by John Jewell
4th Sunday after New Sunday (5th Sunday after Easter)
Gospel Reading: Luke 9:51-62
There is an old Peanuts comic strip where Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she would make a good evangelist. "And why do you think that?" Charlie Brown asks. "Well," says Lucy, "I convinced the boy who sits behind me in school that my religion is better than his religion." Charlie Brown wants to know, "How did you do that?" To which Lucy replies, "I hit him over the head with my lunch box!"
Her approach is not unlike the approach of James and John in our gospel lesson today. It was good that these two followers of Jesus did not have access to flame throwers or napalm.
Jesus was preparing to make his last journey to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. He sent messengers ahead of his into a Samaritan village to make preparations for a short stay on his journey. The people of the village wanted nothing to do with Jesus, however. One reason was simply that Jews were not hospitable to Samaritans and this was simply response in kind. A more compelling reason for the Samaritans was that they wanted nothing to do with Jesus because he was going to the Jewish holy city which they did not recognize as a legitimate center of worship.
James and John react angrily. "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" they exclaim. They were from the "hit you over the head with a lunch box" school of evangelism. If they smoked a Samaritan village because they would not receive Christ -- well you can be sure that their appearance anywhere in Samaria would have resulted in lots of people "receiving" Christ -- don't you think?
Jesus saw this spirit within them from early on. At the very beginning, when Jesus called people to follow him, the gospel of Mark says Jesus gave James and John the name "Sons of Thunder." [Mark 3:17] They may have had in mind the unfortunate fate of King Ahaziah's commander and squad of men who went to arrest Elijah and take him back to the King. The ungodliness of Ahaziah and his men was such that heavenly fire fell and consumed the squad! [2 Kings 1:12]
Lunch box evangelism you might call it!
And it worked. Unmoved by the misfortune of his men, Ahaziah sent another contingent of fifty. This time the captain of the group fell on his knees before Elijah told him that he knew of the fate of his predecessor and begged for his life and the life of his men.
This "overpower them" method of evangelism calls to mind the very rapid growth of the church in the years following Constantine's conversion. Think about it. "The Emperor and his Generals would like it very much if you would convert to Christianity," the message spread. And lots of people were anxious to have the Emperor and his Generals happy.
Lunch box evangelism produces converts, but it is highly ineffective in producing Christians -- that is authentic followers of Jesus Christ.
Yet, Jesus did commission his followers to go and make disciples (that is students or learners) of all nations. Jews, Samaritans, gentiles and all who would become his followers. And those followers were to be taught what it means to know Christ and follow his teachings. Remember the words?
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." [Matthew 28:18-20]
No Emperor can mandate conversion to Christianity in our culture today. In fact talk of teaching people to obey Christ sounds a bit foreign to modern ears. It calls to mind a generation that lived at least a hundred years ago. When my oldest son was about six years old, he asked, "Dad, is it true that people had to go to church in the olden days?"
Our generation of "church folk" have not been raised on a very strong diet of discipleship. Attendance at worship and engagement with the great theological issues of the faith have become electives instead of required content in the curriculum of Christian living.
This is not entirely a new thing at all. Jesus discovered that at the opposite extreme from James and John there was another approach to discipleship. This was discipleship based on the desires of the disciple rather than on the dictates of the Master.
As Jesus is on the move toward Jerusalem, crowds attend they way. His ministry has drawn attention from religious officials and from the ordinary people who came to him in droves for hope and healing. Now as the outlines of his final confrontation with the priest, scribes and Pharisees begin to emerge from the background, a sense of urgency slowly begins to build.
Whether caught up in the excitement of the moment or motivated by deep seated convictions, we do not know, but three individuals encounter Jesus. Two say they want to follow Jesus and another is called. All three are strongly cautioned that following him - discipleship - is a costly thing.
Jesus might not be invited to be on very many evangelism or membership committees in our churches today. He sets the bar so high that not many would join. In the gospel of Mark, he turned a wealthy your man away. The man was a leader in town, in the synagogue and could probably have bankrolled the entire movement of Jesus and his followers. [Mark 10:17-22]
The first prospective disciple offers to follow Jesus absolutely and the second two say in effect, "I will follow you but..." Jesus' responses indicate that the first prospect was not sufficiently aware of what he was promising to do. The second two were trying to make discipleship secondary to other issues in their lives. The two dynamics here are:  Count the cost, and  Make the commitment.
 Count the cost
"I will follow you," the first person says, "...wherever you go."
Someone is moved by what they see in Jesus and his disciples. "I'm with you!" They affirm ... "I will go with you wherever you go!" But Jesus pushes their commitment level. There will be times he has no place to go and eventually he will go to Jerusalem, to Calvary and to death.
Peter once said to Jesus, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." [Mark 10:28] Following Christ can be a risky thing. Jesus warned his disciples that they could encounter great hostility if they truly followed him. "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you." [John 15:18]
To understand discipleship is to understand that there is a cost to discipleship. When we say, "I will follow you wherever you go," - as we do in confirmation or in other forms of commitment to Christ - we may be somewhat like that person in the crowd who was excited to follow Jesus, but had not thought through the cost.
Discipleship means a renunciation of everything that is contrary to the will and the ways of Christ and an embracing of his message and ministry. You might ask yourself the question, "What is my Christian faith costing me?" If the answer is, "Nothing," then we may be sure that whatever else we may be practicing - it is not discipleship in any New Testament sense.
 Make the commitment
The next two prospects for discipleship point to the commitment Jesus calls for. A commitment to follow Christ is made in light of a tremendous urgency. Here Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will shortly be executed. There is no time for those lengthy farewell parties with family and friends or even time to go through the lengthy funeral rites of the day.
The words may sound harsh, "Let the dead bury the dead," but the mission of Christ is a matter of life and death. Not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual realm, there is no life without the life God gives to us in Christ.
Combined with the issue of counting the cost of being a follower of Christ the sense of urgency has strong implications for our own time. Most of us operate as though we had all the time in the world to attend to the important issues of our lives. "When I have been able to get ahead at work, I will spend time with my family." "When I get some time in my schedule, I plan to become involved in my community." "When things settle down, I want to give some time to my church."
There is no less urgency in following Christ today than there was in Jesus' day. The world is broken and can't fix itself. Hatred of one group of people for another is an urgent issue for the victims of ethnic cleansing. Malnutrition does not wait as it advances on the multitudes of children whose lives are wasting away in hunger. The empty values of the world around us have created a vacuum in the lives of many people we know.
Jesus calls, "Come and follow me..." to the crowds that attended his caravan into Jerusalem, and to you and to me in the crowds that fill the churches of our time. Understanding discipleship is to hear the call, count the cost and make the commitment. He needs disciples today, this very hour. Next week will be too late for some. Next year is as never for many.
Those of you who served in the armed forces know what it means when the drill sergeant calls out, "Fall in!" That means it is time to drop everything immediately, assemble and come to attention. That's what Jesus did when he set out for Jerusalem and the crowds were watching as though spectators. Jesus called out, "Fall in!"
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