To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Have we ever heard that term before, “face the music?” The expression “face the music” is said to have originated in Japan. According to legend one man in the imperial orchestra of Japan couldn’t play a single note. However as a person of great influence and wealth, he had demanded that he be given a place in the group because he wanted to “perform” before the emperor. The conductor after a significant contribution into their personal bank account, agreed to let him sit in the second row of the orchestra, even though he couldn’t read music. He was given a flute, and when a concert would begin, he’d raise his instrument, pucker his lips, and move his fingers. He would go through all the motions of playing, but he never made a sound. This deception continued for two years. Then a new conductor took over. He told the orchestra that he wanted to audition each player personally. One by one they performed in his presence. Then came the flutist’s turn. He was frantic with worry, having already heard this was a no nonsense conductor, so he pretended to be sick. However a doctor was ordered to examine him and declared that he was perfectly fit. The conductor insisted that the man appear and demonstrate his skill. He finally had to confess that he was a fake. He was unable to “face the music.”
In our service to God’s kingdom, many Christians often go through the motions of our faith. We know what we should be doing, how we should behave, what our responsibilities are, but we just can’t face the music. What does it cost to follow Jesus? That may seem like a strange question because we think of cost in monetary terms. Sure there are financial commitments that come with being a faithful disciple but there is no up front “cover charge” or “initiation fee” to join the Kingdom of God. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, discipleship is free, but it isn’t cheap. In our gospel lesson we see a different view of Jesus, one who is frustrated by the actions of his disciples and potential followers. We learn through this experience in the life of Jesus some things that can help us face the music in our Christian service to God and others.
First, we learn that Jesus recognized that life has a purpose. Jesus knew that his days were numbered. Jesus realized that his brief ministry of three years was a bigger part of God’s plan and that he would have to suffer and die to see that plan fulfilled. Throughout his ministry Jesus often said he was about his Father’s work. Jesus was here for a purpose. The same can be true of all of us. Every life that God puts upon earth is for a reason. Psalm 139 reads for us:
LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
What is our purpose as a congregation entering our 121st year of ministry? John W. Gardner, founding chairman of Common Cause, once said it’s a rare and high privilege to help people understand the difference they can make not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of others, simply by giving of themselves. Gardner told the story of one person who asked the same question of just about every new acquaintance they encountered. The person would ask the following question: “What have you done that you believe in and you are proud of?” This person never asked conventional questions such as “What do you do for a living?” It was always, “What have you done that you believe in and are proud of?” For some he came in contact with this proved to be an unsettling question. Some people had built their self-esteem on their wealth or their family name or their exalted job title. Not that this person was a fierce interrogator. Over the years this person was delighted by some answers. Once a woman answered, “I’m doing a good job raising three children;” once a cabinetmaker said, “I believe in good workmanship and practice it;” and by a man who said, “I started a bookstore and it’s the best bookstore for miles around.” “I don’t really care how they answer,” said this person. “I just want to put the thought into their minds. “They should live their lives in such a way that they can have a good answer. Not a good answer for me, but for themselves. That’s what’ s important.” (Dr. Dale E. Turner, MSC Health Action News, July 1993, p. 7).
One of our purposes as a congregation is to continue to live out our mission statement that says:
Christ Church seeks to be a caring congregation, worshiping God and encouraging one another, as we serve outside the walls of our congregation in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ.
Another lesson we learn from Jesus is that life requires commitment. Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem. Throughout his ministry he had tried to prepare his disciples for this time, telling them that he would have to die but that he would be raised on the third day. When messengers went ahead of Jesus into Samaria to find a place to spend the night, they were rejected. Upon their return with the bad news, James and John asked Jesus is they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them. We see in our passage that Jesus rebuked his disciples because they did not understand his commitment to fulfilling God’s plan. Jesus expected his disciples to follow the words he once spoke to them when he said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Matthew 5:43-44
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to the cross, and yet his disciples wanted to kill the very ones who Jesus was choosing to die for. Not only did Jesus face the anguish of having the cross ahead of Him but also Jesus had to contend with the disciples who didn’t understand his purpose or commitment. While it was frustrating for the disciples to have people see Jesus right before their eyes and not recognize Him as the Messiah, calling fire down from Heaven was not exactly the prescribed solution to the problem. Despite these annoyances and aggravations, this could not keep Jesus from fulfilling his purpose and commitment to God’s plan.
Perhaps the most important lesson we learn from this passage is that Jesus recognized that in our lives we should establish goals. As Christians, one of our goals is to be faithful in our discipleship. As Jesus and his disciples walked down the road, three people had the opportunity to follow him. However each person offered an excuse as to why they could not follow him. These are powerful stories about people who wanted to follow Jesus but were unwilling to pay the price. Together those individuals function to present that the call of discipleship should be above every other duty. Jesus responded so harshly to their procrastination because he was attempting to express that the most important goal in life should be obedience to God and God’s teachings through Scripture. Discipleship is often a confusing practice. Most of us who call ourselves disciples go about it backwards. We begin the process in the safe surroundings of our sanctuary. While this is one of the places we are renewed and empowered for discipleship, real discipleship begins when we are willing to extend the Bread of Life to those who do not have it.
Often our natural inclination is to keep the Bread of Life in our own cupboards, yet Jesus did just the opposite. Jesus left the sanctuary. Jesus went out among the world not to the righteous, but to the unrighteous, which in his time were the prostitutes, the handicapped and minorities like the Samaritans. Our Savior chose not to protect himself behind the walls of the wealthy or educated. Jesus was always opening his heart to those who were hungry, helpless and frightened. Jesus was a servant of all and calls us to be servants too. To be faithful disciples, we must push the boundaries of what we find comfortable and easy. As disciples, we are to serve our brothers and sisters in simple ways. Participating in special workdays at Church as many did yesterday, or volunteering our time at Sunnyside Ministry or some other agency are some great ways to be faithful disciples in our community. Discipleship is not a new way of thinking, but requires us to act in new and unfamiliar ways. Like Jesus we are to leave the safety of our sanctuaries and reach out to those who are living, hurting and crying out for comfort around us.
In life it is not what we do that matters, but what God chooses to do through us. God doesn’t want our success; he wants us. He doesn’t demand our achievements; he demands our obedience. Together as we enter another year of ministry at Christ Moravian Church, let us face the music with joy in our hearts!
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
October 22, 2017