Monday, September 30, 2013

THE SHARP-EDGE OF DISCIPLESHIP. A Homily for 10.6.13 from Luke 17:5-10 for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for 10.6.13
LUKE 17:5-10
(see below)
27th Sunday in 
Ordinary Time
Year C








The Lectionary Gospel reading for this, the twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, brings to us what may be called the sharp-edge of discipleship. 

Of course, we understand that any relationship with the LORD only begins with the initiative of the grace from the LORD himself -- "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" -- but we must also realize that this relationship is only extended by our own considered choice to follow him -- "and they straightway left their nets, and followed him."

But, we might well ask just what does it really mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to fish for people? What does it mean to have ears to hear the gospel call? Is all this always and only about going to heaven when we die? 

How could it be? This would mean that the story is about us, when we know in our heart of hearts this entire story is about GOD. Simply put, we are disciples when we take up our cross in daily obedience to the LORD's will,  joining the Almighty in the broken, rough-and-tumble of a world at war with itself. This truth, as we will soon see displayed unambiguously in today's text, means all other activities must pale. But, before we get there, we must first clear a little ground.

TEXT AND CONTEXT
In today's text we have what looks to be two disjointed sayings of Jesus. In verses 5 & 6 we seem to have Jesus teaching on the matter of faith, in response to a request from the disciples:
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." 
And, the Lord replied, 
"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree,'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Then, abruptly the topic changes to a parable on the importance of servant obedience. And it's this topic change that gives one whiplash, causing us to ask just how these two ideas could possibly fit together.

Well, the link is off the page, literally. That is, I'm not sure you can link the two topics apart from the portion the Lectionary leaves out, that is the first four verses of the chapter:
1 He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.” (LUKE 17:1-4)
This, then, is how I see the whole thing fitting together:
  • Do not cause others to sins 
  • Forgive the wrongs of others 
  • The disciples exclaim: "LORD, increase our faith to obey..." 
  • Jesus responds, it's not a matter of your faith, even small faith accomplishes the impossible 
  • Rather, it's a matter of obedience -- servants live to obey, that's the nature of the calling 

THE ESSENCE OF DISCIPLESHIP
Clearly, we have the essence of discipleship presented to us in these first four verses. Namely, as we have taught all through this ongoing exposition of St. Luke’s Gospel: 
Sacrificial Love and 
Reconciling Forgiveness
In verse one, Jesus reminds his followers that, what matters is the other, the weak one, the one with the heavy burden.

Of course, the context of this statement, in fact a primary context of much of Luke's Gospel really, is how those of power -- the religious pressure groups and state religious hierarchy -- both resisted and confronted Jesus for his inclusion of those deemed sinners by the establishment. Said differently, Jesus' kingdom offer is not for everybody, only those who willing submit to him and his way of new covenant, his new way of being the new Israel. This means, however, that the kingdom is actually open to those normally excluded. The sinners are welcomed in Jesus’ Kingdom. 

In fact the only requirement is rather simple:
24 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” (Mt. 7:24-27)
So, when Jesus says:
Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur...
he refers to these religious leaders -- no matter how pure their motive of exclusion -- who will eventually suffer the same experience of exclusion (re: rich man separated from Lazarus) that they offered the poor, the left-out and locked-out.

Simply put for us, we are to love any and all who willingly submit to the LORD's way. We are to love others more than we love our religious rules, and we are to love others others above our religious practices. (see the Good Samaritan) Ultimately we must learn to see in the one not like us the very face of the Christ. This is the way of discipleship; this is the way of sacrificial love.

But, as you would expect, there is more here. Discipleship is still more stiff, still more pressing, for true discipleship also demands a reconciling forgiveness. This forgiveness means we do not hold on to our wrongs, but we offer forgiveness above and beyond. Verse four reads:
"...if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.'”
That is, Jesus envisions the Kingdom reality as a willing resolution of our interpersonal problems. Jesus' calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven and because we have been forgiven.  Remember the poignant words of the model prayer:
14 If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Mt.7:14-15)
The power of this may be clearly seen if we apply it now to those toward whom we currently hold a grudge. Thus, the true Christian vocation means we take the initiative to be reconciled to those who have done wrong to us. In the real world of hatred, violence, greed and malice, where very real wrongs have been done to very real victims, this is no easy project. 


DISCIPLESHIP MEANS WE SERVE THE LORD
Finally, we are now ready to open the window into today's text. Here, Jesus discloses the cutting-edge of what it means to follow him. Notice, how the text reads:
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"
Clearly, the main idea Jesus presents to his hearers is that the relationship between the LORD and his follower is that of service. That is, we do not really seek to serve others, rather we seek to serve the LORD. This point may seem obtuse, but I assure you it is not. Allow me to illustrate.

Years ago I worked in the inner-city of Indianapolis, directing a center that housed a large food pantry and clothing closet. We were gifted with the availability of many volunteers, who actually enable the ministry to thrive. As part of the orientation, I would always remind those offering their time that they were not at the center to help poor people. Instead, they were there because they had followed the LORD into the city. The LORD, you see, was already there, at work, loving those all around the neighborhood, and we were merely joining him in response to his call.

I would then go on to explain that, if we were there to help poor people, then we would dependent upon their response and acknowledgment for gratification toward our ministry. However, if we were there to follow the LORD, the response of the person in front of us was secondary at best, and ultimately unnecessary. In fact, like the servant in today's parable:
"...we have done what we were obliged to do..."
and for the true servant, this is enough. This is how it always works for disciples, which leads to the final idea in today's homily...


DISCIPLESHIP IS A MATTER OF OBEDIENCE
As the LORD's servants, we obey in our service when it’s convenient and when it’s inconvenient. We may have served all day; we may be weary of the work, but still we serve when the Master calls. 

Here, I am pushing against a discipleship of complacency, where we seek to serve only by how we feel. Obviously, we do not always feel like following after Jesus into the wilds of the broken world. And, if we’ve been at this work for very long, the comfort and serenity afforded to us in our day winks longingly at us, wooing us to cut corners and take our ease. "Leave the cross behind today, brother; no need to be a fanatic. “You've done your part, my sister, now leave it to others, to those younger than you." 

But, then the text comes roaring toward us:
"Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you."
The day of our baptism, the gratitude we found in the cross, the calling to work in the kingdom comes rushing to mind, and suddenly, the Spirit reminds us that we have work to do, important work, work that aligns us with the LORD's Kingdom, as he reclaims for himself--- day by day and person by person --  this sad, tired world at war with itself.


______________________________


LUKE 17:5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." 
The Lord replied,
"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
'Come here immediately and take your place at table'? 
Would he not rather say to him,
'Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished'? 
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, 'We are unprofitable servants;

we have done what we were obliged to do.'"