Saturday, September 15, 2007

Learn from me

One can choose from a variety of kinds of discipleship. At one end there are the impossibly high views of discipleship, such as my last post You cannot become my disciple. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship is a good example of, well, costly discipleship. I find it easy to despair when I read it. It seems humanly impossible. (See Kjos Ministries for excerpts selected by a conservative brother.)

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the amazingly-low-cost forms of discipleship, nominal Christianity, discipleship by association, say, casual church attendance at most. It's far too cheap--bargain basement--and really isn't worth as much anyway.

Now there are the would-be disciples who when asked to go beyond a comfort zone—to actually give up something—find that they just can make the exchange. They are the camels who cannot fit through the eye of the needle. They are the rich ones who cannot let go of their wealth or their security. They are the pearl buyers who cannot bargain their inventory of cheap pearls for one precious pearl of greater worth. They are the ones who cannot break from the cares of this life.

(I like to think of myself in this second-rate category. It is an aspiration.)

In our human capacity, it is impossible to become a disciple. Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" He replied, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God." ~ Luke 18:26-27

I used to think this passage was about personal salvation. In this story, however, the one who "went away sad; for he was very rich" was unable to accept Jesus' invitation to discipleship. This is not to say that discipleship is a prerequisite for "salvation," but that this would-be disciple was not yet freed from his many possessions. He was not sufficiently liberated, enlightened or whatever it might call it to abandon himself and accept the call of discipleship.

(In what sense, can we say that such a person is saved?)

Fortunately, there is an alternative. It is called suffering. It’s long, tedious, unrelenting, miserable, and often meaningless suffering, but seems to work for some of us. Suffering in this life can pry us loose from things we once thought were so very essential. It may be quick or slow like peeling off a band-aid. A near death experience can jolt us into realizing that 99% of what's in our life has not the least importance. Or like Martha we fuss about so many things when only one thing is needed. Perhaps Martha has got to wear herself out and burn out completely, until she comes to choose the better path.

(Could Martha have chosen a “better” path to discipleship as Mary seemed to have?)

There's another kind of a third-rate disciple. This is the kind that wants to squeeze in close to Jesus, perhaps for favors, respect, or power. These are the all-too-religious, ambitious type of disciple. They see Jesus as some sort of "in" with the Godfather. Really they're looking to work their way up to make deals with the Big Guy, or at least cut them for the rest of us. These can become the "thugs for Jesus." Jesus died for sinners, but he gets whacked by these guys. And they'll bust your kneecaps if you don't show the right respect to the Boss.

(Whose disciples are these, anyway?)

Ordinary, good Christians are willing to follow the third-rate disciples or at least let them do what they want. These are the nice, wholesome churchgoers, who don't rock anything, those are fearful of controversy and church splits, those who really don’t want anything to change. Perhaps they have no hope of anything better.

This kind of discipleship tends to focus on issues of personal sin, public morality, or social responsibility. If only...everyone could be like us.

Some of these fourth-rate disciples actually believe Jesus died for their personal sins. Never mind the Jesus bore the sin of the whole world. Never mind the people who are literally enslaved, exploited for profit, beaten, raped, starved and discarded. They are crushed by a whole empire of sin. Nope, Jesus did not die for this sin of the world, the corporate clamor for power that degrades the whole creation. No, the accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior. This Jesus died so that God could forgive those burdened with the guilt of sweaty dreams and chocolate cakes.

You see, Jesus doesn't really want me to be a fat, ugly, hideous, disgusting loser of a person. So, God is still working on me. Everyday I get into the word and get a little closer. Someday I get over feeling so bad about me. You see, God wants me to be a beautiful person...because in His eyes...I am beautiful. I really, really want my life to really glorify Him 'cause He is so awesome.

Yes, I do believe the Jesus came to save sinners such as these, even a wanna-be like me.

The problem is we do not know what sin is. We cannot see it though it looks back at us in the mirror. We see rather only the sins we have been shamed to see, the ones we hide, the one that tell us how useless we are, or the ones that let us off the hook of responsibility. It would be far better for us to go “sin boldly.” Eat the whole chocolate cake, in fact, eat two. Work out your lusty affairs till you can take it any more. Get it out of your system. Eat until you vomit. Then maybe you'll be fit to enter the kingdom!

Still I am convinced that God is merciful. The one who is gentle and humble of heart, the human one says, "Learn from me and you will be my disciples. Stay here with me and you will be my witness in all the earth. "

You see, it has nothing to do with you. It’s not about me. Discipleship is a matter of the body prophetic and incarnate priesthood of the crucified one. It is enough to live the presence of the risen one. Lose yourself--your insecurity, ambition, pettiness, shame--and enter the consuming vision of the holy one. Learn from me.

Monday, September 10, 2007

You cannot become my disciple

A reflection on Luke 14:25-33 (Seems I am always a day late on the lectionary, but here goes.)

Jesus turns to the large crowds to say, “None of you can become my disciple.” If this does not piss off the pious among us, even the piety within us, I don’t know what would.

Could Jesus have made it any clearer how foolish are the large ones among us?

There are some who want to build large towers for themselves, but they have no idea of what they are doing. They fill their pews with thousands of seekers and admirers. But they do not perceive their own vanity, nor do they fear from what ridiculous heights they will fall.

Puffy preachers and crowd pleasers, in your heart you despise my cross. Go away, you are not worthy of my discipleship.

There are others who lead the charge against the morally week. But they have no accountably for their bathroom deals and the company they keep. Shamelessly, they lose the war against their most base desires even as they heap judgment upon others.

Foolish fiddlers, you have set your fingers against my little ones. My discipleship for you is to set your shame before the eyes of all.

Lost are the pious ones who follow in large crowds. You are the good husbands and faithful wives. You are the loving parents and obedient children. You are brothers and sisters to all who greet you. You wrap yourselves in the comfort of family, the rightness of tradition and the illusion of respectability.

Dolts, you seek only your best life ever. You cannot become my disciple.

Are we angry yet? Have we got the message? None of us will ever become a disciple.

Because we lack the pure hatred, sufficient anger to dispose of all you possess, we will forever dodge the flames of Christ's baptism. So we will never know the passion within Jesus' bosom. Can anything but the cross ever cut us loose?