Several years ago, Christian Century ran an article promoting a program guaranteed to pack the house on a Sunday morning. They called it the “NO Excuse Sunday.” To promote it in your church, they would provide ready-made bulletin inserts, flyers and newsletter articles. This is what it said on the promotional items: To make it possible for everyone to attend church next Sunday, we are going to have a special “No Excuse Sunday.”
- Cots will be placed in the narthex for those who say, “Sunday is my only day to sleep in.”
- There will be a special section with lounge chairs for people who feel that our pews are too hard.
- Eye drops will be available for those with tired eyes from watching TV late Saturday night.
- We will have steel helmets for those who say “The roof would cave in if I ever came to church.”
- Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold and fans for those who say it is too hot.
- Scorecards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present.
- We will distribute “Stamp Out Stewardship” buttons for those who feel that the church is always asking for money.
- One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature.
- Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday.
- The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who never have seen the church without them.
The article was of course a spoof, poking fun at the excuses we make for not being able to worship regularly. However, as church and worship become less and less of a priority in people’s lives today, I wonder if such an idea would really be considered out of the realm of possibility. Just a couple of weeks ago, I received a postcard in the mail for a new church in the area that was obviously trying to hard sell their programs for children and youth. The card said, “Wouldn’t you love to go to a church that your kids actually wanted to go to?” Then on the bottom in bold letters it told of how each time your child or youth attended Sunday School they could register to win a new video gaming system. What an incentive! Something just didn’t sit right with me.
When did we move from the point of presenting the gospel to bribing people to come to our church? But this is an issue the church as a whole will continue to struggle with. Many people will say the world has changed, people are busier, family life is more complicated, we have less time, too many commitments and is church really necessary. Many will say the church needs to get with the times, competing in the game of offering the best of the best, so in a nutshell we can draw in the customers.
However, then we come to one of the most self-defining texts of the gospels in Mark 1:16-20. Here we discover the beginning story of how men and women followed Jesus with NO excuses:
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They, too, were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.
The disciples followed Jesus with complete abandon, without restraint, without inhibition but instead with a freedom from worry, allowing the control of their life to be taken out of their own hands and into the hands of Jesus. To me, there seems to be no better definition and pattern for our own discipleship. However, even as we listen to the story of Jesus calling the disciples, we might be tempted to make excuses:
- Yes, but Jesus was there in the flesh, so of course we would do the same if Jesus is standing here.
- Yes, but the disciples had family to take care of things at home.
- Yes, but life was simpler in those days.
The discipleship model we are given in the Gospel is this: Follow Jesus with complete abandon, meaning let your “Yes” to him, really be “Yes.” Because honestly our response is not only to Jesus Christ, but to the continuing mission and ministry of his work in the world.
Now, here is the second part of discipleship. We need to ask ourselves a very important question. Why does Jesus want us to answer the call of discipleship with complete abandon? The answer can be found by looking in our world, within our families, within our communities, within our work places and within in our schools. Look around-Watch-Listen.
We live in a world of hurting people. Some people are so hurt that they have become numb to the pain. We also live in a world of people who are searching for something to hold all the pieces of their lives together. They are searching for the glue. Glue in their marriages, in their family relationships and in their parenting. The glue we have to offer is the love and forgiveness of Christ. May we answer the call as those first disciples did, with complete abandon, without restraint, without hesitation, without excuses, but instead with our simple “Yes.”