Being a Disciple

disciples

The few of you who have been reading this blog since I began know it is something of an experiment. People have asked that I post my sermons and I am trying different ways to present them.

When I preach in my two tiny churches, I work from notes in the pulpit, not a text, and so far, I have tried to translate my notes to more of a narrative. For the next couple of weeks,  I will simply present my notes in the outline form I use them in. After that, I will try audio and even video. Drop me a note as we go along and let me know which works best for you, and thanks for your patience.

Tom

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Our focal scripture is John 1: 35-42

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 

36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 

38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. 

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 

41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 

42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said,“You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter ).

 

Do you think of yourself as a disciple?

The definition of a disciple according to Webster’s dictionary is…

  • One who accepts, adheres to and assist in spreading the doctrines of another, such as Christianity
  • One of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospe

Think about that a minute.

  • We can be believers without being disciples
  • We can be Christians without being disciples
  • To be a disciple, we have to accept Christ as savior, and his teachings
  • To be a disciple, we have to adhere to that doctrine
  • To be a disciple, we have to assist in spreading the good news.

If we are honest, a lot of us are Christians

  • But we are, perhaps, not yet disciples
  • Why not, do you think?
    • Maybe because it is a real commitment (in a world afraid of commitment)
    • Maybe because it is hard, takes study, takes work.
    • Maybe because adhering to Christ’s work is hard, and we hate to fail
    • Maybe because we are uncomfortable witnessing and preaching to others, because we know we ourselves sometimes fall short.

 

Our scripture today has some interesting perspectives on what it takes to make disciples.

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.   36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 

It is after the Baptism of Christ.

  • Most scholars think it is immediately after.
  • John the Baptist is walking with two of his disciples
  • Followers, adherents, spreaders of his ministry calling for repentance.
  • Jesus walks by
  • And John calls Jesus “The Lamb of God”

 

To understand the impact of this, we must begin with the Old Testament,

  • We are not used to the idea of sacrifices, but to the Jew at the time, sacrifices were a part of everyday Christian life, as common as saying a blessing at a meal.
  • The sacrifice of lambs played a very important role in the Jewish religious life and sacrificial system.
  • When John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the Jews who heard him might have immediately thought of any one of several important sacrifices.
  • With the time of the Passover feast being very near, the first thought might be the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.
  • The Passover feast was one of the main Jewish holidays and a celebration in remembrance of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. In fact, the slaying of the Passover lamb and the applying of the blood to doorposts of the houses (Exodus 12:11-13) is a beautiful picture of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Those for whom He died are covered by His blood, protecting us from the angel of (spiritual) death.
  • Another important sacrifice involving lambs was the daily sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem. Every morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the temple for the sins of the people (Exodus 29:38-42).
  • These daily sacrifices, like all others, were simply to point people towards the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
  • In fact, the time of Jesus’ death on the cross corresponds to the time the evening sacrifice was being made in the temple.
  • The Jews at that time would have also been familiar with the Old Testament prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, who foretold the coming of One who would be brought “like a lamb led to the slaughter” (Jeremiah 11:19;Isaiah 53:7) and whose sufferings and sacrifice would provide redemption for Israel. Of course, that person was none other than Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God.”

So when the two disciples of John the Baptist heard this, they realized that Jesus was something special.

  • And they followed him
  • And Jesus noticed
  • 38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”  39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.  

A lot of times, we don’t understand the importance of small details in the bible, and yet once we do, we get a much deeper understanding.

For instance, We are told it is 4 o’clock

  • Jesus was baptized on a Thursday
  • And this is the day  afterwards.
  • Sabbath begins at dark on Friday
  • And runs till dark on Saturday
  • So Jesus was not just going to show him where he was staying
  • He was in effect saying, come, stay with me a while.
  • And they all, at the time, realized that is what he was saying.

And notice too, that Jesus asked them a question 

  • “What are you seeking?” (v 38)
  • Not “why are you following me?”
  • But what are you seeking?
  • What are you looking for?
  • Are you a groupie?
  • Are you a gawker?
  • Or are you looking for something deeper?

They actually don’t answer him

  • Or at least it is not recorded.
  • Just the awkward “Where are you staying”? question
  • But they do end up staying with him for a day 

I would love to have spent that day with Jesus.

  • Can you imagine the conversation?
  • This radical message of love and faith they would have heard?
  • The feeling of “this being real and powerful and true?

It must have been terribly powerful

  • Because afterwards. One of the two, Andrew, Goes to his brother and brings him to Jesus
  • 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).  42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said,“You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter ).

And from here, over the next short while, Jesus gathers all his disciples around him. 

So what does this tell us about becoming, and developing disciples?  I think there are some important lessons here.

