A Sermon Preached on The Second Sunday Before Lent
March 7, 2021 at 11:00 am
for an Online Service with The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete.
The readings used were 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, and Mark 9:2-9.
I could preach about the Transfiguration today – but the readings are taking me in a different direction: discipleship. So here are a few thoughts about that.
The Discipleship of the Twelve
Let’s first think about the Twelve, the first disciples. Of course, they were not the only ones – we read that there were maybe 120 at the time of the resurrection, and this included many women, and, of course, Jesus sent out the Seventy, But let’s think about the Twelve, those people chosen by Jesus to symbolise the twelve tribes of Israel. We read in Mark:
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9.7-8
“Listen to him!” Christian discipleship is fundamentally about listening to Jesus. “They saw . . . only Jesus.” The centraility of Jesus and paying attention to his teaching seems like the obvious centre of being a disviple, but so often we get distracted. We allow ourselves to procrastinate about paying attention to Jesus, or we get caught up in the secondary details of a text. Perhaps we try and explain away the hard things he says. Passages like,
- You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:24
- But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5.39-42
- I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5.44
- Do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” Matthew 6.31
And that’s just a bunch from the Sermon on the Mount. There’s more from where that came from. But we are called to listen to his words, and then apply them. It is a process, and we make progress.
A second aspect of discipleship is that it is about proclamation. As Paul writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “We proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ”: that the creator of all things is not indifferent, but loves us, and wants us to become more like his Son, and that we can do that by the power of the Holy Spirit. We proclaim Christ in word and deed.
Finally, discipleship is not about getting it all right. This is obvious from the way the gospels describe the Twelve Disciples.
- Especially in the Gospel of Mark they always seem to be a bit dense, constantly asking Jesus to explain things.
- In today’s gospel, the top three of the Twelve – Simon Peter, James, and John – do not understand what they are seeing and say silly things, like, “Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
- When Jesus says that the Son of Man will be betrayed and executed, and then rise up after three days, the disciples try to stop him from saying this.
- Despite the predictions, the resurrection seems to come to them as a surprise.
- Certainly not well-educated or part of the elite.
- One denies him, another betrays him, and the rest all abandon him, except for the women (and, in the fourth gospel, the disciple whom Jesus loved, traditionally identified with John).
Intensity & Continuity
Let’s broaden this to think about the work of Paul, and the efforts of Elijah and Elisha.
Discipleship is an intense thing. Look at how Jesus is with the disciples. See how Paul is with the Corinthians. See the close relationship Elisha has with Elijah. To be a disciple is to be in that intense kind of relationship. Now, one cannot be that intense all the time – but there are times we need to work on that relationship, when we have a steep learning curve about what it is to follow Jesus.
There is also a cost of discipleship, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would put it. Elisha loses his master, but receives a double share of his spirit. Lent is traditionally a time to intensify that relationship; we give things up, or adopt a discipline, in order to draw closer to God in Christ. Paul describes himself as a slave to the church in Corinth, but the payoff is that the church members grow in faith. Peter, James, and John are terrified, confused, but they eventually become the means of proclaiming the good news.
Discipleship is also about continuity in the midst of change. Elijah is succeeded by Elisha. He is very different from his master, but continues proclaiming that only the Lord is God, and challenging the unfaithful monarchs of Israel. Paul, the apostles, and all the anonymous bearers of the gospel are followed by generations of Christians in all kinds of different churches spreading east and west from Judea. And so we find ourselves in a chain of transmission.
We are About Disciples
Our calling as Christians is to proclaim the good news, make disciples by teaching them everything we learned from Jesus, and baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And this we do by listening to his voice. We don’t always get it right. Things may not be intense enough. But we continue, to the glory of God.