August 21, 1994 by Robert Brow
There are many good and bad reasons for getting upset with what goes on in our churches. Some people want to be in control of what goes on in a congregation, and if they can't get their own way they leave. Others don't like the minister or how he or she does things. One person quit because the priest wore brown shoes instead of black shoes to take a service. One woman made what she thought was a good suggestion at a congregational meeting, and when nobody took it up, and they ignored her and went on to other business, she walked out. There are always those who hate change, and if the minister introduces new music, or deviates from the order of service, they leave in a huff. When I was Rector of St. James' Kingston I had a terrible time when we first began using the Book of Alternative Services. One fellow quit because he did not want strangers greeting him in the exchange of the peace. And of course every minister fails from time to time. And when that happens someone says "He wasn't there for me when my mother died."
I can understand those and many other reasons why people get miffed with me. But how could people ever get miffed with Jesus the Good Shepherd? As we try to grasp what went wrong when many of Jesus disciples turned back, let's try asking three questions:
1. What is a disciple? Who were these disciples who turned back? A disciple is simply someone who begins learning from a teacher. In India if someone wants to learn a certain form of yoga meditation he goes to a guru or teacher who will accept him as a chela or disciple. In the old days if someone wanted to learn how to build furniture, he was apprenticed to a cabinet maker, and began carrying his tools and learning how to do simple tasks.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus enrolled their disciples by baptism. After baptism they were taught about the love of God the Father, and they learned to pray in simple words, understand the Bible, and love the other disciples. Instead of the 600 rules that the Pharisees wanted people to obey, Jesus said "Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me" (Matthew 11:28-29). The expression "taking up his yoke" was used of a disciple beginning to learn with a rabbi.
Having learned the basics, a disciple would then help with teaching other new learners. After his resurrection Jesus said to his twelve apostles "Go and make disciples of all nations,, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). Christian disciples are therefore baptized to be taught about God the Father, God the Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit. And the syllabus for this course of instruction was summed up in the Apostles' Creed. But the main topics are learning to accept forgiveness from Jesus, coming home to a welcome from the Father (as in the Prodigal Son), and looking to the power of the Holy Spirit to be fruitful and learn to love others. .
2. Why do some disciples quit learning? When a plumber's apprentice is told to clear out the blocked pipe to a septic tank, he may decide to go home to work around the house with his mum. This fall hundreds of people will sign up to be disciples at St. Lawrence College. They can learn French, Accounting, Computer Programming, Welding, Surveying, Tailoring, and a host of other subjects. But for every thirty students who sign up, pay the enrolment fee, and begin the course, we know that one third to a half will drop out. They find they are too busy. A girl wants to be with her boy friend. A fellow wants to play hockey with his team. An older couple decide to go on a trip.
Jesus illustrated this dropping out in the parable of the Sower. Some are baptized and never even appear for the first class. Others begin learning with great joy. "But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away." A third group "are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature" (Luke 8:11-13). But that is not the end of the story.
3. Why do some disciples keep on learning? If you worried about the drop outs you would never teach a class at St. Lawrence College. And if a minister is discouraged by those who get miffed, burn out and despair quickly set in. Jesus' point in the parable of the Sower is that some of those who are planted in the good soil will go on to yield a hundredfold, and that is plenty for a harvest. When Jesus saw the large numbers who dropped out, Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Those who go on to complete a tough course at St. Lawrence College have settled that the alternative is a miserable low-paid job that will never get them anywhere. And people remain as disciples of Jesus because they take a hard look at the alternatives, and they can see there is no other Way, or Truth, or Life (John14:6).
Peter had weighed the alternatives. Where else could he find the way out of a pointless meaningless life with death at the end of the road? And who else could introduce him to the astonishing love of God? And without the power of the Holy Spirit how could he lead a creative, fruitful life? And so he went on with Jesus. He made mistakes. He failed so badly he even denied he had ever known Jesus. But his teacher knew how to deal with that, and the day came when Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost. And all over the world people remember that not just a hundred people but three thousand people were baptized and became disciples.
And so we weigh the text for today. Many of Jesus' disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter could have found many reasons to get miffed with his teacher. But he answered "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:67-68).