  • We become disciples when we are seeking
    • Andrew and the other follower were looking for something.
    • John drew large crowds
    • Others were there the day Jesus was baptized
    • Others saw the spirit descend on Christ
    • Others likely overheard John call Christ “The Lamb of God.”
    • But only these two were looking, deeply looking
    • And only these two followed
    • Listened
    • Heard
    • Stayed
    • And shared.

This is important for us

  • We are not going to become disciples unless we are looking for something
  • Unless we accept that we are not enough
  • That there is something more
  • That only by seeking will we find our way
  • If we think we’ve got life all down
  • If we think we can figure it all out
  • Then we will never be disciples.
  • I think there is a reason that Jesus was always kind and gentle to people who came to him seeking – he knows that true seekers will get there.
  • So if we want to be a disciple, we have to give up the idea that we’ve “got it down”
  • We have to be looking

It is also important for us when we talk to others about God, Christ or Church

  • We are not going to make disciples of people who are not seeking.
  • We might get them in the door out of friendship or curiosity
  • But we will not make disciples of them UNLESS THEY ARE SEEKING.
  • That is sometimes contrary to what we think our job is
  • To convert.
  • But that is not what we are called to do.
  • We are called to witness, yes
  • To share what God has done for us
  • Where we have seen him at work.
  • And then we have to allow God to work
  • To let seekers seek
  • And trust God to reach into their hearts

Disciples don’t become disciples without spending time with God.

  • The disciples in scripture were not just seeking
  • They spent 24 hours with Jesus
  • They immersed themselves in him
  • They listened
  • They likely questioned
  • Scripture read and shared and discussed

We are not going to move from believers to disciples without that same kind of immersion

  • Without blocks of time spent with Scripture
  • Without time to worship
  • Without time in prayer
  • Without time with other Christians
  • That’s why we have church
  • That’s why we have bible studies
  • That’s why we have conferences and workshops and retreats.

At some point, for some people, just coming to church is not enough.

  • We need something to believe to our core
  • We need something to hold to in times of trouble
  • We need something that will not fail us
  • We need something that can guide us
  • We need to DO something with all of that.
  • We need to become disciples

And here’s the good news.

  • When we are ready, Christ is there.
  • He did not hesitate with Andrew and the other disciple
  • He never hesitated with people who came to him
  • There was always time
  • He would always spend the time
  • And he is there for us too

We tend to be busy

  • We live a “let me check our schedule” life
  • But God is not that way
  • Jesus is not that way
  • If we are ready, he is ready
  • His word is always there.
  • And as his people, we need to always be there as well.

Will you pray with me? 

Dear Heavenly father, we are daily reminded that we need you in our lives. Help us seek you. Help us fold you into our very lives and become more than believers, more than followers, but disciples.  Amen.

Isolation is the Enemy

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Our focal scriptures both come from Matthew

Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 4:18-22

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Saturday,  I went up to see Janice Moore in Vergennes.  Janice is a parishioner who was a member of Rupert Methodist for most of her life. Over 90 years old, she has lived alone for many years.  A few months ago, Janis fell going up the stairs to her house and has been in a hospital, and then a nursing home ever since.

Janice has had failing health, and even more a failing mind ever since I have known her. Particularly in the past few years she has become more and more feeble-minded, unable to remember things, stumbling over her speaking, often forgetting basic things like eating regularly.

But that began to change after her fall, and with her time in the hospital. Surrounded by people, no longer isolated, I have watched Janice, the Janice that people used to tell me about, emerge – a funny, thoughtful woman who was involved and connected with life and with people.

At the nursing home, the nurses told me they call her “the instigator” because she’s always talking to people, pushing many of the other people there to come out of their shell and talk. “We love her.” they said.

I’ve made no secret that I felt much of Janice’s decline had more to do with isolation than age. In fact, as a church, we had become more deliberate about visiting her more regularly and were starting to see some results.  In an odd way, Janice’s fall has been one of the best things to happen to her for years.

After visiting Janice, I have thought a lot about isolation. I have come to believe isolation is the enemy of many things.

I thought back on my own experience, and how, in a self-imposed isolation in trying to take care of too much in my life, I became first stale, and later, deeply depressed.  I thought of couples I have counseled, and how often one or more of the people in the couple had become isolated from friends and activity. I thought of people I knew going through poor health or tough times, too often holding it in and not sharing their struggles.

In every one of these cases, every single one, the isolation was damaging. It left the people weaker, more broken, and lengthened the time and work it took to get better.

