“The Christian ideal, it is said, has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
In October 2006, I attended a big party for my friend's 60th birthday. Among the conversations were many catching-up moments. One would say, "Tell me how the kids are doing, where's Adam now?" A subtext for these conversations was an expectation, a hope, a yearning even, for our young people to latch onto something that would engage their talents and passion - or that would at least pay the rent so they could move out again! We hold an ideal of a motivated life. This is an ideal that we put on a shelf with some other ideas we hold dear and we get on with our lives.
As followers, as disciples, as Christians, we hope to find motivation. Maybe we don't all take holy orders. Rev. Paul Clayton once gently reminded me that one doesn't have to become a minister to be a Christian. But even those who avoid that challenge may find passion as disciples. Many of us are reasonably righteous, keeping within the boundaries of many laws and trying to be honest and truthful and caring in our lives. With that good record, we aren't about to respond to threats that we won't make it to heaven. There is another threat, though, and I think it matters to each of us. If we don't become disciples, we miss the passion and abundant life that is waiting for those who follow in the way.
The secret is this. Discipleship is the unexpected source of joy.
In the famous speech from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Tom Joad says, "“Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there."
In those words, you can hear the hope of the world, made human once again. You can hear how Tom has finally got hold of a passion that comes from discipleship, and he is filled with joy. It is a choice. The results of that choice are going to take many different shapes, aren't they? Following Jesus in mission will look different for each of us and the excitement you feel is unmistakable! There is a work for each of us to do - work that may be different at different times of our lives. Turn toward that path. If you can't see it today, well then that's our work! We'll do it together won't we? That's being church!
It is in the pursuit of what is just, right, and hard that we show forth how we transcend our otherwise bounded lives. When we take this path, then we are there in all those places, we become part of something bigger than ourselves. We become the hope of the world. We fill with joy, repeated and repeated, just like the joy heard by shepherds at least once upon a time, as they watched their flocks on a night filled with stars and new life. Everytime we turn to the road of discipleship, the joy sounds again!