September 13, 2015 – Discipleship for Dummies – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
No recording is available for this sermon.
I am a list-maker. I have lists all over the place – lists on the kitchen cabinet of the dinners I’m going to make this week, and grocery lists, of course, and lists of ideas for Christmas presents, and lists of books I want to read and books I ought to read, and long lists of home improvements that our house needs, and long lists of self-improvements that I need. And I make detailed schedules for my workday that tell me exactly what I should be doing each day of the week so that I get everything done on time and done thoroughly, without neglecting anything or anyone. And sometimes I’m a little neurotic and I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about things that somehow didn’t get put onto a list and if I don’t get up and write them down right away, I worry that I’ll forget them before morning.
Not everybody is a chronic list-maker, but I think that everyone has their own way of constructing life as they think it should go. It’s the way of the world. Our parents raise us to make something of ourselves: to work hard in school and to have good manners and to get ahead. We get jobs and establish homes and make a nice circle of friends, and we became members of a church and join other organizations. And we have saving accounts and insurance and retirement plans in place to maintain the whole system we have created. And all these things, in the eyes of the world, and in our own eyes, too, come to define our life, who we are and what we are worth. Lists are just my way of keeping my little life in order, or at least of preserving the illusion that I am keeping my little life in order. But of course all of these ways we have of preserving our lives fall apart, sooner or later.
Because God in his mercy doesn’t leave us in our little self-made lives. In my own life, I have noticed that at least once a day and usually many times a day he puts a little bit of my list-happy life to death. It might be something small: I get a phone call when I am in the middle of studying, or someone needs a ride. There might be unexpected meetings, or devastating news, or some urgent need – whatever it might be, trivial or earth-shaking, in those moments I have an opportunity to let go of my agenda and follow his agenda. That’s called discipleship. It doesn’t fit on a list, it isn’t covered by insurance, it doesn’t enhance my job security or my social status; following Jesus doesn’t fit into any of the careful lists I have drawn to define my life. That’s because it doesn’t belong to my little life at all – it belongs to the bigger, wilder, messier life of the Kingdom, the life Jesus called abundant, the life that doesn’t have a shelf-life, the real life we were created for – the life Jesus laid down so that we could share it with him now and forever. But I have to admit that sometimes I would very much rather hang onto my nice safe schedule and turn off the ringer on my phone and check things off my to-do list.
One of the reasons Peter rebuked Jesus when he said the Messiah was going to have to suffer greatly and be rejected and put to death, is that if his Master was going to travel that road, it meant that his followers would also be going the way of suffering and death. It is much, much more comfortable to be the disciple of a victorious champion than to be the disciple of the bruised and battered man hanging on the cross. But that is who we are. We can be sure that if we really follow Jesus Christ, our lives will never again be neat and tidy constructions of our own design; our days will rarely, if ever, follow the pattern we have laid out for ourselves. As Mark says, Jesus said all this quite openly. “Take up your cross,” he told his disciples, “and follow me.” And the cross means death. No wonder it was kind of a hard sell. No wonder Peter preferred to see the Messiah as a great warrior and victorious champion of Israel.
The problem is that every warrior falters and weakens and dies and is gone forever. The crucified Messiah, though, he gives up his last breath and then walks out of the tomb forever alive. That is the great mystery and our great hope. We are called to follow our Lord along the way of death. But our guide is Jesus, who is the source of all life. Paul gives us the pattern of discipleship, established in the life of our Lord – this is from his letter to the Philippians:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Before he asked us to lay down our plans and our security and our comfort and even our lives, Jesus emptied himself of all that belonged to him – his equality with the God of the Universe and his glory as well as his own security and comfort, and his very life. Before he was born on earth, the Son of God had no experience of pain or fear or hunger or thirst. He was not susceptible to illness or weakness or weariness. He could not die. We human beings are on the road to death the moment we come into this world. But the Son chose to be born into the way of death for love of us, so that he could lead us through death into abundance of life. Because Jesus took on our humanity, completely, even to the point of death on the cross, we have a share in his unstoppable life – if we follow him in the way of the cross.
So discipleship is self-denial: denying ourselves those things that belong to the life of this world. When Jesus said, “If anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself and follow after me,” it is certain that he meant that for some of his disciples – and perhaps even for some of us here in this room – that might even mean we would be called upon to give up our lives for our faith. We can never assume that it would never come to that for us. But the flip side of discipleship is this: that laying down the privileges and pleasures of our worldly life, we become partakers even now of greater riches than the world could ever give us. When we forgive those who have wronged us, when we turn the other cheek, even if we give all we possess, when we look poor and despised in the eyes of the world, we are rich; we are spiritual billionaires. Because eternal life isn’t just human life stretching on and on like butter spread over more and more bread. Abundant life is quality, not just quantity. You can see that in Jesus. He had very little of the world’s wealth; he had no place even to lay his head. And yet he wanted for nothing, because he had the love of the Father, and as you read the gospels, you can see that the Father’s love radiated from everything Jesus said or did, flowed even through his hands that healed the sick and restored sight to the blind and brought the dead back to life. That love, that life, he shares with us, as his disciples. Nothing else can hold a candle to that, not even life itself.
But I still make lists for myself, and we disciples of Jesus Christ, for the most part, still care for our houses and pay our insurance premiums and put away a little something for the future and generally concern ourselves with the life of this world. We are in this world. But if we are disciples of Jesus Christ, we don’t belong to it anymore; those things no longer have mastery over us because we have already died in Christ to the only life they have to offer us. We died with Christ in our baptism, but our discipleship is a step by step thing. We put to death the things of this world little by little, not once for all. We give up our time, or our schedule today; we set aside our indignation or our pride; we forgo our pleasures to bring joy to someone else. It’s a step-by-step process, this discipleship thing, rather than a blaze of glory or instant enlightenment. Even Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine for three years before he faced the cross – the writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. How much more patient should we be with ourselves as we seek to follow in his footsteps!
The good news is that the path of discipleship is love. And the end is joy and life. And our crucified and risen Messiah is with us always, even to the end of the age.
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