Disciple. Mathew 28:16-20
On Wednesday night last week my son Matt and I went to an Ice Hockey linesman’s course. The instructor asked if anyone could explain the off-side rule. No one wanted to risk it; it was too complicated to explain in a short sentence, so we all sat there with confused expressions on our faces, hoping someone else would have to answer for us. Most of us have been playing the game for a number of years and see off-sides called all the time in games, some even abuse the referee or linesmen for getting it wrong, yet when it came to the crunch we weren’t confident enough to state the rule.
There are lots of technical words that we use in the church perhaps without ever really unpacking what they mean, or maybe we just think we know what they mean. I reckon if I asked someone to explain the term disciple to me it could be a struggle too. Is anyone game to give it a go?
The Oxford Dictionary lists two possibilities 1) a personal follower of Jesus during his life, esp. one of the twelve Apostles or 2) a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosophy. The Free Dictionary online adds another variation, One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.
Given those definitions, do you think that you are a disciple? We can all rule out the first definition given by the Oxford, none of us were around during Jesus’ life. We can probably manage to fit ourselves under the second version though, we follow or are students at least of Jesus, through God’s Word, but what about the last definition, can you say that you embrace and assist in spreading the teachings of Jesus. My guess is that on the last one there are a few of us who might struggle a little.
Some might say that’s the role of the ordained clergy and paid church workers to go out and spread the teachings of Jesus. That’d be a bit of a cop out though wouldn’t it? You see Jesus said go and make disciples of ALL nations. Not just the Israelites, or the Romans or the Greeks, ALL nations. The way I read that is that there’s a bit of a domino principle going on. The disciples that were there with Jesus were to go out, with the authority given to them by Jesus, to make disciples of all nations, that is, to replicate themselves. That’s what they were after all wasn’t it, disciples? Go out and make some more of yourselves! Then what will happen, those new ones will also be commanded to obey everything that Jesus has commanded, can you see a pattern developing here?
But how do you go about ‘making a disciple’? You can’t go to the supermarket or hardware store and get a ready to make kit; it’s a bit harder and a little more obscure than that isn’t it?
Perhaps by taking a look at the six marks of discipleship suggested by Dr Michael Foss we might find some answers to the how question as we look at what being a disciple entails. You might remember my sermon a couple of weeks back about prayer, which is the first mark of being a disciple, maintaining a conversation with our Lord. The second is to spend time each week in worship, celebrating the presence of God through Word and Sacrament in communion with fellow believers. Number three is reading the Bible. What better way is there to know more about God and learn from him unless you read his Word that was written for you than to read it for yourself?
The next suggested mark of discipleship is serving in and beyond your congregation, that is, living a life that reflects the joy and hope that you have through your Lord and Saviour, and responding by serving others in love. Then comes nurturing relationships with others, having people that are important to you that care for you and that you care for in response. The final mark is giving in response to God’s love of what he has first given you to support the work of the church and other charitable organisations.
Now I’m not saying that God is going to measure you on these things and judge you on how well you do. These are merely suggested ways of living a life in response to God’s love for you, reflecting the way that Jesus lived and allowing God into your life beyond the hour or so on a Sunday that you might spend in a worship service.
You might also ask why would you want to be a disciple, what’s in it for me? It’s fairly common to want to know the answer to the ‘what’s in it for me question’ these days isn’t it?
Let’s think about it for a minute, our world is a difficult place to live in. There is fear, oppression, inflation, natural disasters, illness, interest rates are increasing, more people are defaulting on their mortgages, and rental prices are at a record high. Life’s tough isn’t it? People need hope and joy in their lives, where do you think that might come from?
Some people will try to find it in alcohol or drugs, through sport, relationships with others or maybe material possessions. But you and I know that there is something or someone better don’t we? In our Lord and saviour Jesus we have hope, for an eternal life, but more than that, he has promised to be with us to the end of the age. Unlike many people we might have come across during our lives, he won’t reject us or double-cross us, he has promised to love us and be with us, no matter what’s going on in our lives.
By living as his disciples we help him be a part of our lives, we read and hear his Word, we receive his gifts to us through the sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion, we hear his forgiveness spoken to us through our pastor or fellow Christians, we talk to God on a regular basis and live a life in response to all of that, with him present with us.
