... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 4 Year A
Message July 06, 2014

Discipleship – Cost and Benefit

Text: Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-251; Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

Discipleship has been the main focus of the lectionary readings for the past few Sundays and even the interlude of the celebration of St. Peter and St. Paul touched heavily on their works as an outpouring of discipleship. As we have already noted, discipleship involves commitment, obedience and practice. Commitment is that inner drive which is able to bring about adherence to a task and the ability to postpone pleasure. Obedience is that quality which subjects self to the other be it task and teacher or rule and practice is the repetitive performance which enables growth perfection and second nature in any aspect of life.

Today’s readings are no less focused on discipleship that those we have already tackled except that here there is a somewhat obtuse slant. Where the Old testament story of testing Abraham in his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, today’s is a text of the servant Eliazar’s obedience and character and the faithful response of Rebekah. These will play as foils in Jesus’ speech concerning the leaders of Israel. True discipleship has a cost and has an ultimate benefit. But in order to reap the benefit the costs must first be paid. Jesus’ rebuke to the leaders in that they have neither stayed the course nor paid the costs. And we will look at this more closely a little later.

From the Genesis story we hear the successful journey of Eliazar in obedience to Abraham’s command to find a wife for Isaac. Just as Abraham has been tested and found worthy of God’s selection so has Eliazar and he is now given great wealth to take to Abraham’s kinsfolk in Haran in order that he might find a wife for Isaac. We can just imagine the temptation – all that wealth, he could simply have “gotten lost” and lived a long wealthy life. He could have gone to Haran not overly exerted himself – been freed by Abraham’s own words and still been wealthy – yet he remained obedient completed the task and set the stage for God’s promise to Abraham to be fulfilled.

Rebekah’s response has to be noted as one obedient and one with ears to hear. She hears Eliazar’s story and of her own free-will agree3s to accompany him back to wed Isaac. This story in itself is novel. Considering a paternalistic society Rebekah is given the choice by her father and brothers. Yet it is her obedience to God’s will which enables God’s promises to be kept. The psalm in many ways seems to be the benefit of Rebekah’s discipleship – it is a royal psalm of marriage which focuses on the success and the fulfilment of the king. As an allegory it points to the reign of God, the rewards of faithfulness of Israel to the Lord and the blessing of multitudes.

The real crunch comes as we read Paul’s letter to the Romans and hear Jesus’ words of sarcasm toward the religious leaders of his day. The idealism and idyllic story of Rebekah and Isaac become the dire realization of the difficulty concerning discipleship. Paul has often been thought to be dealing with his own inward struggles with some affliction in this passage. Unfortunately we are not given the whole periscope which would place today’s reading in the context of the holiness of the law. Paul argues that the law is holy and that those who try to adhere to it find it an impossible task to do in and by themselves. The innate human element takes that which is good and corrupts it. Even the practiced faith subconsciously submits the good.

In the movie The Lord of the Rings Frodo on hearing that Mordor has dispatched wraiths to find him and the ring, offers Gandalf the ring. Gandalf the wizard with all his strength and goodness replies, “Do not tempt me – I would want to use the ring for good but it would corrupt and turn the good to evil.” It is neither the wise nor powerful who truly can overpower the evil but rather the simple pure and kindly such as the hobbits. True Gandalf, Lady Lorien and Aragorn are able to resist the urge to take the ring. Boromir the strong, the warrior, the man cannot – and he ends up paying the price.

Paul acknowledges evil and sin as a powerful enemy at work within us subverting our goodly desires and turning our attempts to keep the law into some inhumane code of conduct which punishes rather than encourages life. Sin is so powerful that it can take all that is good and use it to serve its own ends and purposes. In Paul’s case he had been so adherent to the law that he had become a persecutor and bounty hunter of those who professed Christianity. By keeping the law he had become by his own very nature a defiler of it. That is until he found or rather he was found by Christ. Then and only then did he come to see the real aspect of discipleship and its benefits.

In the Gospel passage for today we again leave out a big portion of the events leading up to what we know and refer to as “the Comfortable words”. By themselves these words have come to represent a warm cozy feeling of Christianity and an easy belief or faith. How far from the truth of the matter! To see its full impact we need to hear all of Chapter 11. This tells of John the Baptist’s imprisonment and his request of Jesus to tell him if he is the One or not. Jesus gives John’s emissaries an answer telling them to recount all the miracles that Jesus has done. As these followers head back to tell John, Jesus turns to the crowds and asks them what they expected of John informing them that John was the greatest of messengers. Even so he was less than even the least in the kingdom of heaven. With this Jesus states, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

The key is the invitation to discipleship and the cost is great. And Jesus declares that the learned the rich and the powerful have not walked the path of disciples of God. They have not truly understood God, the Law or the Prophets. Instead they have derided the greatest of the prophets as one possessed of a demon because of his asceticism and then debauched Jesus because he wasn’t. There is no pleasing the populace. And what was true in Jesus’ times surely is true today. People corrupt the law to their own choosing. We have such corruption we have laws and regulation to govern our laws. Such is what our society has devolved into. But there is a way – a way of discipleship which will assist us in avoiding the traps of sin and corruption.

Discipleship requires energy, it requires work and effort; we need to know the law, practice the law, practice and practice again. Like learning how to tie your shoe-laces or learn an instrument knowing and fully appreciating God’s law takes practice. It isn’t easy and by ourselves we would fall into the truth. Paul discovered – we simply cannot do it. Yet if we become obedient to the coach, the one who knows God the Father our task can be made so much easier. He can help us overcome the sin which would have us corrupt the law even while we think we are keeping it.

These are the comfortable words. They are not words of easy solution nor promises of gentle core-releasing presence. These words are encouragement for the tasks of practicing of our learning and our stumbling. They are the words of promise promoting a portal to prevent failure and going down the wrong pathway. They are the words which yell to be obedient to the teachings of Him who truly and only knows the Father.

Discipleship is a costly pathway whether it be playing an instrument, learning a profession or following a spiritual pathway Christ has blazed. It involves constant rehearsals, practices, corrections, and sacrifices. However the rewards of success will be immense – soothing music for self and others, hones professional skills or a truly spiritual life filled with wisdom and understanding.

We have choices. We can join the throngs for whom the costs are too great and become like the generation of Jesus’ day or we can become disciples and forge the course relying on Jesus to teach guide and bring us to the divine benefits promised by Him. Discipleship Costs and benefits – our choice!