Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain and gathering them around, He taught them saying:
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK. BLESSED ARE THEY THAT MOURN.
BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL.
BLESSED ARE THEY WHO THIRST FOR JUSTICE.
BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN PERSECUTED.
BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN YOU SUFFER.
BE GLAD AND REJOICE, FOR YOUR REWARD IS GREAT IN HEAVEN.
Then Simon Peter said, "Do we have to write this down?"
And Andrew said, "Are we supposed to know this?"
And James said, "Will we have a test on this?"
And Phillip said, "I don't have any paper."
And Bartholomew said, "Do we have to turn this in?"
And John said, "The other disciples didn't have to learn this."
And Matthew said, "Can I go to the boy's room?"
And Judas said, "What does this have to do with real life?"
Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus' lesson plans and inquired of Jesus, "What are the objectives in the cognitive domain and your plans for remediation?"
Lessons in life, and who better to answer those questions and teach the disciples than Christ himself. Today our scriptural heading in our reading tells us, ‘Jesus calls his first disciples’. Today I want to focus on one word from that heading, that word is 'disciples.' So, let’s think about this for a moment, is there a difference between a follower and disciple? Google suggests the difference is that a follower is (literally) one who follows, who comes after another, while a disciple is a person who learns from another, especially one who then teaches others. A disciple, one that learns from others, and especially one that teaches others.
Christ goes on this mission to gather disciples. And, what kind of people does he pick? Pharisees, elitists, and scribes? NO WAY! He wants some normies… some everyday normies like you and I to be His ‘fishers of men.’ He chose ordinary commoners like us to be his disciples. Yes, again, these were everyday people like you and me. The commonest of the common. The ‘sinniest’ of the sinners (I know I made up that word). Some were pesky tax collectors who were among the most despised people in Israel. Several of them were fisherman. Not a prestigious gig, and from Bible literature we know that often meant long hard days some without a catch. Others whom Christ chose were farmers from rural areas. And… he even chose one who He knew would turn out to be an enemy-- a traitor. That gives us a good idea of the type of people he chose, he picked people with typical failings. Yet, we can see these men are used by God in uncommon and remarkable ways.
Disciple or Follower
I think it is probably fair to say that most, if not all of us here today, are followers of Christ. So, how do we know who gets chosen to engage in that deeper level of discipleship?
In Matthew 28:19-20 Christ commands his followers, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”
Followers making disciples of all nations… That sound like a lot of disciples. So, what about little ole’ Kingsbury church? Especially, since we only have about twelve, give or take a few, of us go to church here on any given Sunday?
I am going to argue that there is not room for us to simply be followers. We must all be disciples. Not only teaching and learning from one another but reaching out to do the same in our communities. Many of you already participate in the role of ‘disciple,’ so take a deep breath, I am not planning to over-burden you with an increase in your responsibility. I know many of you already feel overloaded… but, for some of you there is potential.
We all must accept our role in discipleship, which is not only a willingness to follow the teachings of Christ but to share His teachings and works in ‘deed and action’. To learn from one another, which includes being willing to listen to one another.
I thought back to services last week while writing this and chuckled a bit. There were about twelve or so of you who sat in the audience last week-- all women. So being in a church that promotes fairness and equality, I figured if all you women are ‘disciples’ we are promoting equality and balance out the twelve disciples Christ—All men. So, yes, women, you ALL have to be disciples.
Call to Discipleship
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
God had blessed us all with different abilities and gifts. What might be your call to discipleship? We all have gifts. It may be singing or music—if so, we have a position open in our music ministry. Or, maybe your gift is working with children. I learned the hard way this is not my gift in discipleship. You may all remember years ago during I sermon when the words flowed so freely from my mouth ‘I want to be a stay at home mom.’ Thankfully, I tested it out on my children before initiating anyone else’s. Certainly, this was not my calling. And, God let me know that WAS NOT my chosen path. The children will ‘confirm’ for you that was not my chosen path.
So back to the question, how do we discern a call to discipleship?
May I suggest two words? Prayerful listening. Now if we recall the example of ‘I want to be a stay at how mom’, may I use it to make a suggestion? Don’t start by telling God what you want to be. Maybe I could have saved myself, and the children, lots of pain and anguish if I would have simply asked, “God, what is the path you have created for my journey?” Right? Versus telling him what I thought I wanted. So, start with prayer. The second word in ‘Prayerful listening’ is what? ‘Listening’ that’s right. Anyone else have a problem with that? If you struggle as I do with listening, or any other shortcoming, don’t worry. God will make a way. As with my situation, God might relentlessly bug you… and maybe Wendy will bug you too… right, Wendy?
