A Big Mistake
I was the last person in the world anyone would have thought should have been a Marine. I was skinny, not very athletic, and very shy. Nevertheless, out of a wish to get even with my parents nearly sixty years ago, I joined the Marine Corps. A friend had joined the Corps some months earlier, and I thought also it would be something I could do. However, I had no idea to what I was agreeing to.
When I told my parents what I had done, they were dumdfounded, angry, and distressed. To my father, a career Navy man, Marines only manned the gates of Navy bases and harassed sailors going on liberty; to my mother, Marines stormed beaches in the Pacific and died by the thousands. I thought, as they expressed their dismay, I have gotten even with them. My pique was over the fact that my parents could not pay for my post high school education as promised. So, I thought, if I cannot go to college, then I will make them, for three years, really worry about me. I guess that is something a teen age boy would think.
However, the moment I entered the gates of the recruit depot, I knew I had made a mistake. My parents had every right to be dumdfounded, angry, and distressed. They knew that being a Marine was going to be a difficult. At that moment, when I crossed over the threshold of being a teen age boy to being a boot recruit, I too was dumbfounded, angry, and distressed. What I soon learned after going through the gates of the recruit depot, was that if I loved my mother and father more than the Marine Corps, I was not worthy of being a Marine. Being a Marine required my total devotion, my total concentration, and my complete commitment to the ideals of the Corps. That did not mean that I would not think of my family nor love them less, but it did mean my first obligation in life was to the Marine Corps. The good side of it was, if no combat took place during my enlistment, my commitment to the Marine Corps was for only three years. After that I could put parents first or anything or anyone I wanted to put first. Later in my Army career I found that I had to put the Army first over my family. The demands of service are great.
It is Not Going to be Easy
In the discourse, recorded in verses 24 through 39 of Chapter ten in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus instructed his follower, his disciples, and ultimately his apostles on the demands and dangers of commitment. Further, in this discourse, he tells them the demands of commitment must be accepted without reservation.
Comparing my obligation to military service and the commitments apostles made to cause of Jesus’ continuing ministry may seem frivolous. My Marine Corps enlistment was short-term; the disciples were entering the life-long vocation of apostolic ministry.
Further, in this discourse, Jesus predicted what their devotion meant in terms of their personal lives. They were the students, not the masters. Nevertheless, they would bear the same slander Jesus suffered—“if they call the master of the house evil they will call you evil also.” That is, they would be identified with Jesus and could expect no more or no less than what Jesus had and would face. The speech in the portion of the Gospel cited is an instruction course for Jesus’ disciples, and the reading should be understood that way. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to explore what it means to for his disciples today.
As can be deduced from Jesus’ words, being his disciple at any
time is difficult. Choosing to be a disciple of Jesus requires courage and a willingness to pick up the cross and carry it. If one picks up the cross, there are often consequences beyond imagination.
Despite all the trials and tribulations that come with the commitment to Jesus, there are positives that persecutors and naysayers cannot dislodge from his disciples. Jesus instructed his friends who continued his ministry to be fearless. There would be many sacrifices in their ministry as well as many stirring experiences. In this life-long vocation, God, the Father is aware of them and their needs. The assurance, “Do not be afraid,” repeated and reaffirmed by Jesus at every opportunity, is the certain promise that the Father would not abandon them in the face of adversity.
Recently in the news, for example, a twenty-seven year old Sudanese woman, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who is married and pregnant, has been, under Islamic law, sentenced to death for converting to Christianity and being a Christian. It is doubtful she expected to face a death sentence for her faith. This is the cross Jesus told his disciple to take up and carry. Millions around the world pray for this woman. National leaders from around the world have expressed shock and dismay that the government of Sudan would be so brutal—in some way, God will intervene. She, however, is only one of thousands of Christians around the world suffering for picking up the cross in places where the cross is seen as an evil blasphemy. Those who become Christ’s disciples in places where hatred reigns knew they are in danger.
Can we expect American church goers in this time and age to do the same? No doubt, there are Christians in America who are willing to make vocational sacrifices such as committing themselves to religious orders—Anglican and Roman. There are Christians willing to travel off and near to the wild parts of the earth to preach, heal, and teach in the Name of Christ Jesus. Several of those who willingly make such commitments will become seriously ill due to exposure to the elements, die at the hands of anti-Christian factions, and a few enter in the ministry so completely they never see their families again. Those who have made those profound commitments understood Jesus’ invitation to take up the cross and follow him to be a total and selfless vow.
Belonging is Vital
What about the rest of us? Are we slackers, halfhearted followers?
Not everyone who attends church or is a member of a parish is disciple. Some are seekers attempting to square their lives with a spiritual calling. Some simply enjoy the liturgy, the music, and being a part of it. Some enjoy the sense of community a parish provides. A few are required to be present due to parental wishes. Therefore, not everyone who attends church or is a member of a parish is disciple. Some are seekers attempting to square their lives with a spiritual calling. Some are simply enjoy the liturgy and being a part of it. Some enjoy the sense of community that belonging to a parish provides. A few are required to be present due to parental wishes. Because of the diversity of reasons people are part of a parish life. People have questions about God about Jesus, about religion. The world has seen religion kill in the name of God. The world has seen and experienced tyranny in the name of religion. Individuals have experienced the hypocrisy of religious leaders and communities. However, the world has been blessed by devoted Christians who have taken the Apostle Paul’s words that love is the most important part of religious expressions.
Belonging is vital to life. We may not be able to deny our parents, be the sword that divides people, or even take up Jesus’ cross, but we can belong. In belonging we may ultimately find the strength to face the challenges Jesus laid down before his disciples as they accepted the apostolic ministry.
In belonging we give a base to those who are willing to meet the challenge. In belonging we add strength to the body of Christ—the Church. The Church is the essential element to the continuation of Christ’s ministry on this planet.
Some contend they can be Christians without being a part of the Church. Jesus would not and does not support that contention. He called people together. Regardless of their ability to participate, regardless of their place in society, and regardless of their physical conditions, he wanted people around him and a part of him. He established a holy meal—the Eucharist—to assure that all are with him and in him as he is with all and in all.
Therefore, those who think the demands of ministry laid down by Jesus for apostolic service are too much, they can, for a while, relax. Simply be a part of the community, learn what Jesus taught, accept him as the savior of humanity, and make every effort to live as though that commitment makes a difference in life. God’s Holy Spirit is in all and will call all to a vocation in Christ when ready.
Always remember, those who are willing to belong, belong to Christ and his Church through grace—the graciousness of God—and in God’s time all will find a way into God’s perfect service.
 Slate (http://www.slate.com) reported on June 23, 2014 the following: Sudan’s national news agency and a lawyer representing Meriam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death last month for allegedly converting from Islam to Christianity, say that Ibrahim has been released. From Reuters: Ibrahim’s lawyer Mohaned Mostafa said she has already been released and sent “to an unknown house to stay at for her protection and security.” “Her family had been threatened before and we are worried that someone might try to harm her,” Mostafa told Reuters. Ibrahim, the daughter of a Muslim man and a Christian woman, has said she was raised as a Christian because her father left her family. But in Sudan children are apparently required to take up their father’s religion. Ibrahim is married to a Christian man, which is thus considered apostasy under the law since the court considers her to be Muslim and Muslim women are not allowed to marry outside their faith. Ibrahim gave birth to her second child while imprisoned last month.