Jul 31

Discipleship 101: Scribes for the Kingdom

For the past six weeks we have been sitting at the feet of the master teacher in Discipleship 101, where we have gone back to the basics of what it means to follow Jesus. Today our sermon series ends, but the class is never over. Even the most experienced disciples need to retake this course from time to time. And, in my experience, the longer you’ve been a part of a church, the more you need to pay attention to the basics.

The word “disciple” literally means “student.” A disciple studies; a disciple is a student. Whether we know it or not, we always end up being something like our teachers. The best teachers are the ones we imitate deliberately, but every student ends up being something like her teachers at some point. Discipleship is not just about information; it’s about life transformation. Following Jesus is about becoming like Christ. So we have learned over these past few weeks that discipleship means we belong to a kingdom not our own. Jesus is in charge, not us—and that’s good news! Being disciples means submitting to the test of the cross: the cross tests everything! No relationship, no allegiance, no good idea should have anything to do with disciples of Jesus unless it has been tested by the cross. So when we follow Jesus out into the world, it is without worldly power or authority: unarmed, unforceful, dependent on being welcomed by strangers so that we can bear the good news in the name of Jesus Christ. But if all this sounds like a burden, we must always remember that the call to discipleship is the call of love: Christ loves us, woos us, beckons us to follow him, and his yoke is easy, his burden is light. Still, we must respond. Hard-heartedness or shrinking back from potential difficulties or giving in to the cares of the world cut short our discipleship. God offers us grace at baptism and throughout our lives to be transformed into good soil and to produce good seed for the gospel harvest. Continue reading

Jul 17

Discipleship 101: Sower, Seeds, and Soil

A sower went out into a field to scatter seed. That’s the job of a sower, right? Sow seeds. The name says it all. Get a big, brown sackcloth bag, fill it with seed until it’s heavy, until it pulls on your shoulder and your back, walk down the path to the fields, and scatter the seed. Start out early—it will only get hotter during the day. And all that walking back and forth, up and down the fields—there’s not much to the job, but it’s definitely work. Sowing seed. It’s what a sower does. Continue reading

Jul 09

Discipleship 101: The Call of Love

He calls to us. “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Will we yield to his call? Will we cross over the wall we have built between him and us? He has come to us eagerly, longingly, leaping on the mountains, bounding over hills: noble, graceful, delighted with us, yearning for us. Not content to wait for us to show up at his doorstep, he has come to our house, he has peered in through our windows, and, seeing that we are still here, he has cried to us, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” There’s no recklessness in his call; he comes to us with abandon, but he also knows it is the right season for love: winter is past, flowers bloom, figs ripen, cultivated vines show their blossoms. Creation plays peacock while our Lord prances to meet us, but we wait to hear his voice. Will we shy away, or will we embrace his transport and delight? Continue reading

Jul 03

Discipleship 101: Being Welcomed

The word “welcome” occurs in Matthew’s gospel twelve times. Half of those occurrences fall right here, in two of these three short verses from the end of chapter 10. There are also one other “welcome” at the beginning of chapter 10, two “welcomes” in chapter 18, and three “welcomes” in chapter 25.

“Welcome” means to receive someone, to offer a person hospitality, to host someone. In Matthew 18 and Matthew 25, Jesus instructs his disciples about how important it is for us to welcome Jesus. Jesus tells us he will come to us as a little child, or a stranger in need, and when we welcome the child or the stranger, we welcome Jesus. If we turn away the child or the stranger, we also turn away Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel, “welcoming” is serious business for the disciples of Jesus Christ.

But here in Matthew 10, Jesus emphasizes something very different. Here he is not talking about us welcoming someone else. Instead, Jesus teaches about others welcoming us. For us, it’s not about welcoming; it’s about being welcomed. Jesus’s clear expectation is that his followers will be on the move: peripatetic, one of my favorite 50-cent words. Disciples of Jesus move around, going from place to place, here one day and somewhere else a few days later. Disciples of Jesus are homeless, so the immigrant and the unhoused of our own time, like those we welcomed this past February in the winter shelter, are our closest kin. Jesus expects that all of his disciples will be wandering, on the move, at some point in their lives as disciples: not aimless wandering, but wandering for the sake of the gospel, wandering in order to introduce people to Jesus and to proclaim the good news of his reign in the kingdom of God. Evangelism is introducing people to Jesus as we wander about in his name, and evangelism means being welcomed because we wander in the name of Jesus.

Between welcoming and being welcomed, I’m not sure which has been harder for the Church (not just Centre Church) these days. Christians who are angry or fearful over immigration issues and Christians who support uncharitable laws that make life difficult for our unhoused sisters and brothers show how much the church struggles to welcome Jesus as the stranger. But as hard as it is to welcome others, whether the stranger or the child, it is even harder, I think, for us to be welcomed. Welcoming someone else means we need to receive others, graciously, as they come our way. Being welcomed means we need to go away from where we are home, where we are comfortable, and onto someone else’s turf. Being welcomed means we will depend on the welcome of others, even of strangers. And being welcomed in Jesus’s name means that we need to live so that we can introduce others to Jesus through how we live, while we are going about, away from our home, away from where we are comfortable.

