Mutual Discipleship

Proper 22C
Luke 17:1-10

We’ve mentioned several times how Luke is a book of discipleship.  There are several examples of what a disciple looks like.  A person of humility, one who asks for mercy, not like the arrogant scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus has challenged us, in Luke, to see ourselves in need of God’s mercy and to expose in us the ways that we refuse to show mercy.  The Table of the Lord is full of the humble and the merciful.  Those who are full of themselves and their own righteousness are on the outside looking in.

As in all of New Testament Scripture, Luke is written not to individuals but to the whole community.  So there is depicted a corporate, a communal, discipleship as well as an individual one.  There is a discipleship that is expected of Christ’s Body and not just the individual members. Like Amos calling Israel back from its sin, so does Jesus call us to mutual accountability and discipleship.

We miss the whole of Jesus’ words if we do not include Luke 17:1-10 rather than just 4-10 like the Lectionary has set it up.  Let me read to you the first part of this chapter. “And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

In the first part of Luke 17, Jesus gives four basic teachings on discipleship in the body.  The first is the community of Jesus is not to be a scandal to the world.  The other three are easy to remember.  The community of Jesus is to be a community of: forgiveness, faith and faithfulness.

First, the community is not to be a scandal to the world.  Jesus says that sin is bound to come, but woe to those to whom it comes and woe to the one who ‘causes a little one to sin.’  The word that Jesus uses for ‘causes to sin’ is actually only one word, it is the Greek word skandalon.  Another way we translate it is, ‘stumbling block,’ but it is where we get the word, ‘scandal.’

The community of Jesus has to be a place and a people of accountability.  We are mutually accountable to each other.  As Anglican Christians we believe that it is not just ‘me and Jesus.’  The community is a community of salvation.  We believe in the catholic notion of communion of saints, both the living saints on earth and the living saints who have gone to glory.  What we do effects each other and we are accountable the church that gave us the Faith, we are accountable to the church meets on 1st and Colorado, we are accountable to the church around the world.

The disputes and chaos around our Episcopal Church seem complicated but the matter is really simple.  Somewhere we forgot to be accountable.  We forgot to be accountable to the Church of all times and all ages and we forgot to be accountable to the rest of the Anglican Communion.

I’ve been reading a book by Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda.  He talks of his experience as a Tutsi.  He was forced to be a refugee to Uganda in the 70s because of the already festering hatred and tension and killing of Tutsis by the neighbors and friends they grew up with.  He was blessed to be ordained in Uganda when Idi Amin took power.  He was threatened by Amin’s troops and eventually he returned to Rwanda to witness the mass genocide of the 90s.  By the way, the Burundi’s among us, some of them witnessed firsthand the genocide of the Tutsis, for the Hutus and Tutsis make up most of their population.

We say we are in the Anglican Communion.  But how many of us gave one thought to the Anglican Christians slaughtered in 1994?

It is bad enough that none of the nations of the world and members of the United Nations security council (that is the US, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China) did nothing (other than evacuate) but the scandal is that the rest of the Christians in the world were not even paying attention.

Right now Anglican Christians suffer in Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan and many other places throughout the world.  The scandal as Episcopalians not only that we do not feel accountable to them in our own actions and decisions, the scandal is that we do not care about the suffering of Christians around the world.  Especially if their skin is darker than ours.

We don’t have to be a scandal.  We don’t have to be a stumbling block.  We can be a community of accountability.  Accountable to the Scriptures and the Church who has gone before us, accountable to each other, and accountable to the rest of the church throughout the world.  Accountable to and for the children of this world who share our church tradition!  Accountable to the displaced Anglicans and other Christians who are strangers in our land.  What we do and what we do not do effects the rest of the body.  What our relationships look like and don’t look like effects the rest of the body.

The other three points Jesus mentions are no less important.  Forgiveness, faith and faithfulness.

Jesus says that his people forgive each other whenever there is repentance.   When we offend others and sin against others there is to be forgiveness and restoration.  Seven times a day, says Jesus if the one who sins asks for forgiveness.  Sounds like marriage!  How many times do you say your sorry gents?

Seven times a day.  And seven is the number of completion.  Jesus is not saying that it is limited to seven but that forgiveness is limitless as long as there is repentance.  I would encourage all of us married couples to put up a forgiveness chart on your refrigerators.  Now I’m talking everyday stuff by the way, not abuse or adultery, that would involve intervention from a third party.  What I mean is the everyday offenses.  Put up a forgiveness chart and see if you get to seven per day.  Most of the difficulties in marriage arise when we want to win or lose something, or if we are just plain selfish.