Isolation is bad for us.  Doctors say that isolation is as bad, or worse than smoking. It is bad for our health and bad for our mortality. It weakens our immune system. It increases inflammation and stress and makes us more susceptible to arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.  Isolation increases our chances of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It messes with our sleep patterns, shortens our attention span, screws with our logic and thinking function, and in bad cases, messes with our sense of time.

And that’s what we see isn’t it? It’s what I saw with Janice. It’s what I saw with myself. It’s what I have seen in struggling couples, aging people, and people struggling with life events.

Loneliness, or social isolation has increased in the last forty years. By over 40%.  And with that increase, has come the increase in all the other problems it causes.  Isolation, many doctors believe, is worse for our physical health than smoking or obesity, and worse for our mental health than heavy drinking.

The good news, of course, is that ending isolation can change that.  Just looking at my own experience, looking at Janice, looking at others who broke that pattern of self-isolation, we can see that putting ourselves out there, sharing our lives, good and bad; getting involved with people around us, can completely turn things around and improve our lives, our health, and our mental and emotional health.

It’s hugely important.  But we don’t talk about it.  

Well, I want to talk about it today, and I want to talk about a different kind of isolation. Spiritual isolation.

Spiritual isolation is what happens when we “go it alone” in our spiritual lives.
And a lot of times, we do.

Maybe, on the surface, we are doing all the right things. We go to church. We read the bible. We pray each day. But somehow, we don’t really let ourselves get involved. We don’t feel like we are part of the faith community. We hold ourselves back from sharing deeply, or becoming a part, or getting too spiritual. We don’t feel God’s presence in our lives. And we don’t feel we are being the best person God (and we) would want us to be.

Or, maybe we are really going it alone. We don’t need church to worship after all. We don’t need church to learn about God, or to do good works. I would never argue those points. But at some point, we feel… alone. We encounter places in life where we are not alone, where we need help, where we hit a spiritual wall. But we are isolated because we’ve chosen spiritual isolation.

I want us, for a minute to look at Jesus, because we can learn something important from his example.  We don’t know much about Jesus’ early life.  We know about his birth. We know about his family fleeing to Egypt for a couple of years, And we know about the episode in the temple when he was 12 and astounded the teachers with his knowledge and wisdom.

But we know little else. There are no other references to his childhood. Not in the bible. Not in history. Not in his own words or any others.  He kind of disappears.

We assume some things – That he continued to study. That he continued to learn. That he felt some kind of calling to ministry. But he is making no mark in the world.  His ministry has not begun.

And then comes his baptism. You know the scripture….

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

 And suddenly, Christ is filled.  It is not just him in the ministry. He is filled with the Holy Spirit, an enabling spirit that powers ministry and the sharing of the good news. He is filled with the full power of God.

Yes, he goes from here to the desert, where he is tested, but he is not there in isolation. He does not go UNTIL he is filled with the spirit, Because, I believe, he is not ready for testing until this moment when he goes there with the spirit.

As soon as he comes back from the desert, he begins to preach publicly. But even then, he understands that alone is not the way to do it.

Matthew 4:18-22

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus, immediately, gathered his friends and disciples around him. Immediately.

Now, let me ask you something.  Why, if Jesus understood that we are not meant to be alone spiritually. Why do we thing we can do it?

We can’t.

One of the things that we often hear people say when the subject of church comes up is that they don’t need it.

But I believe we do.  Because when we live in spiritual isolation, we live in a weakened, vulnerable state. We need the holy spirit to strengthen us. We need Godly people around us for examples. We need Godly people around us to learn from. We need Godly people around us to hold us up.  The simple truth is that we serve God better together than apart.

I don’t know where you are spiritually.  I don’t know if you are going it alone, or living in a place with lots of activity, little spirit. I don’t know if you are filled with the spirit. I don’t know if you are struggling with your problems with others around us to help bear our burdens, or if we are living with the support of the good people around us who would be there to help us with our burdens and journey if only they knew them. I simply don’t know where you are.

But I do know this. If we, as individuals, as Christians,  as the church, …….. want to be the best, strongest, most effective Christians we can, then We need to follow Christ’s own example.

We need to end our isolation. We need to share one another’s burden. We need to surround ourselves with people, and help and be helped, strengthen and be strengthen. We need to ask in the Holy Spirit. Only then can we begin, just as we do when we end physical and emotional isolation… only then can we heal, grow strong, and become the best people, and best Christians we can be. Only then can we become our best selves.

And so I ask you – are you in isolation? Are you open to sharing yourself, open to God’s spirit and God’s people. If so, I rejoice with you. If not… think on it. Pray on it. Ask others. Share yourself.

