Worship for Discipleship: Fix or Practice Part 2

By Taylor Burton-Edwards


The first of my posts in this series was essentially about putting my cards on the table, being clear about the ways my own experience and study of worship in a variety of traditions (especially Baptist, Episcopal and United Methodist) may reflect the perspective I bring to this question about worship as "fix," "practice" or both (though in different contexts).

As I mentioned in Part I, this series was born out of reflections during preparation for a sermon on this coming Sunday's gospel lesson, Luke 9:51-62, which ends, perhaps grimly, "Whoever puts hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God."

What got my mind to my own experience, and so to the revivalistic hymns and my own "come to Jesus" moment was Jesus's expectation in this story that people respond to him and start following him immediately. The time he gave them really was "now." Follow me, or don't. Come with me, or live your life. He would admit no excuses-- not family, not friends, not economics or job. He was expecting people to say, "I Surrender All."

And not one of them did.

The disciples who had chosen to follow him had done this, though. They had dropped nets, left boats and tax booths, and it appears in some cases started following Jesus without any notice to their families. They heard the call to start following Jesus, to be one of his disciples, and they said Yes.

And more importantly, they kept saying yes, day in, day out.

The pressure of the call at the moment-- what I have called "the fix" --got them started. It got them into position to become disciples of Jesus. Indeed, it was the necessary precondition. You can't be someone's disciple from a distance. You either live with the master-- and in those days, and in many places in early Christianity, quite literally share the same dwellings-- or neither you nor the master can legitmately claim that you are a disciple. A fan, maybe. But not a disciple.

So "the fix" got them started. But it wasn't the answer to "Now what?" It was just the first yes in what my colleague, Kwasi Kena, calls the "long Yes" of discipleship. Or as I might put it, it was the first yes in the ongoing series of Yeses that would enable them to become not just followers, but full partners in the mission of God in Christ.

Coming back to this week's text, what we see, as on so many occasions with these followers, is that they have not yet quite gotten what Jesus was trying to teach them into their bones. When some of the Samaritans hear that Jesus is headed for Jerusalem and want nothing more to do with him, James and John ask, "Lord, do you want us to say, 'Fire from heaven, come down and consume these people!?'" (verse 54). Such a question might not seem so completely off the mark had not Jesus just corrected John for a similar impulse in verses 49-50. John said, "Master, [which here might be better translated something like, "O Established and Exalted leader!"], we saw a man casting out demons in your name and we got him to stop!" To which Jesus replied, "Don't get people to stop that! Whoever is not against us is on our side!"

What we're seeing here is that James and John, and likely the others as well, may befollowers of Jesus, but they're still being formed by him. They've got the right idea in staying with him, but his way has actually not yet gotten into them. Their first impulses-- ones they're even proud to talk about here-- aren't yet his.

A "fix" may have gotten them to follow him in the first place, but it was going to take long practice for their way of life, all the way down to their first impulses, to become like him.

No "fix" or series of "fixes" was going to address that.

It was going to take practice-- trial, error, correction, trial, error, correction, trial, trial... repetition-- practice.

So what do we have in this larger text? We have Samaritans who won't have anything to do with Jesus, now. We've got disciples who are more committed to control or revenge than to following their Lord. We have three more people in a row who give all sorts of reasons why they won't start following Jesus. It looks like sheer failure everywhere-- a bad day for the mission of God.

But we also have Jesus who won't be stopped by any of this. He's got disciples, and he'll keep working to teach them, to get the way of God's kingdom into their bones, their blood and their breath. He's got a mission, and he'll keep plowing away at it. He's put his hand on the plow, and he's not looking back. He'll keep with his practice-- plowing that field until the work is done.