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.

Ebbs and Flows

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Rom. 14:5 ESV)”

Paul in that extended passage of Romans puts things like how you mark time into the realm of Christian Freedom. God neither demands days to be observed of the Christian, nor does he scorn such piety. The church in most times and places found setting aside certain days to be a healthy piety. We live in the United States, which is largely the creation of the Reformed strains of Christianity (Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist).  And the Reformed strains were the highwater mark of Reformation iconoclasm, the destruction of the icons or any other representational form, like a church year.  The Pilgrims would not have even marked Christmas.  The best construction on that is their assertion that every Sunday is Easter Sunday.  The week started on the LORD’s Day.  When that week to week same framework hits industrial capitalism you get how we mark time.  Monday starts the week.  Monday to Friday are for work with Saturday and Sunday being the weekend for play. 

The Christendom that inspired the Church Calendar marked time in a different way.  It didn’t run in machine like precision.  It ebbed and flowed, hurried and then waited. We move feasts – like All Saints – to the nearest Sunday after as a concession to the industrial-Reformed way. But we should recognize what this does.  We are moving the things of God, at least those that we supposedly are convinced in our own minds are important to piety, to satisfy the things of man. We should not be surprised then when other things insert themselves between what we say we are convinced of and our personal piety.  We neither have a Church calendar that affords us days of holy obligation which we take off from work to worship God, nor do we have the every Sunday is Easter piety of the Pilgrims.  We have 5 days of work and 2 days of play.  Worship doesn’t fit easily in that.

One of the religious effects of observing a Holy Day on the nearest Sunday is that the assigned texts for that Sunday get erased from ever being heard. The first letter that Paul ever wrote – 1 Thessalonians – is one of those that gets erased.  The Sunday prior to Reformation Sunday we read the opening, but the next two weeks get erased for the fixed Reformation and All Saints texts. In Sunday Bible study we have continued with the Thessalonians reading.  There are three short observations that I feel might be good to hear.

  1. “So as always to fill up the measure of their sins…” (1 Thessalonians 2:16)

There are two other such mentions of filling up sins in the bible. Genesis 15:16 where Abraham is told of 400 years of slavery in Egypt so that the sin of the Canaanites would be full.  Daniel 8:3, in reference to the final empire of this world.  This world has two streams.  The streams of the river of life which the children of God have washed themselves receiving forgiveness, and the stream of those sins collected until the day of the LORD.  Part of Paul’s message to the Thessalonians is his thankfulness that “you received the Word of God.” This causes trouble in this world, but it is because you are being prepared for eternity.

  1. “For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:20)

This is Paul’s expression toward the Thessalonians.  Those people that he has instructed in the faith are both his glory and his joy.  Jesus would tell the apostles that “they would sit on thrones judging the tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).” The glory and joy that Paul is talking about is that here is his tribe.  On All Saints we see the 144,000 in their tribal ranks.  This is in Paul’s mind. What is also in Paul’s mind is that these Thessalonians have imitated him in this.  They have “become an example to all the believers of Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thessalonians 1:7).”  The faith is received and spread by discipleship.  It is rarely learned mystically like Paul, but it is taught.

  1. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…(1 Thessalonians 4:3)”

Paul’s metaphor for sanctification is walking. There is a way that we should walk.  It is a walking in the footsteps of Jesus which he has laid out for us (Eph 2:10).  It is a walking that is pleasing to God and which they learned from Paul (1Thess 4:1-2).  You have heard and believed the Word of God and so have been justified in Christ.  Now walk in His way.  Walk toward your glory and joy.

