real consequence to their lives. Jesus uses the example of a child who has fallen into a well and in another case that of an animal that is tied and unable to gain food or water. In both cases, he asks people to ask themselves whether they would allow the unfortunate person or animal to remain in a place where more serious harm may come to them or would they take whatever step was necessary to relieve the person’s distress. In no way does Jesus pretend that the wisdom of keeping the Sabbath is to be abandoned but he encourages people to exercise discretion and to recognize the principle behind the law. Compassion and care for life takes precedence over total rest from what might even be interpreted as work. And so, the disciple of Jesus learns that it is important to take a day of rest but that it needs to be balanced by the willingness to be compassionate and caring when faced with a situation where another person is in pain or danger. Sometimes our concern not to offend God can cause us to lose sight of the deeper wisdom and insights that God seeks to reveal to us as we are taught by our master and teacher.

Remember that this is the first time in history outside of the time of Adam and Eve that God is present in a form that humans could truly see the face of God and hear God’s voice and be touched by God’s hand. The very power and presence that had begun the world and that had guided a people through countless challenging situations was living among them in a way that had never been imagined. People needed to wrap their head around the reality that this was their God with them and then come to understand that this person’s whole purpose was to help them see and hear and understand the principles behind the laws they followed and so follow not just in mind or body but also in spirit, being open to the Spirit of God showing them what lay beyond the simple words.

Clearly Jesus came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets but his understanding of what that meant was different than that being taught by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus’ teaching went beyond the established letter of the Law. Jesus was echoing the message of God to the prophets of long ago - that the word of God would be written on the hearts of the people and not just on tablets or doorposts. Jesus was echoing the words of the prophet Micah who declared what the true sacrifice of a believer - of a disciple - was to be: To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). The very act of John the Baptist through a baptism in water was to be a symbolic preparation of the people to experience God and life with God in a deeper way, a way that depended less on rules and more on a heart open to the Spirit of God. Jesus reminded the people that God had created them as a union of body, mind and spirit and that meant listening for and following the law of God not just in mind or body but in mind, body and spirit.

The message of God that came through Jesus was one that challenged how people interpreted the word of God and challenged how people were living their lives in response to that interpretation. The decision to be a believer, the decision to follow the teaching of God as revealed by Jesus, the decision to be guided in our daily life by the Spirit of God took courage in that day and it takes courage today.

To be a believer in God as revealed in Jesus Christ requires courage because that decision will no doubt lead us to make decisions that will be challenging to others in our community, social circle or family. Our commitment to believe in God and to worship God will cause us to have disagreements with others. And as much as we would welcome an open dialogue with those who find their truth in other belief systems, we may run into people whose tolerance for our faith is limited or non-existent. We may even get to a point in our society where our belief system is deemed unacceptable by the society at large. The question that this will raise to us is whether we will be prepared to continue to be faithful; whether we will be prepared to suffer for our faith.

Jesus’ instruction to the people of that day to think carefully about the cost of following him and his teaching was a caution to be aware that making the decision to be a disciple of Jesus was not something to be lightly considered. Faith in God was not to be a matter of this is what you must do but something that you feel led to do. Following the teachings of Jesus about God was not to be something that you did today but abandoned when a conflict arose but was to be something that you felt you could commit yourself to body and soul for all your life.

Do we seek to follow God no matter what? Would we be prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of the truth that God has shared with us? Would we turn from family, friends, even the loss of a job for the sake of our faith? These are questions that cannot be answered quickly but they are questions that we need to keep in our minds as we live our lives.