Seven times a day.  Forgive seven times per day.  What happens in churches when there is conflict or when someone sins against someone else?  No one ever acknowledges sin or repents or clears the air.  What usually happens?  ‘Well, if that is what is going on there, I’m outta here!’  Then there are e-mail wars or phone calls or parking lot meetings and it festers and festers and festers until you’ve got a real problem.

Scientists created an island outside of Alaska called ‘rat island.’  It started as a way of observing rat behavior but it has turned out to be frightening situation in which no other specie can co-exist with rats.  Rats even eat birds.  They feed on their eyes and their brains and they leave the rest to rot.  So the island becomes a place of disease and filth.  And you can’t drown a rat.  Did you know that when there is a ship wreck near land, scientists are more worried about a rat spill than an oil spill?  Oil is less of a problem for the ecosystem than rats.

This is what the lack of forgiveness and repentance in a community is like.  Gossip, backbiting, withholding forgiveness, these things are worse for this church than if we had a fire and the whole building burned down–assuming the building were empty of course.

Seven times per day.

Next, the community of Jesus is a community of faith.  Jesus says that if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can say to a mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted into the sea’ and it will be uprooted.  Wow.  Little boys when they are small want to be Superman or Spiderman or Batman.  I wanted to be what many in my generation wanted to be.  A jedi like Luke Skywalker.  (By the way, Luke is named after Luke the evangelist, but there is a secondary meaning).

What does a jedi do?  They move stuff with jedi mind tricks.  You can pick things up with the move of a hand.  You can even crush tracheas if you are so inclined.  Is this what Jesus had in mind?  Now there are Christian saints of the past who had certain charisms like ability to see the future and such.  But does Jesus say that faith is like jedi power?

Whenever Jesus gives teachings such as these, we must put them in context.  In isolation this text has caused problems among people who think being a Christian means super powers or science of the mind kind of healing powers.  God can heal and God does heal.  God can bring miracles and God does bring miracles.  But God does it, sometimes through us, but these things never come from our hands.

What Jesus is getting at is the ability to believe that the community of Christ can be the kind of people he is describing.  Accountability, repentance, forgiveness, these things are actually possible.  Faith that believes that the gospel has power to change lives.  How do you know when lives are changed?  When there is forgiveness, repentance and accountability among Christians.

I love the subtitle of Bishop Racyahana’s book.  The book is called The Bishop of Rwanda and the subtitle is Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones.  It takes an extra measure of grace to go there doesn’t it?  It’s faith that can say there is forgiveness amidst genocide.  It is faith that believes the power of the gospel is more powerful than all the world’s hatreds put together.  It’s the kind of faith that can move mountains.

We are part of a parish that has great opportunity to believe.  I’m not a power of positive thinking guy because I believe we need to see what and who we are not before we can see what we can become.  But I do believe that the power of the gospel is more powerful than anything.  And I believe that God can do anything when his people look to him.

I believe there is enough resources in our pockets to make this parish what it ought to be.  We can renew and renovate our plant and also be a light to the darkness of the world.  We can even be a place of forgiveness and healing, something that we have always tried to realize.

Lastly, Jesus wants his disciples, his people to be a people of faithfulness.  Jesus compares his disciples as servants, slaves who do what we do because that is what we are supposed to do.  There is nothing sexy about this message.  Jesus even uses Episcopalians’ favorite word: duty.  We do what we are supposed to do because we are supposed to do it.

Giving is a lot like that.  We begin our stewardship campaign this year next week.  In the Episcopal Church there are two categories of churches: missions and parishes.  A parish is a church that is self-sustaining, one that exists relatively autonomously.  There are also missions, those churches that rely on the financial support of the diocese.  A parish has a ‘rector’ and a mission has a ‘vicar’ which means he serves ‘in the place of’ the bishop.  In a parish, the vestry belongs to the church, in a mission the vestry is called the ‘bishop’s council’ and belongs to the bishop.

What do you think we are?  We are a parish.  I am your rector.  The vestry belongs to you.  This means we are 100% self-sustaining.  We pay all of our own bills for maintaining the facility and paying salaries and doing ministry.  We depend on no one else but our people to sustain the church.  To be faithful is to support the church.  Call it duty or whatever.  There are those in our parish who are struggling, but like everything we have talked about today, there is a mutuality to all of this. What we want this year is 100% participation from young and old.

I have to admit some failures on your leadership’s part. Where we have failed as the leadership of this church is that we have not asked for enough.  We have been minimalists and so you have been minimalists.  We’ve asked for little and we’ve received little.  It is time for us to have faith and to be faithful.

I am so excited at what this church has become.  We have been through so much.  It is time to stop getting by and start being what God wants us to be.

But there is more to faithfulness than writing checks.  We are all:
-responsible for the building
-responsible for the ministry of this church
-the face of Christ in this corner

Jesus primary way of making himself known is through his people!