Matthew 10: 40-42
I believe there is no better way to scare church people than… a good old sermon on discipleship. Maybe this is why the lectionary tends to schedule some specific texts around this topic during the time of summer. Often, when we think of discipleship in a church context, words like sacrifice, denial, austerity or renunciation come to mind. We remember that Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose it for my sake will find it.” Just a few verses prior today’s text from the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus sends out the disciples with the following instructions: “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for the journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff.” They are called to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons completely free of charge and with a huge smile on their face.
Without surprise, we have come to see discipleship as something reserved for only a few exceptional individuals. We are convinced that it takes a special call and gifts to willingly give up everything you own, set aside relationships with family and friends or devote your whole existence to a lifestyle contradicting the ways of our world. No wonders why there are so few men and women who enroll in our theological colleges these days. Who really wants to fulfil exceptional ministries in these challenging conditions? To sign up for the risky business of discipleship, one has to be nothing short than a hero, a prophet, a holy person or a complete masochist. Thank God we have ministers, priests and clergy person to do this for us. They accept the call. They have this vocation. They are expected to be the disciples we believe we cannot be. After all, we are just normal people. We do not have this faith that can move mountains. We do not know the right words or biblical passages. We would not even know where to begin and how to do it properly. It is better for us to leave discipleship to them.
That’s what most of us often believe. However, today’s fairly short Gospel passage helps us to broad our minds and see discipleship differently. Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” We are not somehow-kinda-good-enough-delegates-of-Christ-sent-because-no-one-better-was-available-to-do-it-today. No. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” One equates the other and vice versa. God’s power is present and works identically through all and every disciple as with Jesus. This major theological statement undercuts our sense of hierarchy and democratizes the idea of who is allowed to be involved in God’s ministries in this world. Ordinary people have the same capacities, gifts and call to discipleship than those on the church’s payroll.
Discipleship often begins by being aware of “the little ones” constantly surrounding us. These little ones are not necessarily just the children in our lives and community. They are all of those who are without power, title or privilege. They are those who are considered disposable or useless by our society. They are the ones our leaders often forget or overlook. They are the prostitutes on the streets of this city, racialized youth struggling to find a job, seniors abandoned by their family or people of the First Nations living in worst conditions that in a Third World country. They are all of those who knock at the door of our churches and remind us that we are not called to be a members-only club, a place where those who know the secret password can gather to celebrate their good fortune or a hideout to escape the chaos of our lives. They are the ones who are looking at us and hoping to discover a glimpse of God’s presence in this world.
We look at it, discipleship is basically faith in action and it does not have to be extravagant or spectacular. Jesus speaks of giving a simple cup of cold water because most often nothing more than a minor favour or small gesture is required… like giving a hug to someone who is sad… extending a listening ear to someone in need of a friend… offering a ride to someone without a car… volunteering at a senior’s facility… making a small donation to an agency helping young girls to go to school… According to Jesus, there are no small deeds. Everything done in the name of our faith and spirituality is important and can have an incredible impact. We might not have to power to completely change the whole world, but changing the world of the little ones constantly surrounding us every day is our call as disciples of Jesus the Christ.
In fact, the truth is that we are already doing it all the time without really noticing it. Discipleship is a way of life, a series of core values or a few guiding principles influencing our existence. We do not look at our calendar and decide that tomorrow we will be generous and maybe the end of the week we will show compassion to some else. We try to do what seems natural for us in every given circumstance. We try to do the right thing, to create a better world, to be the best version of ourselves. We try to apply the great principles of the realm of God Jesus came to proclaim, like loving one another, forgiving our next kin, helping our neighbour, sharing with those who have less. Discipleship is just to be God’s church in this world.
Of course we have made mistakes in the past and, trust me, we continue to make more in the future. However, I do know if you really noticed it, we the church, we disciples of Jesus the Christ are our best not when we talk about theology or preach on the differences between the numerous translations of the Bible, but when we act… when we do a myriad of small gestures… when we welcome members of the LGBTQ communities on Sunday mornings… when we commit to reconciliation and right relationships with our native sisters and brothers… when we raise money to sponsor refugees… when we send a card to someone who broke one’s leg. All of this does not necessarily require extensive training, degrees or letters after our name. All of us can do these simple actions.
Discipleship does not have to be a dirty, intimidating or scary word in our churches. One does not have to be a superhero or agree to sign up to follow an elaborate system rules and regulations. We do not ought to know all the correct beliefs and answers. As Jesus reminds us, discipleship is no more complicate than faithful small gestures that can be done all of us every day of our lives. Amen.