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.