This is part four in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 6:12-49.
We’re into part four of our series on our Vision and Mission, and today we’re talking about Disciples. Specifically, how we can make disciples, and how we can be disciples. So, I want to start with a bit of a question to get you thinking: What influential moments have you had in your journey of Christian Discipleship? By that I mean, what teaching, studies, reading, actions, retreats, mentors, personal relationships have been most influential in your journey to be a Christian Disciple? Let me share a couple with you.
When I was in year 11, I was still part of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Diocese in Perth was trialling a new idea that (it was hoped) would encourage young people to consider seriously entering into ministry in the church. So a group of us headed down to Rockingham in the Southern Suburbs of Perth, and had a retreat with the Bishop, and a few other priests, looking at ministry and life as a Christian. It was a big success – of the 5 people who went, 3 have moved onto different denominations, one is notionally attending, and one has entered ministry… in a different church. But the reality was that this time was a period that planted the seed of ministry service in my life.
The other influential time for my discipleship was through a retreat community called Chrysalis. This was a three day retreat that looked at various aspects of Christian life and discipleship. While the initial retreat was awesome, what was more influential for me was being involved in the community after that. Serving in various roles, from general support, to musician, to an assistant lay director, and speaking on various topics, helped focus my own Christian life and helped me work through some of the issues that I had in my life.
Both of these retreats had three common aspects that relate to our Christian Discipleship, and we see these aspects coming through in today’s readings. They are calling, Teaching and Doing.
For both of these retreats, I was invited to attend. My priest put my name forward for me to be invited to attend the ministry exploration retreat by the Bishop, and I was invited to attend Chrysalis by one of my good mates who had attended a retreat before me. We see similar things in Jesus’ calling of the twelve apostles. Traditionally, Disciples sought out a rabbi and asked to follow him and learn from him through question and observation. Jesus flipped this on its head, and sought out and asked Disciples to come and follow him.
We don’t hear about all of the Disciples calling, but earlier in Luke’s gospel, we hear about some of them. Simon was cleaning his nets after fishing on the lake of Gennesaret, when Jesus sat in his boat to start teaching. After catching nothing all night, Jesus told Simon to go out again, where he caught so many fish his nets were beginning to break. Jesus said, “from now on you will be catching people” and Simon left his boats and followed Jesus.
Levi was sitting at the tax booth, and Jesus walked up to him and said “Follow me” so he left everything and followed Jesus.
Both these guys (who would have their names changed – Simon to Peter, and Levi to Matthew), were called by Jesus to come and follow them, and they listened and had their lives changed.
Similarly, a lot of our discipleship has been part of a calling. Maybe you can remember who first invited you to come to church. Or maybe someone invited you to take part in a bible study that ended up changing your life. Or someone invited you to come along on this camp or retreat where you learned something new about God.
The next part of my discipleship experiences is teaching. All of my significant moments contain a bit of teaching. My ministry retreat contained teaching from the Bishop, as well as some other priests, as to what ministry can look like – both biblically and in today’s society. Chrysalis contains as the crux of it fourteen talks about different areas of Christian living – Faith, Means of Grace, Marriage and the Single life, and others. In every discipleship moment, there must be an element of teaching, because it is through the teaching that we grow to be more like Christ.
Let’s look at Jesus’ discipleship moment here. He came and stood on a level place, and the multitude from all over the place came to hear him. So he looked up and started speaking. First, in Luke’s version of the Beattitudes, Jesus highlighted the values that he revered, and the values that he didn’t. Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich. Blessed are the hungry, woe to the full.
He then went on to describe a new way of living. This is such a long reading, and each section could quite rightly have a sermon in itself, so I’m not going to get into each section, but through all of this teaching, Jesus shows the crowd a new way of living, that will usher in the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is one of equality, and one of non-violence, where Love is the central theme, not power.
You might like to start thinking about some of your discipleship moments where you’ve experienced some great teaching – and it’s ok, it doesn’t have to be one of my sermons – but while you do that, realise that it doesn’t have to be a single event. While the time’s I’ve illustrated were retreats – that’s what was significant for me. I’ve also enjoyed sharing time over the past few weeks sharing with people who have spent significant time just reading their bibles, and the teaching that they have learnt from that one book alone could well be more than could be gained at a single retreat.
Discipleship isn’t just a one time event. We must be continually learning, accessing the teaching of Jesus, maybe even looking further afield at some of the writings of other great Christian teachers, to get an understanding of what God is telling us, and how he is shaping us into being more of him.
The final aspect of our discipleship trifecta is the aspect of doing. Now, we don’t earn our faith because of the good works that we do. God loves us, all of us, no matter whether we do great works or not. However, the teaching of Jesus is so rooted in things that we can do, that the only real response to accepting the teaching of Jesus is to say, “Yes Lord, I will do that” – I will live in that way, I will love my enemy, I will turn the other cheek.
I’ve been reading a book recently called Jim and Caspar go to Church. Jim is a former pastor turned author, who employed an Athiest, Caspar, to go with him to various churches and critique their worship services. It’s a fascinating read. Reading through it, I noticed one of Caspar’s common critiques was that the service focussed too much on the inward, and didn’t result in a demonstratable action that could be done. Once the sermon was over, there was no call to action, no “Come do this” or “Go do that”.
Caspar, I feel, hit the nail on the head. Yes, a lot of our faith is an internal, private affair, and that’s how it is. But the result of the love of God that we experience should propel us into action.
James wrote about this in his letter, saying “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” This isn’t to put an emphasis on works above faith, or faith above works. They come out of each other – because we have faith, we do works.
My discipleship moments all had strong elements of doing. My ministry retreat sought to encourage me to go out and explore ministry, to go and experience it and see where God was leading me. Chrysalis had a strong action call at the end of the retreat, to apply Christ’s teachings to your life and to step up into ministry.
When we get out there and apply Christ’s teachings to our lives, we also have the opportunity to learn from what it does to our lives. We grow as disciples through our works.
The wonderful thing about all of this is that we can do it no matter where we are on our journey of discipleship. If you’ve been here for 80 years, God’s still calling you, still teaching you, and still encouraging you to action. If this is your first time here, something or someone has called you to be here, and you have the opportunity to learn from Jesus’ teachings and go apply it to your life. Whether it’s your first day or your 800th, Christ is giving you the opportunity to progress along your journey of discipleship.
And the wonderful thing is that we as a church can support you in that. As individuals, we can invite people to come along, to give them that calling so that they may start the next part of their journey. As a church, we have bible studies, we have classes, we have opportunities to apply that faith into works, so that we can all share in our discipleship journey together. But of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and maybe God has put on your heart something that he would like you to do. Maybe Christ is calling you to get back into your bible reading. Maybe the Holy Spirit is leading you towards a retreat, or a bible study, or to share what you’ve experienced with someone else.
Hear God’s call on your life. Learn from the word of God. Go out and do it in community.