Mission and Discipleship 2: Discernment

In Jesus Christ, God is on the move; God has a mission. And in baptism, we are all recruited to be a part of that mission. The vocation, the calling, of all disciples, of every Christian, is to join in God’s mission of redeeming creation. Too often being a “missionary” has meant specializing in something the rest of us don’t have to do, but the truth is, in Jesus Christ, we are all missionaries. Discipleship and mission go together. And the mission does not come from us; it comes from God. We participate, or we fail to participate, in the mission God has already set for the people of God.

To say that in baptism we are all missionaries, disciples, is to say that some of us, maybe most of us, need a change in attitude about who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing. Being a Christian is not about checking a series of boxes: are you saved, yes/no; do you love Jesus, yes/no; do you attend church, yes/no; do you give faithfully, yes/no. Being a Christian is about serving our Lord, about giving our entire lives over to God, about growing in holiness, intentionally, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. So many people who say they are Christians mean they’ve got the right boxes checked. What the church needs are more people who have actually dedicated their entire lives to their baptismal vows.

A changed attitude, though, is not enough. There are so many different ways of serving God, of being faithful to the mission of God. How do we know what we’re supposed to be doing? How do we know what we should be up to right now? How do we figure out what faithfulness means for us, today? These questions should be front in our minds as individuals who wake up each day praying for the opportunity to serve God. They should also be what we talk about as a church here at Centre, as we make decisions as a congregation. These questions, and others like them—what gifts do we have, who is near us, where should we go, what words should we use, what needs do we see—are all questions of discernment.

Even Jesus faces questions of discernment. In John 2, our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is at a wedding. He’s flying under the radar, just one of the guests, until the wine gives out. The party’s over, it seems, until Jesus’ mother gives him a command: “They have no wine.” Now, if that doesn’t sound like a command to you, then maybe you haven’t been a mother, or you haven’t heard a mother speak in a while. You should probably hear Mary’s “They have no wine” the same way you might hear your mother say “Your room is messy” or “Dinner is almost ready” or “You’ve been watching TV all day.” Jesus’ mother is saying, “Do something about this. Take care of this now.”

And that’s how Jesus hears her, only Jesus doesn’t think he needs to do anything. “Woman, it’s not my time,” he argues back.

This is how discernment works. It’s a communal process. Jesus knows the mission he’s on; he knows God’s mission better than anyone. But even Jesus needs the help of someone else, of his mother, to discern what he should do about God’s mission in this particular instance, in this case. And in this case, his mother is right: Jesus’ time has come, because Jesus ends up doing exactly what his mother wants. He takes care of the wine. He doesn’t do it for the sake of a wedding party; he does it because his mother has helped him discern what faithfulness to God’s mission looks like right now, where he is, at the wedding in Cana.

God’s mission is the big picture. It’s what we should take as a given, as just the natural thing that Christians should be about. God’s mission is like the props and backdrop on a stage, or like the plot of a play. Discernment is about what we do when we’re onstage, knowing what scene we’re in, what lines we need to speak, whether we should sit on the couch or stand next to the dresser. United Methodists, for example, have discerned that our role in God’s mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Now that role only makes sense if we understand that it is part of God’s mission and not the whole thing. But once we understand our role as making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” we have a clearer sense of what we should be doing for the sake of God’s mission. And we can, and must, ask of something we’re doing, or want to be doing, “Does this help make disciples of Jesus Christ?”

But we can drill down even further. Our congregation also has a mission statement. We understand that, as United Methodists, we’re supposed to be making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” but we also have discerned that at Centre that means “we seek to be a community which is centered in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, where healing takes place, lives are transformed, and disciples are made.” Discernment here has led us to believe that discipleship is a communal endeavor, not an individual one, that depends completely on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. So again, we can and must ask questions like, “Is this centered in Jesus Christ?” “How is the Holy Spirit empowering us?” “Does this project help Centre be where healing takes place?”

And our work of discernment doesn’t stop there, or at least it shouldn’t. What should this congregation be up to in 2016? Well, our church leaders have discerned that this year we should focus on three things: building communication within the church and with the wider community; faithfully helping those struggling with addiction in our community; and welcoming and nurturing guests and new members into our congregation and helping them on their discipleship journeys.

Now what about you? You are baptized into God’s mission, so you should be working for that; you are a part of The United Methodist Church, so making disciples for the transformation of the world is your business; your home is here at Centre, so you should be seeking the community of discipleship we want to be together; and it’s 2016, so building communication, helping those struggling with addiction, and welcoming and nurturing guests and new members should be on your agenda. What are you going to do with all that? How are you going to discern your role?

Well, you might start by making a list of what you have received from God: your abilities, your experiences, your knowledge, your material blessings. And you might ask, How can I use what I have received from God more faithfully? How can what I have be used to welcome people, or to help others, or to nourish disciples? But then, you need to start talking to others in the church. Because discernment, if it is Christian discernment, always requires other people. You might not feel like using your gifts, or you may not want to do anything right now. I think it’s fair to say that Jesus did not feel like turning the water into wine at Cana. But your feelings, your securities and insecurities, your confidence and misgivings, are not always how God speaks to you. Just as often you need a friend, a mother in Christ, to give you a swift kick in the seat of your pants and get you busy with God’s mission, no matter how you feel about it.

Don’t just sit there! Do something! Now!

That may be all the discernment you really need.

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