The Right Time

Lesson Basis: James 5:7-11

It amuses me what bits stick in our minds and which ones fly away almost as soon as they are placed in them.  For example, Luther’s Small Catechism explanations are highly memorable and spiritually invaluable, yet to get confirmands to memorize them is a chore.  Yet, I’d bet that 80% of Lutherans immediately remember that Luther once called the Epistle of James and “epistle of straw” or that Luther once said “sin boldly.” Now, “sin boldly” is actually a very deep reflection on the gospel and the reality of life in this world. Most of our choices are not black and white, and even black and white ones our personal motivations tend toward gray shades.  This is the reality of our fallen nature.  Luther’s “sin boldly” is more importantly have faith that God knows our frame and has covered all our sins in Jesus, so make the best choices you can in the moment and trust God.  “The epistle of straw” was one I bet that Luther wishes he had back.  Luther was a polemicist.  The vast majority of the things he wrote were engaged in conflict of some type.  And the problem, still present with us today, is that when we are being polemic, we tend toward hyperbole or outright “fake news.” It is easier to make your “enemies” and their sources unclean than it is to argue the ideas.  Hence the epistle of straw.  And while it is true that some scripture ends up being more impactful than others, the letters of Paul have always been the spine of the New Testament, setting Paul against James is not a good idea.  They need to be reconciled because they share the same faith.

And what makes Luther’s quip so tough is that the reconciliation is part of what he was complaining about.  Luther didn’t like James at the time he wrote because it didn’t pronounce the gospel as strongly as Paul.  James leans more on the law, and even beyond the law you could call James New Testament wisdom literature – the New Testament Proverbs.  And the Proverb that is placed before us today is on the virtue of patience.  “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient.”

Being patient is not an American virtue.  We are the people of the fast food drive through.  We invented immediate gratification. Of course we could argue that it is these things taken to their fulfillment that are killing us.  Our entire food supply chain geared around what turns out to be unhealthy. Amazon Prime delivery promising us everything in two days, only to be depressed when whatever we ordered doesn’t bring us happiness. Patience is a virtue that we might need some lessons on.

But James on patience is keyed directly into the gospel.  “You have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  You know what God is about and who He is.  Christ has revealed this to us.  He justifies sinners.  Does everything happen when we want it to happen? No.  It doesn’t in simple material matters.  Heck, even a slow line at McDonalds can get us frustrated.  Things spiritual don’t happen on our timelines either.  Things spiritual happen at the right time.  Things spiritual happen “after the early and later rains.” Things spiritual happen on God’s time.  Patience for James is waiting on God to be exactly who we know he is.  And Job is his example. Yes, waiting can be suffering, but long after this is gone in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:26). It’s an Advent message.  God keeps his promises. Wait for that right time.

Future Opportunity

Biblical Text: Genesis 1:1-5

This sermon is a bit more philosophical that I typically get. It is also leaning of a work of systematic or dogmatic theology I’ve been reading by the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson. Classic theology is build around what in Latin are loci. In English it is much less impressive, merely subjects of focus. And the classic first loci is God.

There is a blatant problem with that. Absent revelation we can know nothing about God. Most everybody would disagree with that. That is the inspiration for every rational and forced mystic quest for God. It is the thinking behind “seeking”. And all those quests seem to have the same goal, to get under or behind or beneath our existence to the eternal timeless reality. But the God of revelation is not timeless; He is the creator of time.

This sermon invites us not to be driven by fear into seeking some unchanging reality, but to hear Jesus is risen as the invitation to a way through time, through God’s good creation from alpha to omega.

Tick-Tock Time


Biblical Text: Luke 9:28-36
Full Sermon Draft

Today was Transfiguration Sunday which is the last Sunday in the Season of Epiphany. Lent Begins mid-week with Ash Wednesday.

Transfiguration to me is a tough preaching assignment because it is fundamentally a visual experience. Parables are about words. Miracles are just as often about reactions to the happening. Both of those are easily pondered and preached in words. But with the transfiguration, it is an icon. What I mean by icon is that it is a picture that invites you to ponder fundamental reality, to contemplate and enter eternity. What this sermon chooses to ponder of that reality to time. We live, especially we moderns live, in a culture that at a minimum emphasizes tick-tock time. It sometimes goes as far as to deny there is anything but. But all icons are invitation to see beyond or underneath that press of the everyday. The transfiguration as the ultimate icon invites us to see all of eternity in one moment. The alpha and omega present on a mountaintop.

