Following Jesus takes action, responsibility


By Woody Woodrick

Feb. 3
Summoned to Labor
: To recognize that we are commissioned to witness to God.
Bible Lesson: Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Key Verse: “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Luke 10:2

We have reached the point in Luke where Christ is making his way toward Jerusalem and the cataclysmic events that will take place. His statements carry more and more foreshadowing as he tries to prepare his followers for the task they will face following his death and resurrection.

In almost every walk of life we see examples of those who are willing to put in long hours of work and effort, sacrificing in the short term for a greater long-term goal. It’s often the difference between one reaching one level of achievement and the next. It’s one of the differences between playing high school sports and college or between college and professional. It may be the difference between being a regional manager and being a regional vice president.

Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with being the regional manager. For some, that might be their best level of work. Others, however, have the ability to go further, but do they have the desire and the willingness to sacrifice?

One difference with Jesus is that we all have the ability to carry his word further than we think we can. I believe that’s part of what he’s telling his followers here. As Christians, as his hands and feet on Earth, we are called to go further to reach higher. The rewards (harvest) are great, but they won’t be gained without effort.

Jesus is also indicating that effort alone may not be enough. It might take some sacrifice. More on that in a later lesson.

Many lament the decline of church attendance and membership and its influence on society. I believe much of it is our own fault. Many churches of all denominations reached a point some years back when they seemed to become satisfied with how well they were doing. Membership was holding steady, and the world listened to what they said.

However, we’ve learned that holding steady often means we’re starting to move backwards. We became comfortable harvesting enough to keep us fed for a while without realizing that our need was expanding. Now, we realize someone else (Satan) has been harvesting while we weren’t looking.

Stepping out of our comfort zones to labor for Christ takes strong faith, commitment and courage. Those who take the plunge have my respect and admiration. However, like many others, I’m not even doing the things I could do within my comfort zone. Are there not ways to contribute to the harvest outside the walls of my church building that I could do, and still live in Madison? Are there not ways I could harvest new believers and still do the recreational activities I so enjoy?

Christ needs laborers. Some of us might be sent to the ends of the Earth, but we can all go to the end our own driveway.

Feb. 10
Summoned to Repent
To grasp the fact that the good news of God’s kingdom will be bad news for those who are not prepared to receive in repentance.
Bible Lesson: Luke 13:1-9
Key Verse: “I tell you … unless you repent, you will perish.” – Luke 13:3
We deserve better. We deserve salvation. When others were abandoning the church, we stayed here and paid the light bills and kept the doors open. We’re not like those other folks who took off running when things got tough. We stuck it out. We deserve something; we deserve satisfaction.

We deserve … nothing.

Yet, we are still offered everything.

Nothing makes my blood boil more than folks who act as if some gift, some reward, some something is their birthright. And treat it as such. Some college football fans just seem to think that undefeated seasons and national championships are their right, and anyone who questions it isn’t worth explaining it to. And you upstart colleges, just remember your place.

My wife spent half a semester as a fill-in accounting teacher at a community college. One young man copped an attitude that he knew all that stuff and was only in the class because it was required. He’d taken bookkeeping in high school, he knew this accounting stuff. Besides, his dad was a certified public accountant. So, just give me my A, OK maybe a B, and let me out of here. When he failed the final exam and received an F, he was stunned and angry. He insisted that he deserved a better grade. Melanie informed him he had earned an F.

Most of us understand the idea of individual repentance. Or do we? Do we still think that attending church, singing in the choir, going on mission trips, helping out at Stewpot and other efforts will get us into heaven if we don’t repent? Surely, in this age there aren’t those who think that way are there? Yes, we still think that way. Even those who don’t think that way often continue to live their lives away from church in a manner that contradicts repentance.

Here’s a shocker, repentance doesn’t make us “better” than the other guy. I forget that a lot.

What about corporate repentance? No, not the WorldCom kind of repentance. I’m thinking about church institutions or groups who act or fail to act in the manner of truly repentant Christians. We all need to repent.

For what does your church need to repent? Has it been standing as First Sanctimonious UMC while people in the community have gone hungry, been sick and lost in despair without any signs of hope or help? Has your church gone about doing the missions it likes to do but reached few in the community? Has your church stood silently while racism has been allowed to continue?

We all need to repent.

We deserve … nothing. Yet, we are offered everything. Can we humble ourselves enough to repent so that we might receive it?

