Psalms 77: 1-2 & 11-20
2 Kings 2:1-14
Galatians 5:1 & 13-25
Luke 9: 51-62
I am writing on Monday, one day after our (delayed) Bethel Annual Meeting. I am very proud of our church members who made the commitment and the effort to attend and take their part in it. Your faithfulness gives hope for God’s work here.
Bethel is the type of church known as “congregational”: that is, its leadership and rules are voted upon by its members in open meetings.
Many churches are not like this at all. They may have a group of leaders with powerful traditional authority who choose their own successors, as the Roman Catholic Church has done for nearly two thousand years. Or they may use a combination of voting by members and rule from the “top,” as Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others do. Each denomination has its own ways.
Congregational ways are not automatically better than the ways other churches do things: if the members of a congregational-style church become lazy or otherwise fail to show up and pay attention, it can quickly go to hell in a handbasket. The same is true of the leadership of other types of churches, as we see, all too often, in the news. Bad leaders bring the downfall of their institutions, unless the membership somehow rises up and sets things right. At worst, poorly-functioning churches are no better than badly-run, worldly businesses.
As I moved from reflecting on yesterday’s Annual Meeting to this week’s Scripture lessons, a single word came into focus: discipleship.
Discipleship is a vital theme in our Christian way of life, and it strikes me that discipleship— or lack of it— will prove to be the deciding factor in how our Bethel moves into God’s exciting future, or it winks out of existence with a sigh or a whimper.
Check out these Scripture passages:
Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. ...
Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.”
Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”
He responded, “You have asked a hard thing.”
2 Kings 2:2, 9-10
And from the gospel:
As they were going along the road, someone said to [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.”
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
To another he said, “Follow me.”
But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62
In the ancient world, discipleship meant staying with one’s teacher and imitating the teacher’s way of life. Elijah took Elisha to be his disciple. When Elijah disappeared in the “sweet chariot,” Elisha took up Elijah’s mantle— and his job description.
Jesus invited twelve men whom he called disciples, and many other women and men followed him with varying degrees of intensity. Jesus calls us, now.
For Christians, perhaps the most stirring commandment that Jesus gave his disciples was this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Notice that Jesus did not tell them to make church members or build buildings: he told them to "make disciples." This means that we followers of Jesus are to imitate him by being with other people and demonstrating the Jesus way of life, day in and day out... and those who follow us will do the same.
When Jesus said, “I am with you always,” he was talking about the Holy Spirit, Who is present with us as we strive to live as Jesus showed us. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts to help us in our disciple-making:
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.