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Date: January 15, 2017 (Epiphany 2) 1. Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; Ps. 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: active ownership of the gospel. 4. Aim: encourage, guide to action. 5. Proposition: “Christian discipleship requires action and sacrifice.”

 

DISCIPLESHIP IS ACTIVE RESPONSE I heard recently of someone getting into a bit of a difficulty with her doctor. You see, the doctor was obviously trying to get her patient to take some responsibility for her health—you know, to take action, to be in charge of her own health. But as soon as the patient entered the doctor’s office, she went into a passive mode. She appeared to listen, but she suddenly became only the patient and the doctor became the expert who had to take charge. The patient appeared to listen, but after leaving the office complained about how the doctor hadn’t done anything. Somehow, the patient expected the doctor to take the action and the doctor wanted the patient to take responsibility. Once the patient entered the office, she saw herself as the passive recipient of the doctor’s expertise and waited for the doctor to do something. The way the lady described it, it made me think of the alcoholic who goes to the AA meeting expecting his sponsor to quit drinking for him. Or the couple who goes to marriage counselling thinking that the therapist will fix the other person up by telling him or her how to behave. It’s not right, somehow. Each is expecting the other to fix things, to be in charge and to make it all right without taking any responsibility themselves to work on things. It’s a passive reception of others’ decisions rather than ownership of one’s own future. That’s not right. Yet, it is often how many Church people approach the practice of the faith. Many Christians, as soon as they enter the door of the Church, expect the clergy person to take responsibility, to be in charge, to take action. We become the patients and the clergy person becomes the doctor. We are waiting to receive the ministrations of the “professional” Christian. After all, that’s what we pay him for, isn’t it? Page 2 of 5 -Active discipleship—the only kind there isThen, the week is so full of other activities, pressures and demands. When we come to Church on Sunday, we just want to sit back and receive, to be cared for rather than have to do all the caring. We actually want and expect a passive relationship with the faith and the Church. That doesn’t appear to be the way it was back in Jesus’ day. [Two of John the Baptist’s] disciples heard [John proclaim Jesus as the Messiah], and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi…where are you staying?” … They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.1 Andrew and the unnamed disciple actively sought out Jesus. They did not passively wait for Jesus to call them. They hunted him down. Then Andrew actively sought out his brother, Simon. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah,” … He brought Simon to Jesus…” 2 Andrew took responsibility and followed through on his own decision. He was not waiting passively to be told what to do. Likewise with Philip. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” … Philip said to [Nathanael], “Come and see.” 3 The woman at the well told all her neighbours about Jesus, saying, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 4 1 John 1:37-39b. 2 John 1:41-42a. 3 John 1:45, 46b. 4 John 4:29. Page 3 of 5 -Active discipleship—the only kind there isWe could go on, but the point is already well made: the disciples of Jesus in the New Testament were not passive recipients of Jesus’ opinions: they were active disciples who took responsibility for the gospel in their own lives. There was no passive relationship between the believer and the faith. Membership in the Church did not mean no responsibility. The Church was not a charity to which we give volunteer time and the leftovers of our finances. The Church is the Body of Christ and a sign of the Kingdom of God of which we are members and citizens. To be a disciple is never to be a passive recipient of ministry— discipleship is always active, the very embodiment of Christ’s gospel in the world. As God’s love was made visible, tangible and active in Jesus, so his gospel is made visible, tangible and active in us disciples. Jesus taught and lived the gospel that we are to carry out in word and deed in our lives. This is not passive reception of salvation—rather it is God’s act of transformation which guides how we live and move and have our being. We are not Jesus’ patients who have to be told how to take care of our own spiritual diagnosis. We are his co-workers and the joint heirs of the Kingdom of God. Discipleship is not passive reception of someone else’s wisdom—it is apprenticeship under an experienced journeyman. This reality fills the New Testament and it is inescapable. But it is also our privilege and joy. God has selected us to be the embodiment of his gospel of faith, hope and love. We are the mirrors of Christ himself. God has chosen us to be the instruments and channels of his salvation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.5 This is our God-given privilege, to be the heirs of the kingdom and the ambassadors of his reconciliation. Would that we could only treat it as our privilege and joy! So, just how are we to make the shift from passive recipients of ministry to disciples of Jesus? 5 2 Corinthians 5:20. Page 4 of 5 -Active discipleship—the only kind there isDuty will not motivate most people nowadays. It will likely never be enough to say, “This is what we should do.” Not only will that likely not motivate people, the guilt which results from “should” will only weary us even more. The more appropriate motivator will likely be God and his choice. You see, while those first disciples took the initiative and put their decisions into action, that was because they responded to Jesus’ invitation. Through his words and ministry, Jesus called them into relationship with him and that led to their active discipleship. Jesus chose them and they rose to the challenge of his choice. You who are listening to my voice have already responded to God’s choice. God chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world and you have responded to his call. You have been selected by God to be his ambassadors and the heralds of his gospel. God has made you his hands and feet and voice. And you have already begun to rise to the challenge of his appointment. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? We look at God’s call as duty and find ourselves discouraged. We look at God’s call as the privilege of adoption and ambassadorship and we find ourselves encouraged, built up by the presence of Christ and the power of his Spirit. Now, I’m not saying this will be easy—after all, we’ve been treating the gospel and the faith in this passive way for generations. But let me tell you: I don’t think seeing ourselves as the passive patients who need to be healed of our sin by professional clergy has served the Anglican Church all that well. The more life-giving image is that of apprenticed ambassadors who have been honoured by God’s call and empowered by his Spirit. So, here’s what we’re going to do. First, we’re going to choose to be glad that we are saved by grace through faith. Our salvation has made us God’s ambassadors and joint heirs of his kingdom. Let’s choose to enjoy this. Second, we’re going to see Jesus and the first disciples as the journeymen under whom we are apprenticed. This will mean a thorough-going knowledge Page 5 of 5 -Active discipleship—the only kind there isof scripture and an effort to apply it in our daily lives. But at least we have an authoritative set of examples and teachings about how to be God’s ambassadors. Third, let’s commit ourselves to looking for opportunities to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven. Since disciples are by God’s definition active in ministry, let’s look to make that happen. Let’s plan to make it happen. Let’s take the risk of making it happen. Let’s look for opportunities to express our joy at being the chosen ambassadors of God himself. Following those three steps—choosing joy at our salvation, following Jesus and the apostles as our journeymen, and taking opportunities for ministry—will prove to be the antidote to our passive upbringing. We’ll shift joyfully from sitting back waiting to be told what to do to the point where God can use us daily as his ambassadors. And, I predict, following these three steps will actually result in the making of more apprentice ambassadors in the Kingdom of God. AMEN.