Discipleship 101

Biblical Text: Mark 1:14-20

The text is Jesus’ calling of the first disciples – Andrew and Peter, James and John. But prior to that there is a one sentence summary of the preaching of Jesus. “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” Making disciples in the mission of the church. Jesus gave that to the church in the great commission. But what does it mean to be a disciple? That is the question of this sermon. Because the first think you have to confront is does it mean for everyone what it meant for those first 4? They left their nets and the father and followed. This sermon ponders that a bit. And it does so in the light of that summary of Jesus’ preaching. A summary of preaching which I think serves rather well as the basics of discipleship shared by all from Apostles to the present age.

Labor Day

Biblical Text: Matthew 16:21-28

I suppose I should have used a title like “The Labors of Christ”. The text is what happens immediately after Peter’s confession of Christ. You have a confrontation over what that word means. Peter thinks it means something very earthly. Jesus corrects him. And then he invites everyone to see his definition. What is Jesus’ definition of the Christ? Suffering, death and resurrection. How are we invited? To pick up our cross and follow. Why would we do this? It is the only way past death. It is the only way we keep our life, to lose it. This is how God works. This is the labor of the Christ seen through the things of God, not the things of man.

Unbelief to Believing

Biblical Text: John 20:19-31

At the word cloud would tell you, this is “Doubting” Thomas Sunday. But there are really two things in the text. The Thomas story is one of unbelief to belief and the things that stand in the way. The biggest of them I think is simply shame. The sermon goes into that in the 2nd half. The first half is the commissioning of the disciples. We believe, how then do we live? Jesus gives some directions here. The first half of the sermon looks at what it means to be sent as Christ was sent and the role of the Holy Spirit.

The End of the Epiphany Journey

I truly hope I am not stealing any of Pastor Kalthoff’s thunder here.  So I’m going to zoom out from the textual specifics to the end of the season. Transfiguration is the end of the season of Epiphany.  It starts back on the 12th night of Christmas staring at a strange star that has risen in the east.  That star asked the Magi a question: do you want to see what this means, or are you comfortable here?  Their journey is one of knowing something – a king has been born – but not knowing what that means.  And lots of things they assumed must be changed.  They head to Jerusalem and Herod, to be told to go to Bethlehem.  They are given a map, but they instead follow the renewed star, possible angel, that guides them. They offer gifts for a King, to peasants in a stable. They return home a different way.  The season of Epiphany is a season of seeing exactly who this Jesus is: Babe, Israel reduced to one, stand-in for us in the Jordan, miracle worker, preacher, Son of God.  And it ends with this eschatological vision of the Glory of the One and Only Son, full of grace and truth. In the season of Epiphany we have heard and seen and have come to know.

But so what?  This is one of my favorite phrases of all time.  Don Draper in Mad Men says it to his protégé Peggy who has found herself pregnant and unmarried in the late ‘50s.  Counseling her to get rid of it he says, “You will be surprised at how fast this never happened.”  And Peggy’s character, like her mentor Don, lives that out. The events of life seemingly never leaving a mark on either.  It is that way with many spiritual experiences. It’s the mystery of the seed that falls on rocky soil.  It springs up for a short time, but soon is gone. It has no root.  There is a list of once famous people who detailed their experience and their turn away from it: Paul Verhoeven (director), Barbara Ehrenreich (author), AJ Ayer (atheist philosopher).  In an instant they all knew something, and then left it and went back to their current lives. Knowing doesn’t mean willing to live. Epiphany leads us from the baby in the Manger to the Mountaintop experience.  We know.

And then Jesus hits us with the question.  Are you following me down this mountain?

The hymn I slotted as the sermon hymn is one of my favorite modern ones. Stanza 1 sings the story.  All hymns start in the biblical text.  With our voices we remember, we recall the experience, we make it real before us. Stanza 2 starts to step beyond the story.  Knowing and walking down from the mount, what does Jesus mean for us?  Mountaintop experiences are things we ponder in our hearts.  We don’t live in them like booths.  They live in us.  And if we have truly gained and kept their truth – not surprised at how fast they didn’t happen – they help us walk the valley in faith. And that valley is always the shadow of death. It is always the valley of the cross.  The only way out is through.  And you wouldn’t want to miss it.