Let me explain:
It was nearing Easter and I had been ministering at our church for some time. If you don’t know, we lost our Pastor several months earlier and I was ‘filling in’ a few times a month. Months in, I kept having this little ‘bug’ in my ear telling me to go to church council and answer my call to become a licensed minister. But I was trying my best not to listen. I had no theological background, I had honestly never even read the full Bible, and there was a myriad of other reasons why this ‘call’ could not be real. A short time later I found myself online researching what becoming a licensed minister entailed, hoping to ‘rule out’ that voice. Then came the self-talk, “It is all in your head!” I tried to tell myself. Now if you will quickly recall the ‘stay at home mom’ scenario, and you are hoping your calling is something it is not, trust and believe it is not going to work out. On-the-other-hand if you’re not answering an actual call from God-- God will keep bugging you. God is persistent. Thankfully God knows our faults and doesn’t give up on us. God knew exactly what to do… God kept buggin.’ So, finally one day my best friend was over at my house. I muster up the courage and tell her this voice keeps telling me to talk to church council about becoming a licensed minister. She replied some to the tune of, ‘That’s funny, last church council meeting Wendy said you missed your calling in life.’ Remember I said, ‘Wendy might bug you.’ Well, Wendy, that bugged me. I remember thinking to myself, “What does she mean I missed my calling in life, I am only 40.”
So, I hope you get the over-arching idea. The long and short of it, Pray and Listen and let God show you the way.
Discipleship is Becoming
ILLUS: Hawthorne’s “Great Stone Face”
In a pleasant, sunny valley surrounded by lofty mountains, lived a boy named Ernest. On the side of one of the mountains near Ernest’s home, nature had carved the features of a gigantic face on the mountain rock.
From the steps of his cottage, the boy used to gaze intently upon the stone face, for his mother had told him that someday a man would come to the valley who would look just like the Great Stone Face. His coming would bring joy and happiness to the entire community.
"Mother," said the boy, "I wish that it could speak, for it looks so kind that its voice must be pleasant. If I were to see a man with such a face, I should love him dearly." So, Ernest continued to gaze at the Great Stone Face for hours at a time.
Several times the rumor spread that the long-looked-for benefactor was coming, but each time when the man arrived, the rumor proved to be false. In the meantime, Ernest had grown into manhood, doing good wherever he could. The people in the village loved him. Everyone was his friend. And as he became an old man, Ernest was still looking for the arrival of the long-expected one.
One day a poet came into the valley. He had heard the prophecy about the Great Stone Face, and at evening, when the sun was setting, he saw Ernest talking to some people. As the last rays of light flooded the massive outlines on the distant mountainside, they fell on Ernest's face. The poet cried aloud, "Behold! Behold! Ernest himself is the likeness of the Great Stone Face." Then all the people looked, and sure enough, they saw that what the poet said was true. By looking daily at the Great Stone Face, Ernest had become like it.
You become what you worship. You become what you’re aiming at. The mark of true discipleship is Christlikeness.
“Discipleship is the process of becoming more like Christ in character and behavior as we live out our faith in community.”
Discipleship is becoming the person willing to help many in some instances and helping the one in other instances.