So what is a disciple? You are, when you go home tonight and look in a mirror, that is a disciple, you’ve bothered to come here today and hear God’s word, pray to him and receive the Sacrament. How do we make other disciples, by showing God’s love to others and praying for his help to share his Word through our lives and relationships with others, wherever that may be. We teach and baptise and walk their journey with them, just like others have walked the journey with us and all the while Jesus has promised to be with us too.
WHEN GOD SPEAKS
Text: Acts 2:5-8
There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious people who had come from every country in the world. When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages. In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?
From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo, “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigour”.
On the office of a doctor in Rome, “Specialist in women and other diseases”.
In a Greek tailor shop, “Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation”.
Making a good intelligible translation from one language to another is hard work and can be very difficulty but for the disciples on the Day of Pentecost there was no problem at all. Normally the disciples with their thick Galilean accents would have had difficulty speaking to those gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world of that time. The language barrier can be quite a difficult one to deal with. This was brought home to us when we visited the parents-in-law of our son. We arrived on their doorstep in a small village in France – we didn’t speak French and they didn’t speak English. It was hard work communicating using hand signs and thumbing through a dictionary. What a difference it made when their son arrived who could speak both French and English.
The amazing thing on Pentecost day is that the disciples didn’t need dictionaries or people to translate to find the best way to say something in a foreign language. We are told, “All of them heard the believers talking in their own languages. In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?” (Acts 2:7,8).There are 3 words that describe what happened that first Pentecost Day. Heard, saw and spoke.
Firstly, those present heard a sound – they heard what sounded like a mighty rushing wind.
Secondly, they saw – they saw what appeared to be tongues of fire which spread our across the crowd and touched each person there.
And thirdly, after hearing and seeing, they spoke. They preached. They testified to the great good that God was doing among them. Jesus had said that he would send to them his Holy Spirit who would be their helper and stay with them forever.
The crowd out in the street scoffed saying, “They’re drunk!” The mob couldn’t imagine that God Almighty would use ignorant and unlearned people from the backwater of Galilee to speak the languages of those present with such skill and precision. In spite of the mockery, Peter gets up and speaks about Jesus. His sermon is recorded in The Acts of the Apostles. It’s not all that long. And yet three thousand people heard and believed and were baptised that day. The account of the Pentecost coming of the Holy Spirit concludes with the reaction of those believers. They continued to learn from the apostles, took part in fellowship meals, shared their belongings with those less fortunate, prayed together, and praised God (Acts 2:42-47).
There is a dynamic here, a powerful movement that is at the heart of the Bible’s story about who God is, who we are and what we are doing here.
The first thing we notice is how God reaches down and speaks to us. Our God is a relentlessly, unceasingly self-communicative God. There is something about God that loves to speak us, reveal his heart to us, and demonstrates a determination to get through to us with words that
express his untiring love for us,
his sacrifice for us in his son Jesus,
his dedication to rescuing us from our sinful ways,
his commitment to making sure that all people hear about the free gift of forgiveness that he offers to everyone.
Our God is one who just wants to speak to us.
A sure sign that two people are in love is that they long to be with one another. More than that, they way to talk with one another – the telephone, email, whatever – hours upon hours of talking. The talk is so important because our speech is our primary way of expressing ourselves, of sharing ourselves, giving to and receiving from others.
Every time we gather here for worship, we gather under the promise that God will speak to us. This is an important aspect of our worship services. The large part of our worship is listening to what God is saying to us.
His word of reassurance of the forgiveness of our sins,
his Word to us from the Scriptures,
his Word to us through the sermon,
his Word to us through Baptism and Holy Communion,
his Word of blessing as we leave here and face whatever the week ahead will bring.
God spoke to those gathered at the first Pentecost and he speaks to us again and again at the weekly celebration of Pentecost here at worship. We hear him speaking to us and being filled with his Spirit. What God says to us places us under the power of the Holy Spirit.
That leads me to ask then, what difference does God’s Word and his Spirit make in our lives? What are the characteristics of people under the power of the Spirit?
Spirit-filled people are people who know God’s love, they know they’re not perfect, but they know they have forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And they are able to pass that forgiveness to those who sin against them. Spirit-filled people know they have God’s power to help them and he will remain faithful and always love and care for them.
