Jeremiah 2:4-13; Hebrews13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
DIY discipleship never turns out well.
When left to our own instincts, ideas and attitudes, we inevitably make choices that hurt ourselves and others; that create lives and worlds far less joyful, abundant and beautiful than God intends. As Jeremiah puts it, we trade fountains of living water for shoddy, humanmade cisterns that don’t hold water. As Luke tells it, we think more highly of ourselves than we should, and end up embarrassed and ashamed when our cover is blown and our real lives don’t match our Instagram ones. What Hebrews admonishes against doing, we do liberally – neglecting to show hospitality to strangers, forgetting those in prison, dishonoring relationships, loving money and hoarding resources. Sometimes do it yourself leads to disaster.
And yet, over and over again we think we know better than God. Each of the texts this week shines a spotlight on our hubris. Note that Jeremiah says that the leaders all went astray. Those appointed to roles of responsibility, the very ones who should be especially vigilant in following God’s law and will, have shirked divine rule and gone their own destructive ways. I cannot help but wonder if the writer of Hebrews is doing that thing that parents do with errant children, giving them a list of instructions because they clearly need those instructions. The ultimatum, “As long as you are under my roof you will be home by 11 o’clock …” spoken as a result of unbroken nights of broken curfews.
Jesus calls out the audacity of the religious leaders attending the Sabbath dinner at the Pharisee’s home. He calls them out knowing that they are watching him closely, so this word of rebuke is for not only those choosing places of honor at that dinner, but for all the others who think they know better the will of God. Remember that this story of a rearranged seating chart comes directly after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. Jesus tells guests, hosts and insidious watchers alike that God’s priorities and pecking order are vastly different than the ones they instituted and enjoy.
DIY discipleship never turns out well. Often, in fact, it leads to disaster. Wisdom comes in the form of knowing our limits, our place and our need for God’s guidance, our reliance on God’s provision, our utter dependence on God’s mercy.
Jeremiah tells us the two evils the people perpetrated: they forsook God, the fountain of living water, and they dug their own cisterns. In other words, they went their own way and thought they could be independent of the God who’d given them everything. The word then for us is the corrective in Hebrews: Do not neglect doing good; share what you have. Turn back to God, the fountain of living water, in ways that reflect and trust God’s overflowing goodness and mercy. Do not worry about where you sit at the dinner table. Remember the ultimate and eternal host; make sure all get invited and welcomed: stranger and poor, vulnerable and powerful, all will be fed, because the source of our sustenance does not run out of what we need and does not hold back.
DIY discipleship is no discipleship at all. Disciples must follow. Discipleship requires a lifetime of learning from God and others. Disciples know that no matter how much knowledge they acquire, there is more to glean from God, the fountain of living water, that never stops flowing and giving growth. Discipleship cannot be honed via YouTube videos or podcasts or books alone; it must be lived, in community, with the powerful and the marginalized and all those in between. Disciples are to share what they have learned about life and faith at barbecues and in coffee break conversations at work; around family dinner tables and in committee meetings. No matter where we are or who we are with, disciples must look to the One who saved us, sustains us, calls us and sends us. We must look to the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ, and then decide where to sit, who to include, what to share, how to care, when to act. Otherwise, we become worthless, no better than a cracked cistern.
Faithful discipleship requires much help because our temptation, always, is to go our own ways, to think we know better than God, to go after worthless things. Daily, we need the fountain of living water, and we need to be with other believers from whose hearts living water flows. We need the prophetic indictment of Jeremiah, no matter how much it stings. We need the paranetic instructions of Hebrews, no matter how much they reveal how far short we fall. We need the parables of Jesus, no matter how much shame seeing ourselves reflected in those religious leaders evokes. We cannot do discipleship alone. The good news is that we don’t have to – that God gives us Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the communion of the saints, and the fellowship of believers to help us in whatever we need. All we must do to access the courage and encouragement, the guidance and the correction, the strength and the sustenance is this: Recognize our need of it.
One of my children, I will not name which one, said with frequency about a myriad of scenarios: “I got this.” There were, however, occasions, multiple occasions, when evidence arose revealing that this child did not, in fact, have it. Fallout ensued, sometimes with greater or lesser consequences. Thankfully, most of the time, those consequences could be mitigated through intervention, support, correction. It took real-life experience and a dose of maturity for this person to come to a point of being able to say: “I don’t have this. I need help. I cannot do this myself.” This is true for all of us, no? The beautiful gift that we receive when we see that DIY, in some cases, ends in disaster, is an outpouring of living water, a table fellowship where all are welcomed and fed, a celebration of God’s goodness in the form of hospitality given and enjoyed, mutual relationships of love and respect, rest, and an exaltation, not of ourselves, but of God and the holy community created as a result of divine generosity.
- Ever had a DIY project go bad? Go well? What made the difference? Do you see anything about those experiences that relates to discipleship?
- Take a look at the list of instructions in Hebrews. Where is your church following those instructions? Where do you fall short? How about personally?
- Note that in the text for Jeremiah and also Luke there is an emphasis on religious leaders. Why? Do those in leadership, perhaps especially religious leadership, have additional responsibility to follow God’s commandments? Why or why not?
- Picture the dinner party described in Luke. Can you think of a contemporary gathering to insert into the parable? What do you picture at that gathering? Where is Jesus and what does he say?
- Who are your mentors and teachers in life and in faith? What have you learned from them? When have you been a mentor and teacher? What did you want to be sure and convey to those looking to you for guidance and an example?
- How do you truly trust that God is a fountain of living water? When have you experienced this truth? When have you doubted it?
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