The last stanza is the one that gets me every time.  It’s the prayer.  Lord, we have come to know.  We leave this mountaintop for Calvary. And we know this is good if not exactly how.  We also know that we would not move from this spot, not without your help.  Lord, transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines.  Recast our life’s intentions to the shape of your designs.  Let us find no other glory than what lies past Calvary. Guide our steps, our living, and our dying, and our rising, by your will.

We know. Do we follow?

(FYI: The Hymn Referenced is LSB 416 Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. I’d post a link, but you are better off searching it yourself. Or coming to church to hear and sing it! The copyright prevents easy sharing.)

Learning Repentance

Biblical Text: Matthew 4:12-25

The text is the calling of the first disciples from Matthew’s Gospel, two sets of Brothers – Andrew and Peter, James and John. And right before that calling you have Matthew’s summary of the Preaching of Jesus, at least in the days in Galilee, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” So, the sermon’s main concern is the idea of discipleship. What does it mean to follow Jesus? And a big part of that answer is to learn the meaning of repentance. This particular sermon walks through what I tend to think is the modern church’s biggest problem – worldliness.

Counting the Cost

Biblical Text: Luke 14: 25-35

In the text we have one of the notices of “great crowds”. The fame of Jesus’ ministry can be gaged by the modifier to the crowds. And when they get to “great” he always says something like he says in the text today. It’s always a warning about discipleship. Discipleship isn’t about numbers. It’s about the heart. The disciple of Jesus has to know that The Way is The Way of the Cross. And they have to reckon that way the way of life. Also a way that we have no ability to follow in and of ourselves. This sermon is about how the way of grace is absolutely free and terribly costly.

Discipleship Itinerary

Biblical Text: Acts 16:6-15

The text as I read it had two parts. The first being something of a travel itinerary. And it was travel that was done under some uncertainty and stress. First Paul wanted to go West, but the Spirit stopped him. And he drifted north. When he runs out of North he decides to go east, but the Spirit of Jesus stops him. And eventually Paul has a vision, “come help us in Macedonia.” It’s not that Paul was doing anything wrong; he just didn’t have the necessary figured out yet. But when you figure out the necessary, there is only one choice – obedience. The sermon reads Paul’s itinerary as a metaphor for the life of discipleship. The second part of the text is what happens when you arrive at a new point. Paul and his traveling companions have gone to Philippi, a Roman Colony. And what they encounter is different. When we’ve come to something new in our discipleship walk, we have a choice.

Where Are the Disciples?

Biblical Text: Mark 10:46-52

The text is the capstone both to Mark 10, which is the toughest chapter in the gospels, and the ministry of Jesus. The rest of the gospel of Mark is passion week which really is something separate. What we’ve seen in the rest of Mark 10 is a bunch of ways that people misunderstand or outright reject discipleship. But here with the story of blind Bartimaeus we have a lesson of true discipleship. This sermon is a meditation on how Bartimaeus sees more clearly – even though blind – than most of the sighted. And it is an encouragement to “walk the way.”

A Prophetic Turn

Biblical Text: Jonah 3:1-10, really all of Jonah

The Jonah story is so much more than just a fish tale. It is a tale of repentance. It is a tale of what moves God. It is a tale of prophets going the wrong way while everyone around them goes the right way. It is a tale about learning to desire grace. It is a tale of seeing the signs and applying them to ourselves. It is about walking in joy even if the way is strange and hard. In short it is a tale of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This sermon attempts to bring that stuff into the foreground, and put the whale in background.

Definitions are Important (Christ and the Cross)

Biblical Text: Matthew 16:21-28

We live in a time that definitions of words can’t be taken for granted. People use the same word but often have radically different meanings. That is the case in this text for the idea of Christ. Jesus and the Father have a definition that centers on the cross. Peter’s Christ can’t include the cross. That must be sorted out. Likewise understanding was The Cross means for Jesus and what it means for his followers is important discipleship stuff. This sermon attempts to make clear what Christ and the Cross mean for the Christian.