Spirit-filled people are growing people. They are continually growing in their faith, from the time of their Baptism to this day. They seek out every opportunity to discover Christ, and what it means to be children of God. They can’t get enough of hearing God speak to them.
Spirit-filled people are changed people. Through God’s Word and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit wants to bring a change into our lives. He wants to come into our lives to bring light into our darkness; to turn our death into life; to change our lives from sin-filled to Spirit-filled. Every day Spirit-filled people try to live in their baptism. Daily they listen as the Holy Spirit reminds them, woos them, and persuades them through the Word of God. When the Word of God is heard the Holy Spirit draws us closer to God, brings us to repentance, to an assurance of the love of God for us and turns our lives around. He changes our direction!
Spirit-filled people have a new language. I don’t mean they go around speaking pious sounding words all day or use the name of Jesus in every other sentence. What I mean, Spirit-filled people speak words that heal and restore and make people happy and build people up instead of tearing them down. They speak a good word to our world, the good news about a crucified and risen Saviour.
Spirit-filled people are moved to love those around them. They are given a new outlook on the problems and the needs of other people and are happy to help and care for others. Spirit-filled people reflect the love of God into the lives of the people around them. This is how Paul described Spirit-filled people and how he saw the Spirit active in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.Spirit-filled people want to share what Jesus means to them. The news about Jesus is too good not tell. This is something we can do on our local scene, as we go about our work, or talk to our neighbour over the back fence, let’s not be afraid to let people know that Jesus is someone special to you.
Spirit-filled people are concerned about the concerns of God.
Is God concerned about the way we are destroying our world? Spirit-filled people are!
Does God care for the starving, the dying, the homeless, the sick? Spirit-filled people are!
Is God concerned about those who don’t know of his love? Spirit-filled people are!
Spirit-filled people are praying people. Paul encourages us, “Pray on every occasion as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray for all God’s people” (Eph 6:18). It is the Spirit who gives us a child’s confidence to go to our heavenly Father in prayer. It is the Spirit who “helps us in our weakness … and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” It is the Spirit who enables us to pray the most unlikely prayers in the face of suffering, on the battlefield, here in worship and at the kitchen table. Spirit-filled people “take everything to God in prayer.”Spirit-filled people are worshipping people. In Philippians we read, “We worship God by means of his Spirit…(3:3). We have been saved by Jesus our Saviour and daily we experience the blessings of the Holy Spirit as he leads us to change the direction of our lives and assures us of the love and forgiveness of God. Spirit-filled people join with fellow Spirit-filled people of the body of Christ to give thanks and praise to the God who has done to so much for them.
Spirit-filled people are praising people. There is nothing more that we could ask of God. We haven’t done anything to deserve it but he has given us everything.
As you have listened to God’s Word to you about the Spirit-filled life, I’m sure your response is much the same as mine.
God has spoken but I haven’t been listening.
God has been giving me directions but I have chosen to ignore them.
God has kept on speaking, speaking and speaking to me about his love and his plan for my life and I still I don’t get it.
The longest word in the English language is “pneumono-ultra-microscopic-silico-volcano-coniosis,” which describes a lung disease caused by breathing in particles of volcanic matter or a similar fine dust. An even longer word, nearly 100 letters long, was used by James Joyce in his book ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ (1939). He created it to describe a thunderclap at the beginning of the story: (not even going to try to say it) bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuvarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk.”
The words that God speaks to us are much simpler than that. “You are my child. I have sent you my Son and given you my Spirit that you may believe and have eternal life”.
Living lovingly in a world of hate
Sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter,
Bible reading: John 17.
I love you sweetheart… you are so beautiful… I can’t wait to be back with you… I’ve nearly finished the assignment here… I’ve been telling everybody how wonderful you are … It’ll be so good not to have to be parted… to hold each other… not to let go… to dance together as close as possible… I love you so much… I love you too.
It’s kind of embarrassing to walk in on a telephone conversation between lovers. That’s like what we’re doing here in John chapter 17. Jesus is speaking to his Father, whom he left to come to earth to be with us and love us and give his life for us, but now he is about to return to the Father he loves.