The sermon moves from the lessor to the greater. It posits hopefully a couple of more common icons in our lives that telescope time into an icon. Then it moves to the transfiguration. Finally it moves on to the demands and promises of knowing any icon. The what I put it here is that knowing eternity, we are freed to live in the moment. Not for the moment or obsessed with tick-tock time, but fully present in it. We are so freed to be truly present in good and ill because we are part of Jesus exodus. In Christ our time has been redeemed, reconnected to eternity. We have eternity, so we are free to enjoy time.

Worship note. Can I share a pet peeve? I understand the point of copyright. I believe that musicians and composers need to get paid. But copyright just kills the culture of hymns and sacred music. Here is what I mean. Today as a close we sang Lutheran Service Book number 416 – Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. It is a very modern song. The text is copyrighted 1994; the tune (Love’s Light) in 2000. To me this hymn is one that I’d put in the list of all time greats that every Christian should know. Think Amazing Grace or A Mighty Fortress. The tune is gorgeous, contagious and singable. The words are deep, emotional and challenging. And part of the magic is that they fit together. That is a hymn that should be shared. I can’t. It’s copyrighted. Church music, like preaching, isn’t really a commercial endeavor. You do it for the good of the church.

The law in my members…

Full Text

I’ve done two things in this sermon that I don’t usually like doing. I’m not sure either of them really worked, but I had reasons for them. Also, the Thursday Bible study got a preview of this sermon subject. I’m pretty sure it played better there. I’m also pretty sure the reason is just time.

First the time issue. Most of my sermons are 10 – 12 minutes or roughly 1400 words. This one was a little longer at almost 1700 words. It is really hard to talk about the theology of the cross and the reality of the law in the Christian’s life in 12 minutes. On Thursday, we explored it for about 90 minutes in two way communication with a 1200 word itself supporting story we read. We really only stopped because we were just exhausted, or at least I was exhausted and they were exhausted of hearing my voice. It it that kind off topic. Another reason why every christian should be engaged in some regular group study. This could be a really bad analogy, but worship is the cardio workout. It is the base of any healthy regimen. Those group studies are the weights. That is where growth in spiritual muscle happens.

The two different things.

1) While I do use political examples from time to time, I try to be balanced. Those examples today were not. I think this goes to a fundamental and dangerous direction in our American political body. A small c conservative – of which there are very few in politics at any level – understands Romans 7. The human creature is fundamentally flawed. In Paul’s words, in my flesh I serve the law of sin. And, that sin in my own members is very strong and devious. The older American political order understood this and was reticent to pass any sweeping law or sweep away traditional ways of doing things. Laws, because of the human creature, invite corruption. Sweeping laws invite sweeping corruption. We are that corrupt and we are not that smart to see it all beforehand. When the law is kept small and local, the stakes are not as big. But that is the not the society that we have structured today where everything is big. And where the law gets big, corruption proliferates. According to Paul that is the very function of the law – to show how sinful we are.

2) The second thing was that I ended the sermon on what was probably a cliffhanger. Romans 7 naturally leads to Romans 8. Romans 7 is a true description of the role of the law, but it is not the complete picture. There is something else that supplies power and fights the law of sin in my members. And it doesn’t come from me. In myself, I can’t win. But I am not alone. That is the Romans 8 story continuation. I chose to stay textual and have a two part sermon. Those who were present on July 3rd probably will be present the next week. Preaching through Romans is more like watching Lost or any story drama. Missing an episode might leave you scratching your head. The gospels seem to be more episodic, or more like Law & Order. I think that is because Romans is essentially a long argument and not a collection of stories telling one larger happening.