Sermon Archives

Sunday, June 25, 2017
The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
It is Enough for the Disciple to be Like the Teacher

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Before much else can be said, I need to take a minute or two to address the elephant in the room – today’s Gospel reading, especially the latter half or so, is perplexing to say the least!  If this was the only saying of Jesus that remained we might be right in inferring that Jesus wants to divide mother and daughter and father and son, and that he wants his followers to take up the way of the sword in the place of the way of peace. 

Yet, seen within the larger context of Matthew’s gospel and, even more, seen within the Gospels as a whole, we know that such a message couldn’t be more dissonant from the life and teaching of Jesus.  In the stories of the last supper and his arrest alone, we know that Jesus seeks to draw the world together and to have us all put up the sword in the pursuit of peace.

So, we must take a moment, even if only briefly, to ask why Matthew and the early Christian community held on to this story? 

First, as a stark reminder to the early Christian community, and even to us today, that the world is not at peace with way of Jesus; said differently, the way of Jesus is not the way of the world – they are in conflict.  If we expect Jesus to simply bless the way of life that he encounters in 1st century Palestine, be it the way of his Jewish community, or the gentile communities, or the religious elites or the Roman government – we will be sorely mistaken.  The same can be said for our lives today – the way of Jesus stands in stark contrast to our lives today, a conflict that will inevitably lead to division, even at times in the closest of relationships.

A great part of this conflict will be found in the objects of our love.  Our way – today and two thousand years ago – is to create a hierarchy of love:  myself, my family, my dear friends, my less dear friends, my ethnic family, by American family, my western European allies, my distant relatives, my classmates, the neighbors on my block, and the list goes on .  .  .  and the further down the list you are the less love we have to give and the less generous and merciful we become.

Jesus sets an entirely different hierarchy of love – First:  God; Second:  neighbor (that is everyone who is not you) and you.  One could even say that it is simply one level:  God | self | neighbor.  And the action to each is the same:  love.  Love God in all things and all ways.  Love your neighbor as abundantly, as fully and generously as mercifully and as compassionately, as you love yourself as you love your son or daughter or mother or father. 

When we try to parcel out our love whose supply is always running low, we miss the way of Jesus for whom love (and all the action that love entails – healing, inclusion, restoration, forgiveness, feeding and sustaining, correcting and reshaping, empowering and uplifting); when we try to parcel out our love whose supply is always running low, we miss the way of Jesus for whom love is the source and way of abundant life.

And yet, this is not all that I want us to focus on this morning, for there is an essential invitation found at the outset of today’s Gospel lesson:  “it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.” 

This is the invitation Jesus extends to his disciples, to the multitudes that follow him, and to the Church through the ages, right down to you and to me today – to be disciples in his image.  To live – and to love – like he does.  That’s discipleship.  That’s living the baptized life – living a life as Jesus would live it today, to live a life in which we completely love God and in which we love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves and those dearest to us.

So, I want us to do an exercise.  What are some adjectives that describe Jesus?  The congregation provided the following responses:

  • Loving
  • Challenging
  • Selfless
  • Generous
  • Gracious
  • Forgiving
  • Patient
  • Smart
  • Jewish
  • Persistent
  • Welcoming
  • Teaching Giving
  • Unconditional
  • Steadfast
  • Divine
  • Sometimes angry
  • Gentle
  • Leader
  • Demanding
  • Open
  • Questioning
  • Trusting
  • Omnipotent
  • Smart
  • Good
  • Peaceful

Now comes the hard part.  Choose three!  (The congregation couldn’t settle on three – so we went with the following four:)

  • Selfless
  • Forgiving
  • Good
  • Peaceful

There’s Jesus:  selfless, forgiving, peaceful, good. 

It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.

That's a description of what our life is to become.  When we talk about loving our neighbors, we are talking about being peaceful with them.  We're talking about being good to them.  We're talking about being selfless toward them; forgiving of them.  Because that's how Jesus was toward his neighbor.  That's how Jesus is towards you. 

This whole place is about helping you become that person; helping you to become a person who is so generous, so selfless, so good and peaceful and forgiving to your neighbor that it becomes ordinary not accidental or occasional.  We're not about accidental Christianity.  We are about intentional, common, practices of life.

Jesus didn't just occasionally love his neighbor or his disciple or his enemy.  He did it all the time.

Go back to that last supper, that last night of fellowship with Jesus and his closest friends.  Who is at that table with them?  Judas.  Peter.  Judas, who was about to sell him, literally sell him, to the cross, is sitting at that table.  Peter, among his closest friends, and the beloved disciple, whom Jesus loved – they're all there.  And guess what they all do?  They all disbursed, they all abandon him; as we say on Maundy Thursday, "they all forsook him and fled.” 

And what does Jesus do for them?  Knowing this, knowing that Judas was about to walk out and betray him.  He says, “Here, come sit with me at my table; and let me feed you.”  I think that that moment in time was perhaps the most seminal moment in the life of Jesus, when he chose to sit with the people, the person whom he knew was about to betray him, and said I will still love you.  I will still love you to the point of nourishing and feeding you here, even when it is to nourish and feed you to go and betrayed me.  I will still love you.  That is the life to which we are called.  That's with this place is about.

Helping each of us to become that person, that kind of person in the world.  The world is an immense place and we occupy a very small place within it.  But that place gets a lot of larger when you imagine us holding one another's hand and stretching out as far as we possibly can so that we are just barely touching one another by our finger tips; imagine if we were to say, “This circle of the world is a place where forgiveness, selflessness, goodness, and peace resides.  The world can be a dangerous and difficult place, but not in the circle.  Because we follow a different teacher.”

All that we do:  worship together, study together, serve together, be a community together, all that we do in this place is about that one thing.  We come to this place to worship, to put God back in the center of our lives, to hear that forgiveness is God's response to us, selflessness is what God does for us, pouring God’s self out for us.  And we all come to that altar, as we will in just a little while, on bended knee beside one – there's no first and there's no last, there's no better or no worse, it's just who we are.  Perhaps then we can see our neighbor that way as well.  And we are invited to take that posture of worship beyond this place into our daily lives. 

We come to this place to study as well, in order that we can remember and perhaps even be a challenge to see who God is more clearly; to truly really grapple with the depth and profundity of God and Jesus and his sacrificial love, his selfless love for and constant forgiveness of us.

We come to this place, as well, to practice loving our neighbor, not just one another, but beyond ourselves so that it may become more ordinary in the rest of our lives.  Summer starters, Crossroads Service Days, Shelter Week Meals, Mercado, all to practice our care and service for our neighbor.

And we do it together.  We do practice our forgiveness and selflessness and goodness and peace here, that this may be a place of Jesus – and I see it so beautifully, over and over again, within us.  A place of forgiveness, and goodness, and peace.

That is why we are here.  And that is simply what we do.  “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.”

I can think of no better prayer and this:  May I, may you, may we be like our teacher Jesus our Savior and God.