Last week we heard from Jesus that the cross tests everything, even our relationships with our families. That test of the cross is not just about how holy you and I are. It’s about whether our lives introduce others to Jesus. Because following Jesus is not just about whether we measure up, not even about whether by the grace of God we measure up. Following Jesus is about introducing other people to Jesus. When people meet us, we want them to have met Jesus, too. When people welcome us into their homes, into their lives, we want them to have welcomed Jesus, too. So the question facing us today is, “How do we live so that when people welcome us, they welcome Jesus, too?” “How do we live so that when people welcome us, they welcome Jesus, too?”

Well, as I said, the first part of being welcomed is that we need to be on the move, away from home, away from where we are comfortable, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Over the last fifteen years I have had many opportunities to do just that: I traveled to Kenya, to South Africa, to Peru, and even to Forest Hill for the sake of Jesus Christ. Maybe you can’t imagine going that far, but it usually doesn’t take much distance to get away from where you are comfortable. Going down to serve at Manna House, a soup kitchen in Baltimore, means being welcomed by those who eat and work there every day. Just down the road from here, in Edgewood, you can be welcomed at the Welcome One Shelter when you serve a meal. And for some of us, just walking across the lawn to help out in the food pantry on a Wednesday night would be a step out of our comfortable lives so that we can be welcomed by a family in need. We now live in the most vacation-soaked society the world has ever seen. We travel to Disney World, to the Grand Canyon, to the Adirondacks, to Europe, to the Caribbean, to see family, to enjoy ourselves, to get away from it all. If we can get on the move for our own pleasure, surely we can get out of the house to be welcomed in the name of our Lord and Savior. More to the point, since in Jesus the Son of God has come to be welcomed by us, then as followers of Jesus we need to go and be welcomed in his name.

But getting moving is only the first part of being welcomed. The second part is learning to be dependent on the welcome of others, even the welcome of strangers. In Kenya and in South Africa I lived for five weeks at a time with families I had never met. Their houses were small, their means meager, and their neighborhoods, sometimes, were dangerous. To live with them as a follower of Jesus, I had to depend on them: for food, for shelter, for safety, for wisdom about where to go, and when, and how, and where not to go. It was a risk; depending on others is always a risk. But disciples of Jesus Christ risk everything and learn to become dependent on others so that they can be welcomed. In just a couple days many people will celebrate Independence Day, the U.S. national holiday. Independence is one of this country’s greatest values, which means it’s also one of the things we are most likely to idolize. Independence can mean we live as if we have everything we need, as if we are self-sufficient. And that kind of independence means we have, or we think we have, no need to be welcomed by anyone—we’re independent, we don’t need them. But Jesus sends us out in the world to be dependent, to believe that someone else will have something that we need, to live as those who cannot live without the help of others. That’s hard work, but we must remember: Jesus could have lived independently, and he didn’t. As the Son of God, he had everything he needed, but he gave all that up so that we could welcome him. If we are to be welcomed in his name, we must also give up our self-sufficiency and our independence.

There is still a third part: we don’t just want to be welcomed; we want to be welcomed in Jesus’s name. Our lives need to be transparent, so that when people look at us, they see Jesus. That means living cruciform lives, living in the way of the cross, giving up our self-interests and self-wants and selfishness. That means looking again at the Sermon on the Mount as our marching orders for how to live. And above all else, if we are to be welcomed guests in Jesus’s name, that means living as peacemakers: refusing conflict whenever possible; looking for reconciliation when conflict cannot be avoided; praying for, not hating, our enemies. To be welcomed in Jesus’s name means we must come as peacemakers. After all, Jesus is our peace with God and with each other.

“How do we live so that when people welcome us, they welcome Jesus, too?” We go out in Jesus’s name; we depend on the welcome of others in Jesus’s name; and we live in such a way so that when others meet us, they actually meet Jesus, too. That’s what it means to be welcomed, and being welcomed is part of what it means to be Christ’s disciples.

Notice something interesting: when we are good guests, when others welcome us in Jesus’s name, the reward goes to the one who welcomes us, not to us. That’s like Jesus, who was welcomed by us for us and for our salvation—not for his own selfish benefit. Being welcomed means being like Jesus. Where can Centre go—in our town, our county, our state, our world—and be welcomed in Jesus’s name?

Jun 26

Discipleship 101: Cross Examen-ation

I’m not sure about you, but the words from Jesus this morning were not the ones I wanted to hear. I am tired of talk of division, whether in the church or in our society or in our world. I desperately want peace, not a sword. And in the wrong hands I fear that this passage will only fuel the problems of extremism, even violent extremism, that I read about every day in headlines and on Twitter feeds. I doubt I’m the only one who’d rather hear a more reassuring, conciliatory word from Christ today.

But the sword that divides man against father, daughter against mother, members of the same household against each other, is not the sword of violence and hatred that splits Muslims and Christians, or Democrats and Republicans. In fact, the sword is not a sword at all, as Jesus himself tells us. It is the cross; it is the one crucified upon the cross. And the cross does not set us against our so-called natural relations of kinship and citizenship because it tears us apart, the way our anger and our hatred can do so easily. Instead, the cross divides because the cross confronts. The cross forces a decision from us—from each of us, individually, to be sure, but more importantly from us, together, as the Church of Jesus Christ, as his disciples. The cross confronts us, because the cross tests everything. Everything. Continue reading