Discipleship in the heat of things

August 17, 2022 

It’s hot out there.

Christians might be drifting into the bay of “put up or shut up” regarding discipleship. It could be time to finish what’s been started. A lot has been communicated during the past couple of years regarding how people can be better citizens, better Christians, better people. The question, during these hot August days and nights, is “Are we doing it?” As Christians, are we becoming better disciples of Christ? This time of year, when tempers often flare, are we being true to the one Lord to whom we profess our faith and loyalty?

Being a wayfarer, or follower of the Jesus way, is a challenge during the best of times. Summertime might very well be the best of times for many, but when things get heated, being imitators of Christ is our best offense against defensive others. The cross we bear, the one Jesus was forced to carry on the way to his crucifixion, is a heavy one, and its dank, odorous wood is especially cumbersome during oppressive times. On a sultry August evening, it seems to weigh ten times what it ordinarily does as we listen to a family member express their difficulties. The next morning, on a hotter-than-usual day, the cross seems to crush our back as we are forced to listen to a supervisor harshly criticize our recent work habits. Jesus, though, said, “Follow me,” so what’s the problem? It’s all really quite simple, isn’t it? Someone treats your loved one with open hostility. You only thought you heard Jesus say, “Go forth, my child, and hit that guy so hard his ancestors will feel it.” Sorry, no. What he actually said was, “Follow me.” Discipleship tested. Cosmic discipleship in the heat of the night.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus offers some of his most profound yet confusing ideas. Metaphorically, we are told to hate our family and chuck all our worldly possessions in order to follow him properly (Luke 14:25-33). What the heck, right? After all, they’re just folks and our stuff is just stuff. Who needs either? Maybe, though, he was trying to impress upon us the extreme difficulty inherent in being a child of God, that we can’t possibly approach God’s ideal for us without an understanding of the sacrifice involved. It is within this section that Jesus uses the example of building a tower and not having a proper foundation for its completion, possibly resulting in disappointment and ridicule. We, as disciples, need focus and commitment or we will fall short in our attempts to follow him. The groundwork of which Luke speaks will not have been laid.

Being a follower of the Jesus way is a challenge during the best of times. The question, during these hot August days and nights, is “Are we becoming better disciples of Christ?” This time of year, when tempers often flare, are we being true to the one Lord to whom we profess our faith and loyalty?

But here’s something else: Perhaps one of the reasons the Great Spirit saw to it that we have four portraits of Jesus as opposed to just Luke’s is that we can always use a different perspective. Interestingly, in the next two verses, Jesus speaks briefly and obscurely about salt as a preservative (Luke 14:34-35). Even in the most expressive of English translations, the interpretation can be burdensome. On the other hand, in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is direct and to the point about being versus doing. Here, he speaks of us being salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). Regardless of any particular costs of discipleship, if we project light (as opposed to darkness) to others, we fulfill needs within those extremes spoken of in Luke. If we act as society’s glue, much like the preservative that salt can be, we become the embodiment of the one whom we worship. We are halfway to heaven.

It’s warm out there. The devoted follower of the way will find resistance to the light they are attempting to project, not an uncommon thing. The strength of the intent behind discipleship to Jesus Christ is directly related to its success. The commitment to be salt and light is a serious one, and we could all use support and encouragement in that quest. But it’s more about the energy exchange between Christ and disciple than disciple and neighbor. In order to be the best disciple for our neighbor, we need a handle on being the best we can be for Jesus. The heated energy of our times presses us toward a cogent response to fulfill what we have started, to ensure that our foundation was laid properly.

Go forth with intent. Be the peaceful pupil of the one who asks us to treat others as you would wish to be treated. Embolden all followers of the way to finish what we’ve started. When acerbity is the rule of the day, when others are raging against the tide, be the one who is centered and pure in heart. We need you. It’s cooling down out there, thanks to you.

Rev. Bryan D. Jackson is an American Baptist minister and a member of the Cherokee Community of Puget Sound and the Mt. Hood Cherokees, both satellite communities of the Cherokee Nation. He lives on Vashon Island, Washington and is the author of Chattahoochee Rain: A Cherokee novella.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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