Illus: On September 2nd, 1945 World War II ended. The war had gone on six long years, with nearly 75 million soldier’s dead. One soldier in the war was a devout Christian name Desmond Doss who refused to touch a weapon or work on the Sabbath. He enlisted in the Army during World War II to become a combat medic. The Army really wanted nothing to do with him. “He just didn’t fit the Army’s model of what a good soldier would be.” His battalion considered him a pest. They saw him as a slacker and threw shoes at him while he prayed. But in Okinawa in the spring of 1945, Doss and his company faced a grueling task. They had to climb a steep cliff and face thousands of heavily armed Japanese soldiers. Doss climbed the ridge and crawled dragging wounded soldiers to safety. The whole time he prayed, “Lord, please help me get one more.” Doss eventually saved 75 men. The soldiers who had shamed him now praised him, and his captain described him as “one of the bravest persons alive.” President Harry Truman awarded Doss the Medal of Honor in 1945, and more than 70 years later, he was the hero of the movie Hacksaw Ridge. He was, and is, an example of a veteran who sacrificed. Doss exemplifies discipleship. (show short video clip) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pBEnaBYwFI&list=PLX0AsMHqpUARaSvSWjYB7fil7Knmn5gdV&index=3&t=0s
Discipleship is showing up
Like Doss, a ‘disciple’ to me is someone who shows up. Most of you know much of my life I traveled down a dark and dreary road. There was a point I felt like there was nobody on earth standing by my side. My friends had disappeared. My family had all but given up on me. But there God stood. Someone who watched all the pain I was causing. Someone who understood the magnitude of all the havoc I was wreaking. And what did God do? God fervently continued to love me, too long for me and worked relentlessly to guide me from the darkness. And, God’s is the example I follow, that is the type of disciple I want to be. The last man standing in there for people! Standing by the side of that outcast, standing by the prostitute, standing by the tax collector, standing by the drug addict, standing by the mentally ill, standing by the foreigner, standing by the oppressed, and standing by any person who most consider ‘less than’.
God does not abandon people, nor should his disciples.
Let’s recall in Acts 9 the Conversion of Saul to Paul:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Paul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
—?Acts 9:3–9, NIV
The account continues with a description of Ananias of Damascus receiving a divine revelation instructing him to visit Saul and lay hands on him to restore his sight. Ananias is initially reluctant, having heard about Saul's reputation and persecution of Christians, but obeys the divine command:
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
—?Acts 9:13–19, NIV
The lord has chosen Saul, turned Paul, as an instrument to proclaim His name to the Gentiles and their kings, and the people of Israel. And, Paul meets with the disciples after his conversion, and immediately began to preach in the synagogues about Jesus being God’s son. As you can imagine, people were shocked.
Acts 9:21-22 (NIV), tells us:
21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
I get energized by the love God shows in this story because it resonates with my life, and probably many of yours. Hope for the one raising havoc. Hope for the carriers of darkness. Hope for the non-believer. And, finally, hope for the persecutor to become a disciple.
I have a dear friend who spent the last few years working hard at his recovery. He became an icon in the recovery community. He became well known in the community because he showed up for people. For a time, there was not a drug court that he did not show up for. He was running recovery meetings. He was devoted to changing the person he was and was doing a phenomenal job. Then he lost his wife unexpectedly. Some of us may understand the devastation of losing a spouse or loved one. Sadly, in this man’s despair, the darkness was there, waiting and wanting to gobble him up. He relapsed. And that darkness who took him down did not care that he had worked his way to the top of the donor registry for a new liver. It did not care he spent years building a solid recovery. It didn’t care where his heart was. It simply did not care. Somehow the hospital was notified of his relapse. For a moment, it seemed all hope may be lost, and that he may be forever and completely removed from the donor list and only given six months to live. I sat in this man’s living room as he wept and reminded him through God, he can have it all back.
‘I know’ he tearfully and solemnly replied.
I am happy to report, my friend has sobered up. He even visited the hospital to put the focus back on his health. He has been released and he is doing better. He is going back out to the hospital in March for a review on his liver transplant, and now there seems to be a chance he could remain on the list, although he may have to start at the bottom.
This last weekend was our Addict to Athlete fundraising run which we have been raising money for his liver. Sure, we could have chosen to back out or donate to another charity, but is that what a true disciple does, gives up on people? Especially, when they are struggling? No!
I share this story today for a few reasons. First, because I wonder what might have been different for this man if the droves of individuals who participated in and benefitted from this man’s recovery would have shown up for him in his darkest hour when he lost his wife, would things have been different? Next, I want us to notice that if we are not showing up for people as disciples of Christ—the darkness is always waiting to gobble them up.
There is a quote by John Ortberg I love that says, “If you want to do the work of God, pay attention to people. Notice them. Especially the people nobody else notices.”
As we go out into the world, let us remember discipleship is about becoming more Christlike. It is about teaching and learning with others. May we strive to pay attention to people, to talk to them more, to listen to them. Sometimes we may be able to help many at once, other times we might beg, ‘Lord, help me get one more.’ But let us remember, “If light does not show up for those struggling in the world, the darkness looms.” -Heath MD
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.