TRUE DISCIPLESHIP SCRIPTURE READINGS:
JEREMIAH 1: 4-10 ACTS 9: 1-20 MARK 1: 14-20
Today we come to the 3 vital matters of
I want to take just a few words from each of our scripture lessons to highlight three aspects of what discipleship means, and let those words challenge the measure of our own commitment. First, from the call of Jeremiah: 'This day I give you authority'. God is speaking. The boy realizes he has received a call, but is unsure of himself and of what his response should be. 'I am too young', he pleads. 'Who will listen to me? And he hears God say, 'This day I give you authority': he is commissioned by God himself to become a prophet, to address kings and princes, to admonish statesmen and rulers. 'This day I give you authority.' Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? From now on Jeremiah could be confident of divine protection from his enemies, divine support for his words, divine authority for his deeds. Or so he thought. But it didn't work out like that.
Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet, preached words of warning, and the people laughed at him. He warned King Zedekiah of the coming fall of his kingdom, and was dropped in a storage pit and left for dead. He had God's authority, but the people still laughed. He had God's authority, but the king still left him for dead because he was said to be lowering the nation's morale. Possessing God's authority didn't immunize him from all the slings and arrows that a foolish and perverse generation could throw at him. But it did give him the conviction of the rightness of his cause, it did keep him loyal to God's message when pressures on body, mind and spirit encouraged him to jack it all in. His task wasn't bestowed by men; he was commissioned by God. So through thick and thin, success and failure, pleasure and pain he stuck to his God-given task until his ministry was accomplished. This day I give you authority.' God didn't say that just to Jeremiah. He said it to you. And me. And every other committed Christian.
The church is a people under authority, commissioned by Christ to walk his way and help bring in his Kingdom. That's what the church is for. It gathers weekly to re-charge its spiritual batteries through word and sacrament and a sharing of experiences. Then its members go their separate ways working out in their own lives and their own spheres of activity the commission given them at their baptism. And they'll find it just as hard as Jeremiah did. Possessing God's authority won't guarantee absence of pain and a clear road ahead. It led Jeremiah to a pit, Jesus to a cross. But that's the calling we've accepted. That's the risk we take working for God in a largely hostile world. But are we prepared to take that risk? Sometimes I hear people in our association whinging about how few strangers join them on Sundays for worship. Sometimes people whinge directly to me. Why aren't we packing them in? Is it because we don't go in for heavenly choirs and clapping hands and hard-sell evangelism and neon lights and 'Hallelujah, praise the Lord! 'And all the other paraphernalia of religion masquerading as a branch of the entertainment industry? Probably we could attract the crowds by going in for all that. But what's it got to do with Discipleship? What's it got to do with God's commission to bring love and joy and peace to a world so sadly in need of reconciliation? Religion as entertainment is about as meaningful as a television soap opera: bags of glitter, and totally divorced from reality.
The real reason we're not packing them in, the reason why most Christian congregations aren't either, is that we're not very good Christians. 'This day I give you authority', said Christ to us at our baptism. But we don't want authority, we want a quiet life. So our daily living fails to reflect his divine love, and people outside see no possible reason for joining us. Can you blame them? The church is not growing stronger because you and I and most of us are second-rate Christians who don't take their calling seriously because we don't want the hassle that goes with it. And as long as that's our attitude we'll remain a small community, and the Holy Spirit will have to find others through which to work out God's purposes. Those purposes will go on: Christ's victory is assured.
But we will play no part in it, because we preferred comfort to commitment, a quiet life to discipleship. We don't want to be thrown into a pit. We don't want to follow the road to a cross. And in seeking to save our life we lose it, making a mockery of our baptismal promises. 'This day I give you authority', said God to each one of us. Isn't it time we accepted that authority, whatever its acceptance may mean?
Secondly, from the Acts of the Apostles: 'Saul went to the high priest and applied for letters authorising him to arrest any followers of the new way'. Having been rather uncomplimentary about you, I'll now tell you a secret about myself Paul on the Damascus road had a change of heart and a change of direction. So did I. He was brought up a Jew and persecuted Christians. I was brought up a Baptist and despised everybody else. In my mid teens, anyone who wasn't a Christian was beyond the pale heading for hell-fire and damnation. But more than that, Roman Catholics were the Devil in disguise: Anglicans only pretended to be Protestants and were almost as bad as Romans. really; Methodists,Presbyterians,Congregationalists perhaps stood a chance, but not much of one because they didn't baptize people properly. Salvation is for Baptists only: that was my creed. And perhaps even some Baptists needed to look out! Paul saw the light literally and fell to the ground. I saw the light metaphorically. as through study in the Sixth form and at university I discovered the absurdity of my narrow sectarianism.
Paul had a complete change of heart and direction. So did I, I wanted to find out about others' experiences of God - and I still do. So discipleship does mean accepting God's authority. But it also means being prepared to
change your mind and embrace the wholeness of the Christian gospel, including those parts seen more clearly by those outside our own denomination, and a willingness to share with them something of what we too have discovered.
Finally, from Mark's gospel: 'And at once they left their nets and followed him.' At once. Straight away. No delay. Why? Because to follow him suddenly became more important to them than fishing. All their lives they'd been fishermen. From their earliest childhood a boat on the Sea of Galilee had been a second home. Suddenly along came this young preacher from Nazareth. After hearing him and meeting him - he became the most important thing in their lives, more important than their families, more important than their jobs. So there it was. No point in hanging about. 'At once they left their nets and followed him.' At once. Straight away. Mark's Gospel is littered with that little phrase 'at once'. Perhaps the writer was convinced the second coming could be expected any day and that time was short. But Mark was sure that commitment to Jesus was vitally important. Not thoughtless commitment, not being carried along by the emotion of the moment or the pressure of friends. But making up your mind and then getting on with it: putting your hand to the plough with no turning back. Why put off a decision you can take today? Leaving it to tomorrow means you'll have one day less of your life to work for Christ and his Kingdom. So get on with it. At once. Straight away. Therein lies the true path of the disciple: So true discipleship needs the will to make a commitment. It needs a willingness to change your mind and think again about the wholeness of the Gospel. But, hardest of all, it needs the perseverance to stick to your original commitment through thick and thin whatever the cost, because God has given you authority. Hard? Difficult to achieve? Of course. But it's churches made up of people like that which will grow - in numbers and in faith - because the Holy Spirit of God will be working in them and through them .