Path of Discipleship

No doubt you have seen the footprints scattered about in the sanctuary. They are meant to instill in you a sense of walking, of moving your feet in a particular direction. of leading you along a path. a path to the cross. It is the path of discipleship. It moves you from this very second to the moment of your death and rebirth, but in a way you could never have imagined! Discipleship means change - for a disciple is a student who is ever learning, ever growing, whose defining edges are challenged and reshaped and redefined as they enclose and are enclosed by the experience of Christ.

The path to the cross is never an easy one. The disciples of Christ's day left the lives they knew to follow Jesus - learning their new roles on the job, so to speak. They encountered many people, from the rich and famous, to the poor and diseased. They faced hardships, bad weather, rough seas, hot, dusty summers, cold wet winters, hunger, beatings, stonings, demons and jeering crowds. But still they followed. Still they walked - all over the Mediterranean world learning what it meant to witness to God's great act of love in concrete ways for individual people as well as hungry crowds.

Tradition tells us that the end of their lives was no easier. Their witness was bold not only in their living, but also in their dying. We know from the Bible Stephen was stoned in the street. Then it is told that Matthias was draped with dead animals and left for the vultures, Jude Thaddeus shot to death with arrows, Mark was dragged behind a chariot, James thrown off the roof of Herod's palace. The other stories are just as gruesome. Factual - it is hard to say? But none the less, we are left with an impression of the depth of their dedication and willingness to let go of their lives in the process of witnessing to the meaning of Christ.

How can it be that these are the men who fled in fear the night Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane? Yet these are also some of the men who literally fulfilled the prophecy in our gospel text. "They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. They will put some of you to death." It was only a few decades after Christ's death that the Romans had had enough of the Jews and sent in sufficient forces to destroy Jerusalem and level the temple. They killed, enslaved, or carried off into exile a huge portion of Jerusalem's population. This was a monumental event for Israel of cataclysmic proportions, for Jerusalem was not only the religious center, but also the political center of their nation. Prior to this, Israel was simply occupied, now it was destroyed. And there caught up in the midst of all the turmoil were Christians who not so long ago knew themselves as Jews.

A rough comparison would be if Washington D.C. were attacked, all federal buildings leveled to the ground, including the Smithsonian museum, national cathedral, all the fine arts buildings, and historic locations. Imagine the survivors, including major political figures carried off to other lands. And DC is now occupied with foreign troops. Six months ago we would have laughed at the suggestion. Now, some of that scenario is a frightening possibility. Sure, our military forces would be there in a moment with a counter offensive, but the center of our identity as an American people would have suffered irreparable damage. What if you were among the survivors, faced with the enemy, faced with death? What would you say? How would you behave? What would your witness be of your God and your nation?

I can hear your own inner voices, just as mine is saying, "I don't know! I pray I am never faced with that. I don't know if I could be as strong as the disciples. Surely this is a new day, a new time." Well, perhaps. But listen to the words we sang just a few moments ago "Rise up, O saints of God! From vain ambitions turn; Christ rose triumphant that your hearts with nobler zeal might burn. Speak out, His word of hope proclaim. Rise up! Redress sin's cruel consequence. Give justice larger place. Commit your hearts to seek the paths which Christ has trod."

Do we really know the depth of commitment enmeshed in that hymn's petitions? We are asking to be bold in our speech, to burn with a passion for justice, to redress the consequences of sin. Wow! Not a simple task. Not one that we feel prepared for nor one that we feel trained for. Afterall, the disciples were taught by the best - Christ - himself.

Well alright, let's leave that image of a disciple in 70 CE and turn to the present. Let's look at two young men, late teens in dark suits, white shirts, ties, name tags, riding bikes or seen walking down the street of any town in the US. You know immediately who I'm talking about. Forget for now our theological differences and look at their example. In effect they are modern-day disciples. They willingly leave family and friends for two years, go from town to town, house to house, sometimes in foreign lands, learning new languages and cultures, boldly sharing what they have been taught about the gospel and a life consistent with that good news of Jesus Christ.

It is not a someday dream of going on a mission as an adult to some impoverished area, or land that has never heard of Jesus. But their mission is considered a rite of passage offered to and gladly accepted by most teens moving into adulthood. It is a challenge taken seriously and one they are prepared for at the MTC or Mission Training Center. They witness in places that have already heard of Christ. Why? Because they know a Christian is called to proclaim what Christ has done for them and to tell it over and over again to uplift and encourage one another in this life.

