Micah 6: 1-8; Mark 8: 33-37
This week I learned that one of our young adults is enlisting in the Marines. My brother was a Marine and my father-in-law was a Marine. They are both changed by their experience with in the armed forces. When this young man joins, a boot camp will steel him; unexpected demands will tax him; his body will ache and his mind will best tested. He will be changed into a different young man; one with different loyalties and devotions. One of the hallmarks of the Marines is discipline, taken from the Latin root “disciplina” which means “instruction or knowledge.” A similar word, discipleship, is our theme for today, coming from the same root but a different form of it; in Latin a disciple is a “discipulus,” a learner. Notice that neither root has a punitive nature; a Marine exhibits discipline as he is taught the ways of justice, mercy, and in some cases, reverence, as he gains knowledge for his job; a disciple is a life-long learner also, learning about- incidentally- justice, mercy, and reverence. The young man I saw this week will be going through some major life transformations over the next months; whether or not his parents support or have concerns about his choice, he will be taking this step on his own; his drill sergeant will be his teacher for this new stage of his life. Many people who have been in a church since they were born have little understanding of how becoming a converted disciple of Jesus is not unlike an enlisted man or woman undergoes disciplined military training. People change under such life choices as serving God and/or serving country. Sometimes young disciples follow Jesus, either with parent support or without it. New disciples “set their face towards Jerusalem” if they are to give of their best to the Master. In other words, they think kingdom thoughts, deciding how they can do the right thing in all their work and personal relationships; how they can show justice (according to Micah how they can be gentle in some instances and principled in them all, showing kindness even in their harshest of conflicts; and how to put Jesus first instead of themselves. Like the instruction a football coach teaches his players (there’s no “I” in team!) or like the Marine who leaves no Marine wounded on a battlefield and protects one another in battle, thinking about others and being a team becomes a new way of living. Disciples of Jesus begin thinking that way as well, thinking about others, and walking humbly with their God.
The teacher training manual for DISCIPLE Bible Study lists 34; count them, 34 marks of discipleship, which you will gladly note we will not cover here. But discipleship matters. Principled Christian and caring human being Dietrich Bonhoeffer was only 39 when he, as a Christian protesting against the Third Reich, was executed in the concentration camp in Flossenburg on April 9, 1945. He had stood with brothers and sisters in the human race, as he believed his Lord Jesus would have done, and the cost of his discipleship was high. He once wrote “What can the call to discipleship mean today for the worker, the business man, the squire, and the soldier? … And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. …May we be enabled to say ‘No’ to sin and ‘Yes’ to the sinner. May we withstand our foes and yet hold out to them the Word of the gospel which woos and wins their souls.” THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, 1963, MacMillan, p. 41-42. Likewise, in his popular work called MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST, Oswald Chambers reminds other workers for God that “Our work is not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace, and our work as His disciples is to disciple other’s lives until they are totally yielded to God.” [Discovery House Publishers, 1992, p. 4-24] Discipleship, it seems is to fulfill the high calling, originally described by Micah and lived out by Jesus of Nazareth.
As Jesus walked around Galilee preaching, or confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem, there were many layers of people who heard him. Some were those who happened by, caught a word, and stopped to listen. You have done that, perhaps listening in at a check out stand, a restaurant, or watching a political rally, overhearing a strident discussion. You listen, you consider, but the words don’t cause you to commit to a new cause, and your life is not measurably changed by it. Those are people who just happen by, like those who first heard Jesus. Some go to church that way and some are likely even here today. They were invited by a friend, or drove by and thought they’d try it, or are just church shopping. Some are looking to sample what is being marketed, and so they window shop or taste the message or the meal. Neither Jesus nor his message of salvation for the world and living differently appears to affect them. They just are there, but not committed. Neither in this life or the next will they know Jesus as Savior nor will Jesus know them as saved. That’s the down side of not getting involved or expressing commitment.
Another group in Jesus’ day was the curious. They came around Jesus and stayed to listen; they wandered from place to place with him, staying for a morsel of fish or a piece of bread, or to witness Jesus talking with old men and outcast women. They didn’t throw their heart into following him, by speaking up and committing themselves to Jesus, but they were, as they still are called today, seekers; seekers after Jesus; seekers after learning; seekers after the truth. Some of you might be seekers today. Seekers are not yet ready for commitment; they don’t believe they’ve learned enough to decide for Jesus. Being a good learner is a wonderful life attribute; but for those who are ONLY learners without being willing to learn on the job, they stay at a youngster level of spiritual development while those willing to work or try take leadership roles. There is a place to be a seeker; but it is not a place to get stuck. Jesus had plenty of seekers following him; but he could not count on them or commission them for the urgent Kingdom work that was on his plate. Jesus worked with flawed disciples who followed him.
We know that there were 12 that Jesus called apostles; but if we were naming disciples, we would certainly have to add Zacchaeus, Martha, her brother John, and sister Mary, Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus to name a few. They were devoted to Jesus, supporting him as they worked to understand his teachings. They sought to let others see the great work that meant the Kingdom of God was at hand; and we can believe that they worked for justice and for God in loving ways during their lives. Those who did that were changed people. They were called disciples.
Now Jesus is not asking you to join the Marines today; but ages of faith songs have asked us to be “soldiers of the cross.” Some cringe at that language. But if your body, mind, and soul are declared, “fit for duty,” then it is by personal decision that you offer yourself in service to him. That means you will seek to do justice in your work and in your school, to love kindness in they way you carry out your life among others, and some will have to step down from their worldly princess or prince throne, and let the Prince of Peace and King of Kings take his place on the throne of your life. If you just happen by a church, you may experience hospitality but without commitment to him you are not a disciple. If you are just curious about Christ, remember that learning about him does not sign you up for him to know that he can count on you. Instead, you are still a seeker, a learner about a Kingdom where Jesus really needs leaders. Jesus even chose flawed leaders-like Peter and Martha, the brother of Lazarus- as his support team for ministry. Jesus needs you too! So if you do decide to be a disciple of the Lord, like the young man who enlisted, you will change from a wandering or wondering child to a committed follower, ready to work for a cause and learn along the way. Perhaps you have already done that. Disciples fail too, but they have steadfastly decided for Christ. The Church needs disciples; the world needs disciples; Jesus needs disciples, not only in the first century, but in the twenty-first century. Is Jesus calling you softly and tenderly; is he calling you urgently and repeatedly? How will you respond? Disciples have the blessing of knowing Jesus through a fervent prayer life and study life; Jesus knows them as well like a shepherd knows his sheep; and there is great reward in the final victory after living a life of Christian blessings and opportunities. What will you do? What have you said? Make it clear again where you stand, as we offer our prayers to Jesus:
Dear Lord: some here are ready to sign up today: sign them up as your disciples, willing to learn, and work, and serve. Some have been disciples for a long time, and we pray that you feel blessed by them. Perhaps some will move today from seeker to disciple, or from passer-by to seeker. All that we do is for you, dear Lord Jesus, and all you do is for the glory of your Father. To God, our Three in One we say: envelope us with your hope for justice, mercy, and humble and holy living, and give us ears to hear and hearts to respond. Here we are Lord. Send and use your disciples. In your precious name we pray. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner April 20, 2008