He speaks of the work he has completed. He speaks of the love the Father and Son share. He speaks of glorifying one another, that is doing what pleases each other, and therefore puts the other in the best light. Jesus only did what honoured his loving Father. He’s had to suffer for that. He will have to die for that. But you do that for the person you love the most. Jesus suffers and dies and shows how much God loves us all. Jesus knows his Father will honour him again in heaven.
It’s kind of embarrassing walking in on somebody praying to the God they know and love, like we see here. This prayer shows us a lot about the deeply loving relationship between Jesus and the Father.
God is love, and here we see this amazing love of God as it beats eternally between the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As we see Jesus praying we see the eternal dance of love in action. Here we see the Trinity working together bringing honour to one another by reaching out to give eternal life to people.
Don’t be embarrassed to walk in on Jesus praying. Watch him and learn from him. Listen to him as he prays in the Garden before his death, before his resurrection and Ascension to his loving Father. Learn all you can about this unity between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Learn all you can about this divine love. Listen to every word Jesus speaks through his entire ministry for he says:
whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. Watch everything Jesus does for he says:
whatever the Father does, the Son also does.
Why is it so important to listen to Jesus praying to his Father and speaking his word, and watch him doing his Father’s work? Because Jesus says the way the Father, Son and Spirit live in love and harmony is the way we are to live. His prayer for us is:
that they may be one, as we are one. Jesus wants us to eavesdrop on his relationship with the Father, so we can learn how to relate to one another.
There are two pitfalls here. The first is that we think unity is something we have to do by trying harder to love one another, or being ecumenical. Unity is a gift God gives us when we are joined to Christ in Baptism. In baptism we are united with Christ in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. That is God’s gift of love to us. We can’t always see it, but because God gives it to us by grace in Christ, we believe it is so.
Whoever has the Son, has life.
The second pitfall is that we think we have to maintain this unity by our own efforts – try harder to love people even though you really can’t stand them. Jesus’ prayer points us to the work of the Father for us.
Sixteen times in this chapter Jesus prays the words so that. That means he is speaking about outcomes, results he desires to see in us. Each time Jesus says what he or the Father will do so that the good results will flow into our lives. Listen to his prayer:
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
This is another way of praying that we will all know and love God so much, and be so thankful to him for all he has done for us in Jesus, that we will always go to him in prayer, and find strength to love one another, even at times when we are under attack.
The wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, and they follow him, and no one can snatch them out of his hand.
As spokes of a wheel are attached to the axle, so we are attached to Jesus Christ and the Father, and through that we are kept safe and loved in a world of hatred.
All pastors of the District have attended the Ambassadors of Reconciliation conference these past weeks. There we have seen how the wolf leads to disunity in the church and breaks relationships and scatters Christians and destroys the church. We Christians are all sinners and like our first parents fall out with one another.
Where do we go when relationships break down? Too often we turn on one another in anger, and we turn to a lawyer for help. The result most often is that relationships are severed, the people of God are hamstrung, the church of God is ridiculed by the world, and its witness to Jesus is torpedoed. Is this the way of God, revealed in Jesus’ prayer?
Jesus rather calls us to turn to God in prayer, and in the strength of God, to turn to one another in love and forgiveness. Jesus had done no sin, yet he allowed himself to be led to the cross to die for our sins, so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God and to one another. This is the Triune love that the Spirit of God pours into our hearts, so that we love one another, live in unity, and bring glory to God. This is the truth that Jesus dedicated himself to for our sake
so that we may be dedicated or sanctified in truth.
There’s a final so that. Jesus prays for his church to be united in love like God:
So that the world may believe that you have sent me… so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me… As the Father has sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
Can you see the pattern God has in his love for the world?
God so loved the world he sent his only Son to love the world and die for its sins on the cross, so all who believe in him will have eternal life.
Then God takes all who believe in him and are saved and united in love to go into the world and live this new life of love, in the midst of all the broken relationships and hatred and litigation and apathy…
so that world may see, and know and believe that through Jesus Christ there is a way to be saved, and in the church there is a new community of love and forgiveness, and there is a heavenly home, where we can all be with God and see his glory forever.
Don’t be embarrassed to see and hear the Triune God at love. Let God love you into loving,
so that the world may see and know and believe, and God be glorified. Amen.