Growing up Presbyterian I was in a church that hadn't really grapsed the "liturgical renewal movement". I didn't know anything about the traditional responses to things like like "The Lord be with you" or "The Word of the Lord." The church I attended during college was "higher" church than my laid back Florida congregation so I learned some of these things in my second worship home.
In seminary, they became like our secret language, a whole new way of greating people in and out of worship, and, especially, in class. Professors gave "The Lord be with you" a whole new meaning, in my opinion. At the start of class it was repeated several times until the dull roar had quieted. If someone were asking me to translate this foreign language greeting, I would have had to tell them that "The Lord be with you" really meant "Shut up." It sort of annoyed me that this greeting, this sharing of the good news, really, was used in such a way.
I digress. I usually do.
One day in chapel the preacher for the morning read a particularly difficult text. I don't remember what it was now, but I remember my reaction to the reading was a thought like, "Really? That one's in there? Does it have to be?" And so was born my own internal response to "The word of the Lord." When "Thanks be to God" isn't what I want to say "Like it or not" is how I respond silently or even under my breath.
This week's Matthew lesson elicits that sort of response from me. This is the word of the Lord. Whether I like it or not! These are not easy words to read or digest. They aren't really the most INVITING words either. They are words of warning. If you come along with me, or, more accurately, if you go along with my plans for you, people just might not like you. What we're going to do together, it's not necessarily going to make you popular in the way you might hope to be. This isn't necessarily going to get your face on the cover of the "What's happening" section of the local paper, one where you're holding a certificate of commendation or receiving the keys to the city. Your family isn't going to include a detailed description of your exploits in the annual Christmas letter. People around town might not invite you to their fancy parties. You might not be able to stand in favor of the same issues you used to support. Your values will change. Your activities will change. Your priorities will change. If you do this, if you REALLY go where I tell you to go and HOW I tell you to, your life will be changed. This is the word of the Lord. Like it or not.
Being a disciple of Jesus is a risk. Truly answering his call and going where we are sent is a life-changing decision. It's not even the folks at the destination that pose the risk all of the time, it's the people who knew us before. It's our families, our friends, our co-workers, the people who see us around town, the people who have known or think they know who we are and what we're all about. Discipleship risks these relationships more than any others.
It's easy to make a fool of yourself in front of people you don't know, people you may never see again. It's easy to bare your soul when you don't think you'll have to face your audience another day. But making these kinds of changes and declarations in front of those who really know us and will always know us - - that is dangerous. Going out to follow the call of Christ (even if it doesn't take us farther than the end of the street) doesn't mean those relationships are going to be there in the same way when we get back.
OK. I've got to run. I've got more thoughts that may or may not be incorporated. More that I want to ponder, and I hope I do in blog format. For now, a short list to come back to when I come back.
- The disciple may not be above the teacher (which should be obvious), but in this relationship as Jesus describes it we're elevated above even being a pupil under the teacher. It seems more mutual - the disciple is like the master. Is this a statement about hierarchy or about similarity of message and reputation?
- The scandal of the cross? Taking up the cross? Easier (but not easy) to understand this in retrospect, but what did it mean to the disciples that day? I don't like just resolving questions with, "Well Matthew was written after the fact and put stuff in that maybe Jesus didn't say, blah blah blah" I don't think that preaches.
- The good news - The world may hate you, but God loves you. Is that really all we've got? I mean, it's a lot, but it's hard to hang my hat on that here and now, right when my family has been set against me. It's not really the best selling point if this were a sales pitch!
- The found life - I think this might be where the real good news is. What does a found life look like? What makes losing everything I know and I love and I'm comfortable with worth it? I think the answer to this is the reason the risk is worth taking.