Here’s another translation from the Gospel of Luke for today: "They came to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for his hospitality. But when the Samaritans learned that Jesus’ destination was Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. When the disciples James and John learned of it, they said, "Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them like Elijah did?" (The Message Bible)
It is not the best method of ministry to visit someone and ask God to incinerate them… Though, the reaction of James and John is not so different than how we would react. The Samaritans don’t want to receive Jesus, fine. Let God smite them just “as Elijah did”…some of the earliest manuscripts with this passage from the Gospel of Luke add the words as Elijah did, in reference to action by Elijah from the OT Book of Kings… But that’s not all after Jesus rebukes them for suggesting this, a few old manuscripts add, And Jesus said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings, but to save them.” Jesus doesn’t want us to call down fire on our so called enemies, he has not come to destroy but to save.
Jesus has come to call us into discipleship, to come follow him. But as we heard from the Gospel of Luke, the three would be disciples are confronted with discipleship on the road to Jerusalem…and Jesus wants them to know there is a cost to discipleship. A first disciple volunteers eagerly, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus tells him, he has no place to rest, to lay his head. His ministry is not easy… To a second man, Jesus says follow me. Bu the man asks to first go and bury his father, as was the proper and lawful things for him to do. But Jesus tells him to let the dead bury the dead, you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God. The third would be disciple tells Jesus he will follow Jesus, after he says good bye to his family. To this last one Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
It seems that Jesus is putting obstacles in the way of these would be disciples. But just like the disciples who wanted to consume the Samaritans with fire, these 3 do not understanding what the mission of Jesus is, these disciples fail to understand the demands and priority that Jesus expects of his disciples. They have not expected a cost. They saw life & hope with Jesus but forgot the road is not always easy, and that demands would be made of us.
The first volunteered to go where Jesus will go, but was he willing to go to the Cross? The second was asked by Jesus to come and follow, but he wanted to bury the dead first. Was he willing to let go of death and proclaim the kingdom of God and life? The third was willing to go after he had said good-bye, not unlike Elisha from our first reading who did follow the prophet Elijah but not until he went back and took care of his family. But Jesus says the one that looks back will make a crooked path, can he let go of everything and follow Jesus?
We who call ourselves Christians, Episcopalians, can fall into the traps that we have heard this morning. Who hasn’t wanted to call God’s fire down on someone? Like maybe that person who cut you off on the freeway or barged in ahead of you in line at the grocery… Or haven’t we all said, like that third would be disciples, I will follow Jesus after I do this, I will pray to God and give my gifts when I am finished with that…we have much in common with that last disciple.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian who understood the cost of discipleship when he died for his faith during the Nazi regime, wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship about the third would be disciple: “The disciple places himself at the Masters disposal, but at the same time retains the right to dictate his own terms. But then discipleship is no longer discipleship, but a program of our own to be arranged to suit ourselves, and to be judged in accordance with the standards of a rational ethic.”
It is not God who puts obstacles in our way, we do it ourselves. We want discipleship on our own terms but what Jesus asks of us is discipleship that has its costs…
I read a story about a seventh-grader who was on her junior high girls’ track team. "A meet scheduled for one Saturday had to be postponed to the following Saturday — when the girl’s church had planned a community service project that she had signed up for. She went to her track coach and told him about the conflict. He told her, “Your teammates are counting on you and you can’t let them down. I expect you to be here for the meet.” She went home in tears. The next day she talked to him again; he responded, “You are either here for the meet or you turn in your uniform.”
After a sleepless, tearful night, she made her decision. The next day she went to the coach’s office, handed him her uniform and walked away. Her parents and the parents of her teammates were surprised and even shocked: their own teenage daughter was actually choosing God and church over her track team, even though that was the way they raised her. The girl said simply, “This is about God.”" [From “Expect a call” by Kyle Childress, The Christian Century, January 9, 2007.]
This seventh grader counted the cost, responded to the responsibility of her discipleship and decided to follow God. Wow! In our society, it is so easy to put God and Church in the backseat, because it is others who demand everything, come to practice or your off the team, come to work or your fired, but church is not that way…far too many see Church as an optional piece of our lives that we can get to when we have the chance. But the truth is, it is God who demands our whole selves and that young girl got it right!
As one author put it, “There can be no “but first . . . “, no “in a minute”, no “on second thought. We cannot be disciples by being mere spectators of God’s presence; possessing a baptismal certificate alone does not mark us as disciples of the Risen One.” (Jay Cormier)
Discipleship, demands our best, demands all of who we are and demands we not look back. It is not for us to decide. We are called to follow our Lord and let it all go. To take that first step, to trust and believe… Or as they great old hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross” puts it in its last verse (474),
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all. Amen.