It’s clear that we’re nearing the end of the year – our lectionary readings are beginning to sound like lessons on stewardship and the cost of discipleship. In two weeks we’ll have reached the end of this church year and our lessons will be about the return of Christ the King.
But in this moment, before we reach the end, our lessons reflect the cost of discipleship. What does it mean to give our all? What does it mean to follow Christ? What will we give up? What will we gain?
Our first lesson is from near the end of the book of Ruth. You remember this story? Naomi, her husband and her two sons leave the land of Israel because there is a famine. In their travels, each son takes a wife – Ruth is the name of one daughter in law, Orpah the name of the other. The sons are barely married when they both, with their father, take ill and die. Naomi is left with two daughters in law, in a foreign land.
Naomi tells the young brides to return home, to their fathers’ houses. They’re young. They’ll marry again. Naomi will return home and throw herself on the mercy of her extended family. Perhaps someone will have pity and take her in. Orpah reluctantly leaves Naomi and returns home. Ruth stays. Don’t ask me to leave you, she says. Wherever you go, I will go. Your people will be my people and your God, my God. So Naomi and Ruth return to Israel.
It is Ruth, with Naomi’s guidance, who finds the right relative to ask for help. Boaz is a kinsman of Naomi and takes Ruth to be his wife. Not only does Naomi find a home, she finds joy again in the birth of a son to Ruth. And Ruth becomes great-grandmother to the great King David.
Ruth took a huge step of faith when she traveled with Naomi back to the land of Israel. Neither woman knew what the future held – Naomi made no promises about what they would find. It would have been easier for Ruth just to return home. But Ruth takes the more difficult route, steps out of her comfort zone, leaving all she had known and moving with Naomi to a new homeland.
As disciples, we are called to follow Christ wherever he leads us. We’re called to leave our comfort zones, our families, our homes and travel with Christ. When we step out in faith, we do not know what the future will hold. We don’t know exactly where we are going and we don’t know what we’ll find when we get there. And that’s true for churches as well as individuals. If St. David’s is committed to following God’s lead, if the parish is going to go forward in faith, we’ll have to leave our corporate comfort zone, do things differently, think about church differently.
Our lesson from Mark’s gospel takes place very close to the end of the life of Jesus. He’s just entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, with people lined up along the route shouting, “Hosanna,” and waving palm branches – the triumphal entry. He’s thrown the money changers out of the Temple and riled up the authorities. Now Jesus sits, watching people enter the Temple and give their offerings. The widow, with her two small coins, captures his attention. Jesus praises her for giving, not out of her wealth, but out of her poverty. She gave all that she had, everything she had to live on.
Perhaps Jesus sees in the poor widow his own journey, the cost of his own decision to follow God’s lead. The widow gives all that she has. And Jesus is about to give all that he has, as well. They are companions in the journey towards God.
We don’t know anything more about this widow. We don’t know what happens to her, how she finds food, how she is able to survive. We’re simply left with the image of one who has given all to God – leaving her totally dependent on God’s provision and guidance.
What does it mean to be a disciple, to follow Christ? If we look at Ruth as an example, it means we leave the familiar and journey to a new land. If we look at the widow, it means we give all that we have. In the case of the widow, we don’t know what she gained – beyond the freedom and joy that comes from giving of ourselves. In the case of Ruth, she gained a new life, literally a new life in her son. In the birth of the child, she enters the bloodline of King David and a few generations later, becomes an ancestor of Christ, born of David’s line.
When God calls us and we answer that call, we leave behind the old life and begin a new life following Jesus. We don’t know all that we will have to give up. We don’t know where we’ll end up. But this we do know. When we follow, when we leave behind the old life, when we give up what we have to give up, what we become is more than we could ever have imagined.
Peter and Andrew, James and John never imagined that they would leave fishing the Sea of Galilee and instead become leaders of the early church – fishers of men, as Jesus called it. Saul, who held the coats of the men that stoned Stephen never imagined that he’d have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment on the road to Damascus, that he’d change his name and change his direction and become the Apostle to the Gentiles – our own forefather in the faith.
God made more of the disciples than they imagined they could be. God made more of Ruth than she imagined she would be. God will make more of us than we imagine we can be. All it takes is for us to give up all we have and follow Christ. It’s a huge challenge and a great blessing. It’s terrifying and a sure thing. God will make more of us, if we dare allow it. Amen.