Could you do something like that? What gives those young missionaries the courage to witness to so many people? Perhaps it is the fact that they are taught what to say and trained for a variety of situations. Perhaps it is because their parents did it and their brothers or sisters before them paved the way.

But let's look back at the words of our litany of discipleship. God's call bids us to follow. And we ask to clearly hear that call. We ask God for the courage and strength for the sake of the Gospel. As Jesus called disciples to walk with him, we respond with, O Master, let us walk with you. And finally, we ask, Open our hearts to new ways of walking with you in this new day, this new time.

Hmmmm, Open our hearts to new ways of walking with you. PERHAPS it is as Jesus counsels us. "Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict." Whew! Can our trust be that strong? Most of the time, we shy away umm, no, we run from public witnessing because we don't know what to say. We are afraid of saying something wrong, or we'll stumble over our words, look foolish, get embarrassed, people will talk about us later when we're not present. Or maybe we're afraid to take a stand on what we believe. It might affect how people relate to us later in our friendships or business dealings.

So, let's get this straight then - what we're saying is that sharing the gospel is for whose sake? Mine? or yours? or theirs? or Christ's? Well, I don't know. What do you think? If you are worried about your appearance or your job, then maybe it's not such good news. Let me ask you, folks. If you were jogging down the street one early morning and you passed by a major department store that was putting signs up that read - Going Out of Business - All merchandise must go. 90% off regular price. Would you keep jogging? Yeah! An about face as fast as you could go to get home to get your wallet. Or maybe you'd whip out your cell phone and call up your parents and friends and say get on over here now and bring my credit card with you. .No you wouldn't! I know you! You'd try to keep it a secret. You'd go rent a U-haul, buy it all up yourself and store it for the future. NOT! You'd share that good news and not have any trouble coming up with the words to say

Then what is it about the gospel that is so difficult to share? Do we not care about anyone else? Do we not love that relative or friend whose life doesn't know or reflect Christ? What does it mean to care anyway? Doesn't it mean giving up a part of yourself to help the other, to be with the other, to talk together, to think about them when you are apart? To be aware of their needs and act upon those needs. You offer rides when the car goes in the shop, you take meals in times of crisis, mow the lawn when they're laid up, loan money if they are short, listen when they are sad, let them know if their lipstick is smeared, share the gospel if they need encouragement. Ah hah, look how easily that fits the list. Okay, that's one. Now, go and do that for everyone you meet!

No, that's not that easy. I know. Ten years ago I would never have dreamed of being up here speaking to you today. Throughout my school years, I never once raised my hand to answer a question. To do any kind of public speaking I donned another personality, pretended to be speaking through another character. (PAUSE) But when the moment comes and God calls you, you know you can do nothing else. The words come. You know it. You've had moments when you've talked about Jesus to others. And it felt good didn't it? You've had moments when you've been Christ for others. That was rewarding for both of you, wasn't it? But can you move it out of your comfort zone? There is a world of people out there that need to hear God's word of assurance to get them through the difficult moments of life. Will you be the bearers of that word? Jesus calls you daily. Do you hear that call?

To handle our anxieties and fears we need to realize our lives are not our possession to be defended and protected, but a gift to be shared. We have to make room in our lives for one more, and then one more, and one more. But when our hands, and heads, and hearts are filled with worries, concerns and fears, we aren't honestly welcoming the other person into our presence much less into Christ's presence. So, how can our witness be genuine? Instead, can we listen to what the other says without worrying about how we will answer? Can we pay attention to what they are offering us without being concerned about what we can give? Can we see who they are at that moment without wondering what we can be for them? Somehow in just being there for someone we are speaking words of Christ and sharing in his wisdom. This is a new day and a new time. We have asked Christ to open our hearts to hear him and to walk with him. Can we then extend that to hear and walk with others? And when we do, the words will come. Don't be anxious about what to say, for we have the promise of Christ that if we listen, we will know what to say.

As disciples you have learned something today. That God will give you what you need. And now I'd like you to practice it. I'd like invite some of you to end my sermon for me with your testimony. Listen to your hearts and finish this sentence for me. Jesus is my _____________ my what? Think of everything you know about him and give me one word, okay. If you can say more, go ahead. I know some of you can do this readily.

Then that is enough for today.

It was at a time just like this that God sent God's son into the world to walk with us, listen to us, talk with us, touch us. To help us to know God. The day is coming when we will see him again face-to-face. But until that time you and I are the means by which others can come to know God's love through Christ. Do you accept the challenge? If so, say Amen.


Read other sermons by Pastor Joan