End the isolation. Because isolation is the enemy.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Epiphany

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Our focal scripture this week: Matthew 2: 2-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Sermon

On our bulletin this week, I called Sunday Epiphany, but in reality, it is not Epiphany.  Let me explain

 Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day, Or twelfth day in some denominations, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God in his Son Jesus Christ. By revelation, we mean that he was revealed as something far more than a man, even a holy and good man – that he was the Messiah, a savior, the Son of God

 In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi, (the wise men) to Christ, And their understanding that this child was something more. Because these wise men were Gentiles (Non-Jews), it also celebrates Christ’s first contact with Gentiles, signaling that he would be a savior for all people, not just Jews.

The traditional date for the feast is January 6, 12 days after Christ’s birth which was celebrated on Christmas Eve, with  Christmas being the feast day after his birth. However, over time, the celebration dates shifted. It is held in some countries on the Sunday after January, Or, in some countries, even ON January 1st.  Or anytime in between. So we could celebrate it Next Sunday, Or we could celebrate it Friday, Or, we can celebrate it today.

For hundreds of years, different churches argued over the “right day”, which is silly because the day doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because it’s a made up holiday, not a historical event like Christmas or Easter.

This is how it worked. A church or a group in a church would get an idea for a holiday or season, and it would work for them. Another church would steal the idea but maybe changed the date to make it work for them better. In fact, few of the feast dates became fixed until the 300’s AD, after Rome not only accepted Christianity, but made it their own.  Rome hated disorder And for the next 2-300 years tried to standardize everything: Ritual, Beliefs. And dates.

 So the date does not matter, but the idea that we should celebrate Epiphany, the revelation of who and what Christ is, does.  No the date does not matter, and that may be because the New Testament has lots of places or revelation, or Epiphany. God reveals himself in a lot of ways

For instance….

  • The shepherds reached epiphany by the announced by angels, confirmed by what they saw, experienced and felt.
  • The Angels coming to Joseph and Mary gave them their Epiphany
  • The Disciples, by spending time with Jesus, came to an Epiphany of who and what he was.
  • John the Baptist, on seeing the Holy Spirit descend and go to work in Christ, realized his cousin was something More.
  • Those who were healed had their own Epiphany by what they experienced.
  • Those who, after his death, had a feeling. As Luke 24:28-35 shows us:    So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” …
  • Paul had his Epiphany on the Road to Damascus.
  • And then, of course, the wise men we read about in our focal scripture, came to their Epiphany through study, and later, Herod’s priests, through more study.

What we see is that there is no ONE way that Christ reveals who he is to his people.  They got there by different journeys. Different paths. At different ages. In different circumstances

So what can we take from all these Epiphanies? What can we learn that might help us in our own Epiphany?  Let me suggest a couple of things.

Epiphany is real. When something keeps happening, There is generally something to it.  And what we see in the bible is a constant epiphany, a constant revealing of who and what God is, of who and what Christ is, so that we can have faith.

It happened in the Old Testament. To Abraham.  To Moses. To Noah. To Samuel and David and Solomon. To the Prophets.

It happened after the time of the Gospels. We see it happen in Acts and the books after Christ’s life. At the Pentecost. In temples and in people’s homes and even in jails, as Paul and others complete their missionary journeys

We still see it today, as people come to God and open themselves to him.

So it is real

Secondly, it comes when we are ready

All these people in the bible who had their Epiphany had to make a journey to get there. They found Epiphany, the unveiling of Christ, in different places in their life journey. The disciples were searching. The shepherds were not. Matthew came to Epiphany at work, in his tax collectors booth, watching. The wise men were searching, but they did not know what exactly they were searching for. Paul was fighting the very thing that would bring him face to face with Christ.

The lesson for us is that Epiphany can come anywhere in our lives. It is easier if we are searching, But it can still come to us anytime, at any age, In any circumstance

This is good news for us if we are struggling with faith, perhaps living a good life in faith, but not having the Certainty of Jesus as Lord and Savior. It gives us hope that we can come to that place of certainty.

This is good news if we have hard circumstances, Epiphany can still come to us. It can come anytime. Paul was in Jail and let people to Epiphany.  Those who needed healing were in helpless places, and it came. It is available to us anytime, anywhere. It HELPS if we are seeking, true. When we look, we see the hints laid out for us and we are more open, But it can come anytime, anywhere.

Last of All: Epiphany leaves us changed. The shepherds were changed. The wise men were changed. The healed were changed…. And not just physically.  The disciples were changed. John the Baptist was changed. Paul was changed.

This is because Epiphany opens us to see God, to touch God, and be touched by him.  And that is a powerful thing.  It is a thing worth celebrating, which is what we do during the day and season of Epiphany.

And it is a thing worth seeking.  And that is my prayer for you, that you will see Epiphany, and you will see the realness of Christ, and be touched by him.

Be Well. Travel wisely,

Tom