Feb. 17
Summoned to be Humble
To recognize that Christian humility is a call to hospitality, not a means to self-promotion.
Bible Lesson: Luke 14:1, 7-14

Key Verse: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

– Luke 14:11

During biblical times, hospitality was a powerful social tool. When someone gave a banquet or party, it was possible to demonstrate what the host thought of a guest by where he was placed at the table. The most honored guest, the guest who could provide the host the most prestige, sat closest to the host. If a host wanted to show disdain for someone, he placed him as far away as possible. And of course, the guests invited to the banquet were expected to reciprocate at some point.

Hospitality was a show, a means of establishing and acquiring social and possibly political power, even among the Jewish leaders. Needless to say, those outside the host’s social standing were not invited.

Have you experienced hospitality that was entirely for show? What part did you play in that show?

What was different about the kind of hospitality Jesus suggested to the Pharisees? The hospitality of Jesus was intended to aid and honor others. It wasn’t about what we get out of being nice to people. It was about giving to theirs with no expectation of anything in return. This was a radical ideal to the Pharisees, whose entire value system was based on quid pro quo. You honor me at your banquet; I might give you a high position at the temple or mention your name favorably to the king.

How can we demonstrate the kind of hospitality Jesus describes?

It starts with opening our hearts. When we become Christians, we are given a gift that can never be repaid. We are given, not just a seat at the banquet, but the most honored seat. How can we accept this humbling gift and not try to share it with others, or extend to them the opportunity to also receive that gift? The trick is to remember that it’s offered to those like us – and not like us. We have to open our hearts to those who are in a different economic class, to those who act differently, who live in a different part of town, who look different.

We can open our minds. Not everyone thinks the same. Hard to believe isn’t it? After all, we’re right. We can be hospitable by at least listening to others, hear their pains, their joys and their ideas. We might not agree with them, but we can at least listen and try to understand them. This is hard for me, especially on political matters or theo-political matters. I admire people who can fervently debate an issue of secular or church politics and then go eat a meal together with no hard feelings or anger. That’s Christian hospitality.

Finally, we can open our doors. Is our church too high and mighty to genuinely welcome someone dressed in worn out clothing? Do you slide to the end of the pew when someone of a different race sits near you? Does your welcome extend no further than a nod or hello, but not conversation?  How can you change the culture of your church to be more welcoming?

Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. Sound familiar?

Feb. 24
Summoned to be a Disciple
To embrace the radical commitment of living for Jesus by dying to self.
Bible Lesson: Luke 14:25-33
Key Verse: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:27

These verses caused quit a stir in our Sunday school class a couple of weeks ago. The key point of our discussion was the part about hating your family. Does Jesus really want us to hate our mother and father? Doesn’t this contradict the 10 Commandments?

We discussed (OK, argued) back and forth. Some thought Jesus meant hate literally, that we couldn’t read into the verses what wasn’t there. Others contended that Jesus was using hyperbole for emphasis.

One of the best points offered was that our love for Jesus should be so great, that our love for family would be like hate. Think about that scale for a minute.

Jesus seems to be speaking to people who believe in him. So why might he be driving away some of them? What if they aren’t believers yet? Why would he say this to them?

I think Jesus is warning his followers that being a disciple is not easy, and if you can’t commit totally, don’t bother. Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem where he would face the cross. He knew that his followers would face similar hardships, both during the same time and after. He wanted them to know what they were getting into. At the same time, however, he’s telling them not to call themselves disciples if they can’t make that commitment.

Here in the deep South, we can live pretty openly as Christians without facing real hardship. In other parts of the country, we might face some raised eyebrows or snide comments. In other parts of the world, we could face death. Yes, today, Christians are being actively persecuted and even killed for their faith. So why am I afraid to witness to my neighbor?

What’s the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made for Christ? Was it really a sacrifice? How hard was it to make?

In most cases, we admire people who set a goal and work toward in relentlessly, overcoming setbacks and hardships. We use as an example the strength they gained from the struggle.

Is our Christian life any different? Do we love God enough to face hardships, and then do we appreciate the strength of faith we then find?

A group of Mississippians recently returned from Kenya where they conducted that nation’s first Cursillo lay renewal retreat. The trip was months in the planning, and during those months political unrest became greater and greater so that by the time they left, violence was breaking out. All during the time they were in Kenya, news stories pointed to the violence.

By all accounts, the retreat was a great success, and the group from Mississippi was never in any danger. However, the potential was there. It had to be in their minds as they packed and traveled. It had to be in the minds of the loved ones back home. Nobody would have thought twice had they cancelled the trip.

Instead, they went and labored, bringing in the harvest. They went with repentant hearts to share the news of Christ. They humbled themselves to become servants for others as Christ came to serve us. They committed themselves, placing their love of God above the potential danger, and became disciples.