Shopping in the store recently I saw a bottle of juice with the following description on its label: "Blueberry Pomegranate, 100 percent juice, all natural." The label featured a picture of a ripe pomegranate and mounds of fat, perfect blueberries.
Then I read the ingredients list: 'Filtered water, pear juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate." Where were the blueberries? Where was the pomegranate? Finally I found them, fifth and seventh on a list of nine ingredients, after mysteriously unspecified 'natural flavors.'
By law, food ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. That means a product contains the greatest proportion of the first ingredient on the list and successively less of those farther down. So according to this list, the jug in my hand held mostly water and other juices, with just enough blueberry and pomegranate for flavor and color. The enticing pictures and clever labeling were decoys to sell a diluted, blueberry-pomegranate flavored product, convincingly disguised to look like something it wasn't. I put the juice back on the shelf.
As I left the store, I couldn’t help thinking: What if we had an ingredients list printed on us? Would Jesus be the main ingredient? If not, how far down the list would he be? Would our 'label' accurately represent our contents? Or would we falsely project a misleading outward appearance that cleverly masked diluted ingredients? Our packaging may be convincing. We may look and sound like the real thing. But what if someone came to me looking something beneath our "Christian" label and found something else? Something Jesus-flavored, but not Jesus-filled?
According to Luke, Jesus discovers large crowds were following him. There were many reasons to follow Jesus. He performed miracles; he healed people. He told good stories. He knew how to jab it to the Pharisees, and other show-off leaders. Maybe village life was too boring and following the latest itinerant preacher would provide some spice and variety to life. Maybe for some, Jesus’ words hit hard, hit true, and they wanted to hear more of what he had to say. Jesus sees this crowd. Do really know what they are getting themselves in for? Because high on the ingredient list of discipleship is commitment, forbearance, self-sacrifice. Jesus doesn’t mince words. We can’t follow Jesus and follow our possessions, those ingredients we fill our lives with.
Many people would prefer the label of Jesus-Lite. Discipleship watered down, with nice-sounding things like going to church on Sunday, reading the bible now and then, contributing some money to good causes. But discipleship is more – Jesus says we have to give up our possessions; earlier in this passage, which we read last week, Jesus said we have to hate our family. While Jesus no doubt spoke with hyperbole common in the Semitic culture – the point is clear. Possessions possess us and can hinder our spiritual life, and be at the top of our list – not the bottom.
In our lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses is preparing the people to enter the Promised Land. The people have traveled 40 years. They have endured getting lost in the dessert, thirst famine, snakes and other nasty dessert creatures. 40 years. The span of an entire generation. As the people stand on the banks of the Jordan, listening to Moses, waiting to enter the land of Canaan, they are warned: before them is life and prosperity, death and adversity. Will they be good disciples and chose life? As they enjoy the milk and honey --will they have the strength to choose a life of blessing?
Moses’ last words to his people was clear: the past forty years have been discipleship training. Now they were about to enter the real thing. So what did choosing life mean? They were once slaves and wanderers, they were to remember and be kind to slavers and wanderers. They were to remember how to worship and live as a community of God, following the laws laid down by God on Mt. Sinai. This is what discipleship is about. Choosing a way of life that puts God first, God’s laws first.
What is discipleship today? If being a disciple is in essence, being an apprentice to Jesus, learning to apply his teaching to how we live – we are asked: what are our priorities? Is Jesus the number one ingredient?
Today, on the Welcome Back Sunday, each of us is asked to take the index card in your bulletin and choose up to three words or phrases to create a vision for Merrick Church -- which we will put in the offering plate and bless. What ingredients will we put in the mix? What will come first? What priority will we give to discipleship? We will share these thoughts in weeks to come.
As we choose, let us remember the words of Moses: choose life. Be a disciple. Let us strive to be the real deal. May our label show that we are disciples –by loving God, obeying God and holding fast to God’s ways – so may we live, transform relationships, and so bring abundant life here in our church, as we fellowship with one another and our community, and where ever God places us. Amen.